Where is the key to your happiness? Is it in your pocket or in someone else’s? Do you ever find yourself saying things like: If only I would win the lottery, I would be happy. OR Once my children are out of the house, I’ll have more time to do things for me. OR If only my wife would quit nagging me, things would be so much better. If you find yourself making statements similar to these, you’re essentially admitting that your ability to be happy is outside of your control. You’re using the excuse that you have to wait until someone else does something in order for you to be happy. That sounds like you’re fairly powerless about your well-being. Is that what you want?

The measurement tool I like to use to gauge mental fitness is simply happiness. In other words, the more mentally fit we are, the happier we feel. Using that definition, being mentally fit is like putting the key to happiness in our own pocket. Another way to look at it is: We have achieved mental fitness once we have learned that we can only change those things that are within our control, accepted those things that we cannot change and removed the things from our life that we cannot accept as they are. Think about how much less stress you will have in your life if you can accomplish those things. Doesn’t that sound more like what you want?

Below are some key concepts to obtaining mental fitness:

1: We have to take responsibility for charting out our own paths to happiness. No more excuses! If we don’t take charge of our lives, who will? If we’re not satisfied with where we are, it’s time for us to make some changes. We can’t continue to wait for the right time to do those things we keep saying we’ll do “if only” something else happens. We must look at the things in our lives that aren’t working and do something about them.

2: Before we can decide what isn’t working, we must have an idea of what it is we want. For many of us, life just happens and then we can’t understand why we’re so unhappy. We would feel such a sense of accomplishment if the path we take is composed of deliberate choices we have made as opposed to a series of random events that have happened to us. Having choices in our life’s direction give us a sense of control.

3: We have to create the placebo within us. In the case of psychiatric medication, placebos frequently perform as well as the drugs being tested. Research confirms that if we believe in something strongly enough, our brains will make it happen. My goal is to help clients develop a clear vision of what they want and the passion to achieve it. That is how they become the placebo.

4: We have to get our basic needs met so that we are better able to handle the obstacles that can get in our way when trying to meet our goals. The five basic needs are survival, power, love & belonging, freedom and fun. Just like we need adequate sleep to function properly, we must get our basic needs met so we can make more deliberate responses to the unexpected events in our lives. If we neglect these needs, logic goes out the window and we will have trouble controlling our actions. We may end up doing things that we may later regret because our brain is in auto-pilot trying to satisfy those needs.

5: We must listen to our feelings and our physiology. That is our feedback as to whether the changes we’ve made are working. Our belief system dictates the actions we take, which is why it is so important to create a vision of where we want to go and to believe that it is possible to create a better life for ourselves. When our feelings are positive, that means we’re on the right track with the actions we’re taking. When something doesn’t feel right, it’s time to address the problem and make a deliberate decision as to how we’re going to handle it.

6: We continue to utilize these concepts as we refine our behaviors to achieve our goals. If the first several things we tried didn’t help us to feel better, and our goals haven’t changed, then it’s time to regroup and try something else. If you believe it can happen, then it will! You will be amazed at how much happier and more fulfilled you will feel as you take charge of your life.

The thing to remember is that you are in charge of your happiness. Once you accept that challenge, you become the private investigator looking for that key to unlock the once-considered elusive doors to joy and opportunity. After you begin reaping the benefits from your journey towards good mental fitness, you’ll be wondering why you waited so long to get started.