The four pillars of mental health

Neuroscientists continue to discover that our well-being can actually be trained, just like our muscles. Our brain is the key component in this endeavor, and it’s all possible thanks to a principle called neuroplasticity, which states that our brains are constantly changing in response to our experiences and our lifestyle. Just like riding your bicycle every day will inevitably lead to bigger, stronger leg muscles, applying effort in the right direction will also cause your brain to change, for the better.

Dr. Richard Davidson is the leading neuroscientist in this field and the founder and director of the Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He often likens the importance of nourishing our mind to the importance of brushing our teeth—both are learned habits that are not hardwired into our genome yet are essential to our overall well-being. Just like we all have adopted the habit of brushing our teeth, so too must we adopt habits that improve and strengthen our mental health.

Meditation and other forms of mental training are the habits that train our minds and change the way our brain functions. The changes aren’t trivial, either. Dr. Richard Davidson is proving that meditation and mental training reduce inflammation and can subsequently alter gene expression. Chronic inflammation itself has been proven by the Cleveland Clinic to be the root cause of 75-90% of today’s major illnesses. What this means is that these practices can work in tandem with other healthy lifestyle choices to measurably reduce our chances of cancer, heart disease, and dementia.

To helps focus our efforts and maximize benefits, The Center for Healthy Minds has created a framework. They have found that focusing on four areas in particular will rewire our brains and help our health and happiness flourish; meta-awareness, connection, insight (or your own narrative), and purpose. If we can improve in these four areas, our well-being and mental health will improve. Mindfulness, compassion meditation, and loving-kindness meditation (aka “metta meditation”) are three forms of meditation that work well for most of the pillars, but they aren’t the only practices that help. Dr. Davidson often notes that “mediation and mind training” is akin to “sports”. It’s broad, and there are many subsets that do different things for your brain, just as cycling may increase your leg strength and running your endurance. Our recommendation is to start by being curious about the four-pillar framework and to explore various forms of meditation and mind-training to see which practices work best for you.

The four pillars of a healthy and happy mind


Witness our thoughts, feelings, and sensations when we are doing anything before we become mindlessly habituated so that we can make a free choice about our actions and how we are performing them, and what our goals are.


Lifting our heads up from self striving to notice our connection to other beings and life allows us to savor everything and everyone, and naturally fills us with appreciation and gratitude countering the deep sense of loneliness most of us feel


Negative self-talk is one of the biggest causes of depression! Changing our relationship to our internal negative thoughts (doubts, fears, self-criticism) to self-compassion and conscious focus on our attributes and strengths creates a positive attitude. Davidson explains this pillar is “just about getting curious about your own preconceived thoughts and opinions. Your brain is not set. You can question your own assumptions and biases, and this has tremendous potential to heal the division and ‘othering’ that we see in today’s society.”


Aligning our actions to our core values gives us a reason to do everything. It takes us beyond our self-centered unconscious actions moving us towards a meaningful life that is centered on our true self’s needs.

Focusing our mind on noticing, curiosity, compassion, connection, and inner alignment enriches our life, gives us true ongoing happiness, and rewires our brain to be more present, peaceful, and joyful, as well as effective.

What is Mountain Trek?

Mountain Trek is the health reset you’ve been looking for. Our award-winning retreat, immersed in the lush nature of British Columbia, will help you unplug, recharge, and roll back years of stress and unhealthy habits. To learn more about the retreat, and how we can help you reset your health, please email us at or reach out below: