I recently came across a brilliant project from the UK titled “Mental Capital and Well-being: Making most of ourselves in the 21st century”, whose findings were released in 2008. A key message from the project is that “if we are to prosper and thrive in our changing society and in an increasingly interconnected and competitive world, both our mental and material resources will be vital. Encouraging and enabling everyone to realise their potential throughout their lives will be crucial for our future prosperity and well-being”.

Mental capital “encompasses a person’s cognitive and emotional resources. It includes their cognitive ability, how flexible and efficient they are at learning and their ‘emotional intelligence’, such as their social skills and resilience in the face of stress.”

It therefore conditions how well an individual is able to contribute effectively to society, and also to experience a high personal quality of life. Whereas mental well-being “is a dynamic state, in which the individual is able to develop their potential, work productively and creatively, build strong and positive relationships with others, and contribute to their community”.

The report says well-being is enhanced when an individual is able to fulfil their personal and social goals and achieve a sense of purpose in society.

In a nutshell, an individual’s mental capital and mental well-being crucially affect their path through life. Moreover, they are vitally important for the healthy functioning of families, communities and society. Together, they fundamentally affect behaviour, social cohesion, social inclusion and prosperity.

When we track the state of our mental capital and well-being over the years in South Africa, we can definitely say there have been great improvements along the way. We have had shaky moments along the journey but we kept it all together.

Education is such an important tool in developing mental capital, which results in the well-being of individuals and ultimately society. Education helps us to build the skills we need to survive and hopefully thrive as a country.

The truth is that in South Africa it is not enough to boast about our physical resources and infrastructure if we do not have the requisite mental capital to make them work for us.

Our workplaces should provide the critical platform for increasing or actually decreasing our well-being. But the question is whether in South Africa we are prioritising the well-being of particular stakeholders over others.

In the face of stiff global competition in the area of skills, South Africa cannot afford to lag behind. It is imperative to build our mental capital through both training and retraining.

Retraining is needed because the skills that were relevant 20 years ago are probably not so hot in the information and digital age we live in now.

However, recent events in South Africa show how precarious our state of mental capital and well-being is, and race relations is a hovering beast beneath the surface. Our resilience in the face of stress is somehow there but may be found wanting with further stressful events.

I can list all the types and sources of discontent that we are facing in South Africa but there is not enough space for that. I am increasingly seeing the levels of stress and discontent from all sorts of people in our country, which begs the question: What are we collectively happy about?

At the end of the day, the responsibility for well-being rests with each individual. This is not a job that the government will succeed in. The best that the government and its leaders can do is to help create an environment that increases the possibility of our well-being.

The report suggested five things that people can do to increase their well-being.

First, we need to connect. We need to connect with our family, colleagues and community. We don’t connect very well as colleagues and communities in South Africa, so we need to invest our attention into these relationships.

Secondly, we need to be active physically as that keeps our mental capital in an optimal state.

Thirdly, we need to take notice and be aware of the world around us. We also need to take cognisance of what we truly feel and not hide our true feelings in the shadow. We need to reflect on the positives in our lives, communities and our country.

Fourthly, we need to keep learning because our world is rapidly changing.

Lastly, we need to give more than we take. Whether we like to admit it or not we all need each other as we are invariably connected to each other. This is what Ubuntu is about. - Vuyo Jack