Intellectual wellness: A lifelong journey
Published: Tuesday, July 10, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, July 24, 2012 20:07
Officially, Santa Clara University’s Wellness Center defines intellectual wellness as the “active participation in scholastic, cultural and community activities. It is about keeping an energetic mind, sharing your knowledge and learning from others.” But, I think it is so much more.
On the surface, intellectual wellness is about the mind. If you dig deeper, however, you find it is a very personal journey — one that can only be assisted, never forced, by another person. You can sit in class all day, but no one can ever force you to learn.
As you might expect, the journey begins between the ears. It is critical to evaluate yourself and the way you think. Intellectual wellness is not one size fits all. It differs for each person. What stimulates the mind for one may bore the next. Thus, everyone must constantly strive to find challenging activities. It is an endless, but rewarding, journey.
This journey can be confusing, especially at first. Figuring out what stimulates your mind is hard work. Americans have become too comfortable with technology spoon-feeding us passive entertainment. It has sucked out our creativity.
Fortunately for us, researchers at the University of San Diego LiveWell program can help jumpstart our intellect. They compiled several qualities of an intellectually well person: maintains awareness of current events; explores academic interests; involved in professional organizations; watches education TV; learns to appreciate art (includes music, theater, film, etc.); thinks critically for themselves; and attends workshops or seminars for enjoyment.
Notice how the list emphasizes traditional intellectual areas, like academic subjects, but does not mandate specific activities. Exploring computers, learning a new language or teaching yourself to cook are all activities that can keep your mind active. It is vital that whatever you choose actually interests you. If you choose something that bores you, it is not any more stimulating than watching late-night infomercials.
Please note I am not implying technology will make you stupid. Actually, technology itself is impartial. There is nothing intrinsically bad about a TV, computer or iPad. Instead, it is what we choose to do with technology that determines its usefulness for the ultimate quest of intellectual prowess.
For example, watching six hours of sitcoms will not stimulate your mind, but watching a controversial documentary on the history of the Roman Empire just might. You want something that makes you think or participate. Technology has the potential to either help or undermine your journey.
So far, we have discussed the intellectual journey’s ability to provide personal growth, which is important for keeping the mind energetic. Less obvious, however, are the communal side effects of intellectual pursuits. If an individual follows UCSD LiveWell, being intellectually well will involve them in the community, increasing their social connections and understanding.
For instance, being aware of current events, participating in community organizations and engaging in lively debate all help foster a universal acceptance of each other. By retreating to an individual-centered, media-fed bubble, we not only loose our intellectual wellness, but also our shared humanity.
Unfortunately, Americans struggle with improving intellectual wellness. At first glance, it appears we value things like education and the pursuit of knowledge. But a closer evaluation shows that our true values lie in the outcome, not the journey. We want the high test score, irrespective of the process. And, if given the chance, we will choose the easy way out, avoiding anything that might end in failure.
This thinking is extremely short-sighted. Instead of seeing intellectual wellness as a lifelong journey, it is reduced to sprints strategically chosen for short-term gain. In other words, we want something immediately that is easy to do and within our comfort level.
But for true intellectual wellness, we need to pick the harder path, accept the fact we may fail, and enjoy the slow pace of mastering a new skill. Choosing to live an intellectually stimulating life will lead to great satisfaction. And that destination will never have a short cut.
This column is part of a summer-long series on wellness. If you have any questions or comments, please email David Schary at email@example.com
David Schary is a Ph.D. candidate in exercise and sports psychology. The opinions expressed in his columns do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Barometer staff. Schary can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.