Toward a New Definition of Mental Health


Are you mentally healthy? Of course you are! You’re (most likely) not institutionalized, are coping pretty well with everyday life (with occasional regrettable lapses), and aren’t struggling daily with some sort of severe psychological disability. This is considered doing really well, and most of us would describe ourselves as pretty happy and mentally healthy.But isn’t it sad, truly sad, that this passes for mental health? What a low bar we’ve set for ourselves! If we can function normally, we’re mentally healthy, right? Is this the tzelem Elokim we’ve been promised that we are in our essence?

As a happiness teacher, I can tell you that, when I share with people that happiness is our natural state, they look at me like I have three heads and like they’re wondering what my diagnosis is and just how delusional I might be. They may also scan the room for the nearest exit. We, as a culture, have become so used to such a low level of mental wellbeing that we take for granted that many of us are in fact controlling some otherwise devastating mental state in some way. We assume that everyone we know spends a lot of time, or at least quite a bit of time, in some state of sadness, depression, panic, anxiety, jealousy, anger, avoidance, fear, or variations thereof, because we ourselves spend a lot of time there. These states are pretty well hidden and controlled, of course, either through raw willpower or through techniques or through medication. And this is describing the so-called mentally healthy, because those who are mentally ill are probably not among the people most of us know.

What if I told you that we are, in our essence, not only mentally healthy but abundantly healthy? That who we really are is happy beyond measure and no matter what? That we are all resilient, loving, forgiving, caring, sharing, and joyful? And that all these wonderful qualities are simply covered up, hidden, but never, ever go away or change? Would you count me among the mentally healthy, or would you think I’m delusional or lost in wishful thinking and really should “see somebody?” Maybe you’d think I’m one of those “happiness” people who’s been brainwashed by positive thinking to avoid seeing an ugly reality.

In fact, this is who we truly are, but this glorious state is obscured and hidden by the creative power of thought, which has the uncanny ability to delude us into thinking we’re otherwise, much if not most of the time. It’s through thought, and thought alone, that we come to be sad and envious, angry and hateful, anxious and panicky. Thought is powerful enough to make us forget completely our true essence, powerful enough to make people commit suicide and kill others, powerful enough to make us feel we can’t go on living without someone or something outside of ourselves, and certainly powerful enough to make us dread getting out of bed in the morning. Don’t ever underestimate the tremendous power of thought to drag us down into negativity and destructiveness; if it’s not the yetzer hara, it’s a close second.

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Rabbi Michel and Rebbetzin Feige Twerski of Milwaukee recognized long ago that any individual’s ability to parent, love, worship, and function is a product of his or her emotional health. They studiously sought out psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists, and counselors, as well as techniques and approaches that would help raise the level of the emotional health of the klal.

About a decade ago, Rabbi and Rebbetzin Twerski were introduced to an approach called the Three Principles (3P), also known as Innate Health. This approach is unique in that there is no attempt to manage emotions and feelings. Rather, it aims to introduce an understanding regarding how our emotions and feelings are created in the first place. It is also unique in that. through merely understanding the nature of how our emotions and feelings are being created, clients find themselves calming down, cheering up, and thriving like never before.

Based on his satisfaction with 3P, Rabbi Twerski founded Twerski Wellness Institute, whose sole goal and purpose is to disseminate 3P ideas among the Jewish community. We are indeed extremely fortunate that Rabbi Twerski saw the value and truth in this approach, and has the courage to espouse something so unusual, his gift and legacy to the Jewish community. We are doubly fortunate that Twerski Wellness is based in New York, conveniently close to Baltimore, and that many of its functions are free. We are triply fortunate that there is now a Twerski Wellness Institute Baltimore (me), also offering many free events introducing 3P to anyone who’s interested in learning how to be happy no matter what.

Twerski Wellness Institute Baltimore will be hosting a three-day 3P retreat at Pearlstone over Labor Day, September 6-8. Please contact me for information on this retreat, as well as on other 3P events in and around this area, or with any questions or comments on this article.

“All aveiros have their source in sadness.” – Rabbi Yaakov Yagen


Betty Cherniak is director of the Twerski Wellness Institute Baltimore, and founder and director of the Baltimore and Silver Spring Happiness Clubs. Contact her at



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