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The 8 Ways Diversity is Good for Your Mental Health

diversity in the workplaceThe Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles (of which I was a member for a number of years in the 90’s) sings a song in its permanent repertoire called “Diversity”, singing about how the gay men in the Chorus come from many different states and many different occupations, and our “diversity makes us strong”.  I was thinking of that theme recently, especially in the wake of the Orlando massacre, and the subsequent flurry of news items and essays.  With the current bitter, heated, atomically-divisive election season in the United States right now, one thing (of the many) that frustrates me is that some bigoted Americans really fail to see the beauty in the diversity we find in the American people.  Come to think of it, that whole concept of “diversity” is a good thing, applied to so many considerations.  Here are some to think about, embrace, and celebrate, for how diversity can contribute to your quality of life:

  1. Populations – In the history of the United States, as a country, we have always benefited from diversity, as represented from the various immigration patterns. This is represented in language, dress, food, customs, and values.  Think of the English and Irish who settled New England and Jamestown, Virginia.  Think of the Jews, Italians, and Puerto Ricans of New York.  Think of the Germans in the Midwest.  Think of the Cubans and other Latinos in Miami.  Think of the Mexicans, Native Americans, and Asians in the West.  Think of the Chinese who built the railroads.  There are just so many places in America where the mark of their major immigration group is sensed everywhere.  Ever had good pizza in New York City?  Ever had good Mexican food in Los Angeles?  Ever had Texas barbecue?  Ever had Southern cooking?  And that’s just the food.  Think of the traditions, language influence, values, and skills represented.  Without this diversity of historical settlement, our country would be just plain “poorer” overall.
  2. Workplace Staff – In every office, store, or factory in America, a diversity of staff always makes for a better company. Human resources officers and recruiters deliberately try to recruit the best talent from so many different sub-populations, so that the creativity, ideas, and perspectives can be culled for the good of the company.  A diverse workplace is a creative and productive one.  That’s why discriminatory practices currently in places like North Carolina with its HB2 bill and countless laws like it in various states really hurts the American productivity, because it discourages the recruitment (or retention!) of the best staff.  Certain areas that are not progressive can have a dearth of talent and a “brain drain”.  The best companies and organizations strive for diversity because it’s correlated, in general, with success (and profit).
  3. Human Genes – Just like people make jokes about the dangers of in-breeding, the opposite is also true: genetic diversity makes for good babies.  There are even theories that straight women are attracted naturally to men who are different from themselves genetically, because nature craves that genetic diversity for reproduction.  The phrase “opposites attract” could be said to come from this.  With gay men, we may not be making babies per se, but often our sexual attractions can be toward guys different from ourselves, perhaps a “leftover” from this genetic diversity craving.  One only need look at traditionally beautiful mixed-race famous people like Halle Berry, Barack Obama, Vanessa Williams, Dean Cain, Mariah Carey, Lenny Kravitz, Zayn Malik, and Dwayne Johnson to see what can emerge from such mixed pairings.
  4. Cultural Exposure – When we have lunch at a Jewish deli, tour an exhibit of African-American art at a museum on a tour led by an Asian docent, and have dinner at a Mexican restaurant, and get a ride from with a Russian Uber driver, we are experiencing cultural diversity. That’s easier in big cities like Los Angeles, New York, or Chicago, but any town in America is going to have some kind of cultural diversity from the people who live there.  Regardless of our socio-economic status, we all become “richer” when we can enjoy multiple cultural influences of where we live.
  5. Fields of Study – While today college educations seem to be so focused on preparing students for professional life (especially at today’s tuition prices!), historically, a solid college education included a broad Liberal Arts course of study, even if you had a major field of study or even a minor. The term “Renaissance Man” comes from the idea of having at least some educational and experiential exposure to many different kinds of fields and influences, and the term “well-rounded” is a compliment to anyone who seems to have had opportunity to study or experiment with cultural diversity.  Colleges love a diversity of student body, and they consider this on admissions committees in probably every undergraduate and graduate school program.  We would do well to have at least a little exposure to things we have little interest in, because when we do, we sometimes find that we fall in love with something that we didn’t know much about before.  In my second year of graduate school, I had the opportunity to work with people with severe and persistent mental illness.  I didn’t know much about this when I started that year, but I fell in love with working with this population and did so after graduation, and I continue to put that to good use, when I started that study of that sub-population within mental health kind of on a curious lark.  My advice?  Think of any “curious lark” that you have, and follow it through.  There is a joy in discovery of learning something new, traveling somewhere different, or digging deeper into an idea, a culture, or a field of study that represents a new experience for you.
  6. Investment Portfolios – As I got older and learned how, as I say in my book, “take care of my financial self” as an adult, I learned that in general it’s best to have a diversity in one’s financial investments to build financial security over time, particularly in retirement planning. Expert gay financial planners (like David Rae, CFP) could speak more to this, but this another area where diversity equals strength, which is different from the others, but you see how the diversity concept still applies toward contributing to our overall mental/physical health by supporting our financial health.
  7. Fitness Training – Many personal fitness trainers will really emphasize diversity in training. Even the term “Cross-Fit”, so popular now, refers to this in its word “cross”, meaning that aspects of fitness from different activities and movement contribute to the overall physical fitness and well-being of a person.  Trainers will often say “mix it up” when it comes to your cardio exercise, so that new demands on your heart, lungs, bones, muscles, ligaments, tendons, etc., create new adaptive coping strategies from your body.  When you have a diversity of resistance training (weight lifting), your muscles grow and stretch, which has both an esthetic and functional benefit.
  8. Diet – Nutritionists would say that eating a variety of foods from various food groups lends itself to better nutrition and contributes to overall health. Different sources of protein, carbs, vitamins, minerals, and fiber contribute to many systems of the body working at full functioning.

There are probably more examples of how diversity contributes to our overall mental, physical, and even social well-being.  Perhaps diversity in friends?  Climate?  Sexual experiences?  Activity vs. rest?  Can you think of more?  Comment below.

Concepts like embracing diversity work on many levels, from the “macro” – which is society at large – to the “mezzo”, which is small or local groups of people, such as in a state, city, neighborhood, or office/organization, and “micro” – within ourselves.  Whenever we are frustrated, bored, depressed, unfulfilled, or unenthused, it’s entirely possible that what’s missing is a diversity of experience.  If you’re experiencing any of these states, try to “mix it up” from the list above.  Brainstorm something new and different that you can do, or be exposed to.

These kinds of concepts that contribute to overall mental health and well-being are things that are sometimes topics in therapy and coaching.  If you need help with giving your life a “boost”, consider working with a therapist or coach who can help you think or behave in new ways, and create that diversity.  For your free, 15-minute consultation on how the services at GayTherapyLA might help you, email me at, or call/text 310-339-5778.  You don’t have to be an LGBT person to work with us, as some members of the GayTherapyLA clinical staff are “straight allies” of the LGBT community and work with straight people as well.  (See?  Even at GayTherapyLA, we value diversity!)

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