I'm not a wellness guru. I don't have a net worth of millions nor I don't pretend to know more about this subject than anyone else. I've just completed half a century of age and I still have to look out for the future and there are no certainties about anything.
Still, I've learned a lot along the way. The failures and the successes I had, the wisdom I received from others, the learnings I've picked from books and articles, all of this helped me to delineate an approach to life that makes a bit of sense.
I decided to put in writing a couple of guidelines firstly as a guide to myself, and then thought that this might make sense to others. To all that know me today, to those that knew me before, to whom I might meet in the future and to all the people in this world.
If this resonates with one of you, then I think it's already was worth writing this.
Notice that I'm using the term "Meaningful Life" instead of the "Happy Life". This subtlety doesn't happen by chance. Happiness is a fleeting feeling that comes and fades in waves. You can try to always be cheerful and grateful for the good things in your life, but, constantly being continuously happy, I don't think it's possible.
Merely the quest of searching for happiness hinders it from occurring. Think about it. Asking when automatically excludes now. Questioning for how long, terminates it. Nothing ever happens like we imagine anyway, so creating expectations is one way to destroy the moment. Also, happiness is a quite personal and subjective feeling. It's a state of mind that doesn't even have a well defined trigger.
On the other hand, your meaning is always there for you, helping you to have the courage and the energy to continue.
Create Your Meaning
Don't search for a meaning in life, rather define yourself forehand what is a meaningful life.
Found echoes of this phrase in several places, so I can't really say who said it first. It does makes a lot of sense, it is a very personal choice.
Meaning has to be something that you deeply relate into. For some it could be having a pristine garden, for others is religion, for others is excelling in sports, while for others is the job or community work.
The best concept I came across is Ikigai. Which in Japanese means: meaning of life.
Do avoid having a purpose that is tied with one person, no matter how much you love her/him. It will leave you depleted and destroy exactly the relation you wanted to nourish. There is a balance.
Define success on your own terms
This comes almost as a consequence of the previous point. The definition of success is completely arbitrary and how you feel about it even more.
There are hundreds of examples of personalities that achieved stardom, and yet, were feeling miserably. To name a few I remember: Kurt Cobain (Musician - Nirvana), Michael Hutchence (Musician - INXS), Dolores O'Riordan (Musician - The Cranberries) , Robin Williams (Actor), Marilyn Monroe (Actress) and the list continues.
Paradoxically, it is exactly on the peak of their success that they most felt lonely, to the point of losing the will to live. Why ?!?! I have no idea, just the clue that what we call success is not the dream we think it is. It doesn't heal the wounds. Somehow it even amplifies them. So, what's the point of fame? Most importantly, how to avoid that trap ?
I have to choose my words really carefully. It's dangerous to make generalizations, and I'm far from being in a position to make a science proven statement. Having said that, I suspect, that success isolates people for two different reasons. One is the pressure that is imposed by the crowd expectations, and second, is the failure to reconcile their own expectations with reality. I am led to believe that reconciling expectations with reality is kind of a generalized problem. Admittedly, it also haunts me as well, and I have to keep reminding me of the blessings I have.
It's good to have goals, because, it is they that eventually make your life have meaning. Do try to define your goals based on your personal beliefs, not on other's recommendation. Do not try to follow anyone's path as well. I mean, it's good to have idols, but trying to copy their path is a disservice you're doing to yourself and to society.
Reaching 50 years of age, the idea of success becomes a much down to earth. Success, might as well be having a beer at the end of your week with your friends, or enjoying a good meal. Why not ? It's rather healthier than to aim to have millions on your bank account, and observe no boundaries to achieve it. Just observe Trump's example. I've been following him attentively for the last 4 years, with all his whims, petty revenges, blatant lies and shameless behaviour. Partisan issues aside, I consider him a little sad and insecure person that needs to affirm himself by money, power and his race. Independently of his political affiliation, he personifies exactly the opposite of a man with a peace of mind. Even key figures of his own party recognize this.
Nothing illustrates better this point other than this an incredible story from Joseph Heller writer of the famous book Catch-22, told by Kurt Vonnegut. They were in a party of a wealthy billionaire when Kurt asked Joseph:
“Joe, how does it make you feel to know that our host only yesterday may have made more money than your novel ‘Catch-22’ has earned in its entire history?”
And Joe said, “I’ve got something he can never have.”
And I said, “What on earth could that be, Joe?”
And Joe said, “The knowledge that I’ve got enough.”
Brilliant !! That's the best definition of success. Just the knowledge that we have enough.
