Hon. Carolyn Whittington
Retired, 21st Judicial Circuit Court
Originally published in the May 2021 issue of the St. Louis Lawyer magazine. Download PDF.
If you did not have a chance to read Alexandria Shah's wise words in BAMSL's Well-Being Wednesday blog of March 10, you missed something special and I suggest that you take a minute to read it (bamsl.org/news). Her words will inspire you all year long.
I have taken her words especially to heart as I write this piece for the St. Louis Lawyer. I am on a deadline and I am pushing through it. There is no crabbier person than me when I am staring down a deadline. So, adopting the thoughts of Ms. Shah, I have decided to ask myself, why am I writing this piece about intellectual well-being? And just what is it that I am hoping to achieve?
I am writing this piece because BAMSL's Well-Being Committee is devoting time and resources to intellectual well-being. As a member of the committee, I volunteered to write this particular piece because it is an area of well-being that I felt I could gain some additional knowledge about and was hoping that by devoting time to writing, I might learn something.
The Institute for Well-Being in Law defines intellectual well-being as the charge to "engage in continuous learning. Pursue creative or intellectually challenging activities that foster ongoing development. Monitor cognitive wellness."
This is the definition that BAMSL's Well-Being Committee has adopted. Lindsay Bernhagen, PhD, elaborates on that definition in an article in American Nurse by Bernagette Mazurek Melnyk and Susan Neale.
"Intellectual well-being occurs when we use our intellectual abilities in meaningful and satisfying ways," Bernhagen wrote. "It includes the pursuit of intellectually stimulating and challenging activities throughout life. This includes things like learning, creativity, communicating, critical thinking, problem solving, and the pursuit of understanding and wisdom."
A significant question is, how important is intellectual well-being? Bernhagen, who helped develop a learning module for the wellness program at The Ohio State University, believes that keeping your mind flexible, informed and engaged is as important as physical health.
"Just as a flexible body indicates physical health, a flexible mind connotes intellectual health," Bernhagen wrote. We all know that our physical health is important and Bernhagen advocates the equal importance of intellectual health. According to Bernhagen, the intellectually well person values lifelong learning and seeks to foster critical thinking, develop moral reasoning, expand worldviews, and engage in education for the pursuit of knowledge.
Lifelong learning, critical thinking, education and the pursuit of knowledge sounds like such boring stuff. So what does that really mean? Drudgery like more CLE hours, or writing articles for St. Louis Lawyer? Thankfully not. Luckily, engaging in these endeavors for intellectual wellbeing health can become a part of your routine in relatively easy and entertaining ways.
Melnyk and Neale suggest three ways to start down the path:
- mindfulness, and
- breaking up your routine.
Reading for fun and for just 10 minutes a day is a great way to address intellectual wellbeing. Breaking up your routine can be something as easy as taking the scenic route on your trip home. Practicing mindfulness may sound daunting but it is as simple as, acknowledging "…thoughts as they arise and then let them go without exploring anxieties about the future or regrets about the past."
These three simple things allow you to let go and open the doors and windows in your brain to all sorts of intellectual well-being.
Unbeknownst to all of us, this year of COVID hardship already has started us on the road to intellectual wellbeing. We have had to pivot again and again to address the concerns of clients. We have had to change our professional habits to meet the demands of distancing and worry. But, according to Melnyk and Neale, adaptation is actually good for your mind and a part of intellectual wellbeing: "When your muscles are challenged, they grow and strengthen; the same is true for your brain. In fact, when it comes to optimal wellbeing, activities that strengthen our minds are just as important as those that strengthen our muscles."
I finish this article with a thank you to Ms. Shah for her blog and the guidance it provided to me. To answer, "What did I hope to achieve by writing this article," I hoped for two things. To give you something to think about that has the potential to improve the quality of your lives; and to force myself to learn something new. I certainly have learned something new about intellectual well-being, its importance, and application. I hope that you can say the same.