5 lessons from Mandela’s life for better mental health – Celebrating Nelson Mandela International Day

5 lessons from Mandela’s life for better mental health – Celebrating Nelson Mandela International Day

Your playing small does not serve the world. Who are you not to be great?”

This is a question that Nelson Mandela asks of us. Mandela himself never played small, he played big, his dreams were bigger, and his achievements the biggest.

When people hailed him as a messiah, he said “I was not a messiah, but an ordinary man who had become a leader because of extraordinary circumstances.”

At the moment, we too are in a confounding situation surrounded by an extraordinary circumstance. We are in the midst of what seems like a never-ending war against the virus. However, we know for sure that this pandemic will not last 27 years – the time Mandela lived in imprisonment. There is a whole lot anyone can learn from the life of the world’s greatest leader, from his leadership traits to negotiation strategies, his vision of equality to his struggles to bring a nation together, from charity to friendship. Below is an attempt to learn from his life the characteristics to mentally fortify ourselves in difficult times.

5 lessons from Mandela’s life to help us become mentally stronger: 

  1. Resilience

“The greatest glory in living is not in falling, but in rising every time we fall.”

The setbacks that Mandela faced throughout his life, right from the time he lost his father when he was just 12, could never pin him down for long. He got back up every time and emerged even stronger. His resilience saw him through 27 years in prison and when he walked out a free man, he changed an entire nation and the world forever. 

  1. Humility

If you want the cooperation of humans around you, you must make them feel they are important, and you do that by being genuine and humble.

Mandela is known for leading a modest life even after becoming the president of South Africa. He is said to have made his own bed even as the president. He did not just fight for equality, he lived it too and his humility makes him an endearing human being despite the greatness he has achieved both for himself and his country.


  1. Optimism

Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed toward the sun, one’s feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way lays defeat and death.

Despite being offered to be freed from prison, Mandela stood his ground and declined such an offer. He believed in an unconditional freedom and was ready to trade personal discomfort  for the greater good. He knew and was optimistic that such freedom was achievable. 

  1. Forgiveness

If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.

When Mandela became the president, he prevented the race war and instead brought together both African and Zulu representatives in his administration. He was objective in handing out punishments for the racial oppressors and white supremacists but he did not believe in a collective penalty simply based on the race and color of people. 

  1. Grit

 Everyone can rise above their circumstances and achieve success if they are dedicated to and passionate about what they do.

The fact that he continued his study and completed his undergraduate studies through his cell demonstrates his never giving up attitude. The 95 years of his life is an outstanding example of his true grit.

“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

Let us celebrate this day, the 18th of July, marked as Nelson Mandela International Day by embracing the lessons from his life and implementing them in ours. Let us help ourselves and help others with whatever little we have, with however much we can.

We all have the potential to be great, so why settle for less? 

4 thoughts on “5 lessons from Mandela’s life for better mental health – Celebrating Nelson Mandela International Day

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