Sometimes our circumstances make it difficult to believe we can live a full, meaningful, and thriving life.
We might live with the assumption that life is meant to be a cumbersome journey and we just have to get through it the best we can. At times this might feel like a reality, but as we meet lower-order needs these will cease to motivate us, and we can begin to direct attention to greater aspirations.
With a background in psychology, I was always taught to focus on illness and dysfunction, and ask questions like, “What’s the problem and how can the problem be fixed or managed?“
Again, sometimes there are problems to be fixed and this is necessary, but this doesn’t mean we’re anywhere close to living an optimal and happy life.
The absence of illness doesn’t mean we are optimally healthy. We are living an optimal life, when we are physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually healthy, and are flourishing in our emotions and relationships. People have a need for growth and fulfillment and if we can enhance certain areas of our life and increase our personal functioning we are on our way to optimal living.
1. Focusing on strengths and talents
Examining our strengths and virtues is a wonderful way to make strides toward living more fully. As we uncover our strengths and incorporate these in daily life we will experience more fulfillment and gratification. Using our strengths and talents for something greater than ourselves can offer great meaning. We can become more absorbed in what we do whether it is work, relationships, or leisure, and can begin to see true excellence in our performance.
2. Healthy living
This is the most difficult area for me; however I know it’s likely one of the most important, as it impacts many of the others. Healthy living includes getting enough sleep, exercising, and being selective about what we eat, drink, and consume into our body. Society can set us up to disregard this area from the fast pace of daily life and a focus on “success” despite our health.
3. Emotional peace
Learning to deal with our emotions is obviously crucial for experiencing greater happiness. Fortunately, we can learn to generate more positive emotions, and deal with negativity when it emerges. This can come from healing our past through forgiveness and working through toxic emotions like shame and guilt. It comes from experiencing more positivity in the present like joy, courage, and gratification, and more positive emotions about the future, such as hope, optimism, and faith. Managing emotions takes practice, and fortunately there are exercises to help us increase positivity and manage negativity.
One of the most fulfilling activities I employ in my life to live more optimally is to engage in constant learning. Having a curiosity and interest for learning new things gives me motivation and inspiration. It energizes me and helps spark creativity and innovation in my life. I love the quote by Socrates, “…all I know is that I know nothing.” It reminds me that there is so much to learn and confront in this world. Everyday offers a new opportunity for growth.
5. Train your senses
Many people are a product of their environment and eat unhealthy foods, watch garbage on television, and have many unhealthy preferences. As the saying goes, “garbage in, garbage in.” What we let into our mind and body becomes a part of who we are. If we want to change the habit of what we see, hear, and eat we can learn to adapt our pleasures. We can train ourselves to appreciate and enjoy what before seemed dull. People think violence and sex are entertaining to watch in movies and hear about in music. As we break away from this we begin training our senses to only desire positive, uplifting content from movies, television, and music, and this can begin to alter our consciousness.
6. Sense of control
I love the quote by William Ernest Henley which goes, “I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul.” Keeping this in focus allows us to realize that despite external circumstances we are still in charge of our response and attitude in life. Having self-direction and confidence is crucial and gives us a purpose worth pursuing. We need this sense of autonomy and independence to spark an inner-drive for achievement. When we feel in control we’re willing to set our sights higher and take positive risks to start living out our potential.
7. Healthy relationships
Our life simply wouldn’t be fruitful without healthy relationships. This refers to intimate, romantic, and family relationships. No matter what the relationship may be we are driven to connect with other. We are social creatures and need this connection in order to fully thrive. To have these healthy relationships though, we must learn to instill characteristics like honesty, accountability, respect, and trust, as we go forward in dealing with others.
It has taken me much of my short life to recognize the inherent nature and value of spirituality. As we become a more spiritual person if helps us to recognize the interconnectedness and oneness of life. This provides a new perspective on daily experiences. It can bring greater compassion and empathy in relationships and interactions, and it helps us acknowledge and be aware of how we can improve ourselves and world around us. I personally use meditation and prayer to connect spiritually, though there are many ways to connect with a higher power. Finding a healthy balance between all of these areas isn’t likely to be easy, but I believe it’s worth pursuing. We can go through life and accept our circumstances without any concern for our greater existence, or we can take it up a few notches and strive to live a full life while we have the opportunity. I don’t think people give themselves enough credit. There is a reason we are all here, but uncovering this and walking the path is up to us. I want to hear from you! What are your thoughts and feelings about living an optimal and happy life? Do you think people settle for less than they are capable of? Do you believe human beings naturally desire to seek self-growth? Why or why not? Photo credit: P.E.N.