7 things Madiba taught us about healthy thinking

July is Mental Health Awareness Month. It is also the month when we commemorate Nelson Mandela Day and give 67 minutes of our time. This article highlights the benefits of maintaining a positive outlook in the face of adversity, as we learned from Madiba himself.

Could you imagine being locked up in the prime of your life, when you are just 43 years old, knowing that you will spend the rest of your life in prison? Could you imagine, by some miracle, that you are released when you are 71, when the best years of your life are over, and you have missed out on so much?

Nelson Mandela had a hard life – and yet he is widely regarded as one of the greatest statesmen in the world, because he turned all that negative energy into good deeds in his life, for South Africa, and for the world.

Here are 7 things we can learn from Madiba for our own healthy thinking this Mandela Day on 18 July, despite the difficulties we may personally face.

1. Look for the blessing in the crisis

There is sufficient research to show that stress shortens the gene caps (called telomeres) that protect our genes and help us live longer lives. When you go to your doctor for a check-up, they will remind you of this. Looking for the silver lining in the clouds of doubt and fear is what Madiba did for many years. He lived until he was 94 – very good innings!

2. Helping others is good for our health

Studies done in the 1950s and 1990s show that people who help others live as much as a decade or more longer than those who don’t. It’s like Einstein said: “Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile.”

3. Focus on your passion

Nelson Mandela loved helping people. Like Mahatma Gandhi, it’s one of the reasons he became a lawyer.

What do you love doing? What is your unique and important contribution to the world? Food? Soccer? Animals? Dance? Music? Business? Being a great mom? Even Oprah says, find something that you love, and see how you can use it to serve other people.

4. Find a cause greater than yourself

Madiba had every reason to come out of prison bitter and angry, seeking revenge. But he didn’t. Why? Because he focused on the bigger picture: Liberating South Africa and all its people from the oppression of apartheid. Research has shown that when we focus on our greatest dreams, the amygdala, or animal brain, is disengaged, and the executive centre, for higher brain functioning, is activated instead. This gives our lives meaning.

5. When you give, you get back

Being kind and giving of yourself to others has been shown to help slow down the ageing process, reduce headaches, and alleviate depression. Many recovery programs advise that being of service to others actually helps you just as much.

6. Smile with gratitude

Did you ever see Madiba with a frown on his face? He was grateful for his life. Being grateful releases both dopamine and endorphins, which are some of the body’s natural chemicals involved in creating what is known as the “helper’s high” – great feelings associated with doing something good.

7. Never give up

Madiba never gave up on his dream to see a free South Africa. Living your dream will make you happier, so make sure you get the help you need today.


Disclaimer: Any information contained here is merely a guideline. Always visit your healthcare practitioner for any health-related advice or diagnosis.

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