In my opinion, this work-life balance is one of the most misinterpreted subjects in many societies around the world.
In Oriental cultures this topic isn't ever discussed. There, the ideal of virtuosity is someone that works from sunrise to sunset. This has nefarious effects on the wellbeing of people and leading in some cases to people dying of sudden death at the office, or the infamous suicidal rates in renowned smartphone manufacturers. Not good!!!
On the other side, the western culture falls to the other extreme. Play time is overvalued and many people live their lives dreaming about retirement, and the next weekend. Not good either.
You pass great part of your day at work, and if the only reward you get from it is your salary, my deep sentiments. If you take absolutely no pleasure at work, maybe you should consider changing profession sooner than later.
Let's face it, there are no perfect jobs. No matter how good a job is, there will be boring days, there will be days where interpersonal incidents and accidents will ruin your mood. Most likely, those bad and boring days might outnumber the good ones. But, your own internal narrative towards your job makes a huge difference. The human brain is a self-justifying machine. The more effort you apply to something, the more you will feel that like it. If you give meaning in what you do, celebrate your achievements, bond with your colleagues, and engaging actively on the task at hands, even if a boring one, time passes quicker and it's more enjoyable.
Conversely, if your own narrative is "I'd rather be somewhere else", if it includes counting hours to the Friday or years till retirement, then it's a self inflicted torture.
Giving meaning to what you do at work, makes all the difference. One can be on a paradise resort feeling completely useless, another can be stuck in a windowless laboratory on a weekend feeling proud of himself.
Being Social or being a Social Being
For hundreds of Thousands of years, being part of a tribe was our safeguard against the wild life. Absence of a collective support often meant death and famine. Like it or not, this has conditioned us to be dependent on others.
In today's life, Social Security and welfare have made this need a bit less obvious, but, at subconscient level, there is an innate need of belonging. Rejection is painful for everyone, except perhaps for a sociopath.
Today tribes are mostly developed around personal interests. Things like Religious Groups, Sport collectives, Work Teams, Militar, Nationalist or Ethnicity groups and even Video Games.
Social media has taken advantage of this social need, but the intrinsic rules that guides real life social interaction were completely disrupted. A few years ago I was actively engaging in Facebook, and time and time again, instead of feeling the enriching experience that is participating in a social event, I ended up feeling completely empty. Became under the impression that everybody else had a much more interesting life, and felt bad for the amount of time wasted. Nowadays, I avoid it.
Each person has a different experience in regards to social media. For me it's not something really worth it. Therefore, I limit myself to chat groups and LinkedIn, which I "trained" to much more curated content.
Dealing with disappointments
Life surprises us constantly, sometimes for better, sometimes for worse. Creating future expectations is inevitable. Be it in regards to life itself, be it in regards to other people. The proverbial phrase "Seeing glass half full or half empty" is a delicate balance between optimism and pessimism.
I am myself a confessed pessimist and a risk averse person. I do recognize that maybe it made me forego some beautiful opportunities, for being afraid that winds wouldn't favor my quests. In the other hand, things might have turned out worse than what they are today.
It's a hurricane of questions and if-then-else scenarios that can be mostly unsettling, to which I apply the following antidotes.
1. Everything Happens For a Reason
Being born in November, I started school a year later in regards to others born earlier in the year. This was something that really frustrated my teenage mind. One day, my mother in her wisdom made me notice what I would have missed in case I started school a year earlier. I would not have studied informatics because the course didn't exist the year before where I lived, and my life would have been completely different.
As I grew old I found myself returning to that piece of wisdom. All happens for a reason, and we are only being able to connect the dots afterwards.
Being a person of science, I should mock of this kind of determinism, however, in this case, I forego. Time and time again, when things are not going smoothly, this belief has shone a new perspective into the subject, relaxing and leaving place to acceptance.
It also leaves you feeling luckier, which again, goes against the principles of probability, but, in retrospect, not a bad mindset to have.
2. Don't blame others for not complying with your own expectations
Disappointments are not more than our own fail to make a proper judgment of the character of others. So, next time you feel frustration because someone failed on you, instead of falling into self-pity, recognize your error and try to learn from it...
3. Never regret doing the right thing
This nice piece of advice I heard a long time ago from a very good friend. No further explanations are needed. The words speak for themselves and the simplicity of it is disarming.
The way you feel about life is entirely in your hands. You might not be able to choose the cards you get, but, you can define the rules of the game and make it feel as if you're winning. It's not possible to overjoyed all the time, but, it is possible to feel blessed.