How is Your Intellectual Health?

This year at Student Wellness we are shifting our focus from addressing specific health issues to understanding how health issues and behaviors impact the different Dimensions of Wellness. These include Physical, Emotional, Spiritual, Social, Environmental, Financial, Cultural, and Intellectual.

Historically, many of us may have thought about health as the absence of disease. If you ask a 4-year-old if they are healthy, they would probably respond yes, as long as they did not have a cold, the flu, a broken arm, or are confined to a hospital bed. However, we now recognize that being healthy is more than just not being sick, and it is also more than having chiseled abs and eating spinach with every meal.

The Disappearing Intellectual
Photo (The Disappearing Intellectual) by ( , Flickr Creative Commons

This month we are focusing on intellectual health and it really got me to thinking: what the heck is intellectual health, and am I intellectually healthy? My initial reaction is, “Of course I am intellectually healthy. I am ‘open minded.’ I try to stay up to date on current affairs and think globally. I must be doing great, right?”

Well…not necessarily. These could be part of intellectual health, but it is more than this.

Intellectual health is not about “knowing lots,” or being able to quote Nietzsche and sound “wicked smart” (insert Boston accent). I looked up Intellectual Wellness on a number of different sites, including ours, and found one definition from The University of New Hampshire that I really liked (though I liked ours as well).

Intellectual wellness is being open to new ideas, thinking critically, and seeking out new challenges.

So what does this mean? When we say we are open-minded, are we really open to new ideas, or only things that we may not have known about or experienced but fit very nicely within our world view? Do we really think critically about our deep founded beliefs and question why we believe what we do? Do we challenge ourselves on a daily basis, and when I say challenge I don’t mean by overcoming our fear of heights or running a marathon, but I mean challenge ourselves intellectually and culturally?

I think a lot of us don’t, regardless of where we stand on the cultural or political spectrum. So as you begin this new school year, I challenge you, and I challenge myself to not only focus on our physical and emotional health but also on our intellectual health. Hang out with people who are different than you. Go someplace that you would not normally go where people think and act differently than you. Take a class that is totally outside of your comfort zone. You will be healthier for it.