I First Realized My Wellbeing in the Most Unlikely of Places
Enormous swirling grey clouds thundered overhead and cold raindrops poured down, soaking my clothes and chilling me to the bone. I kept digging, heaving shovelfuls of mud out of a foot-deep trench while my rain boots squelched and slipped. That was one of the best moments of my life.
In the mountains of southern Costa Rica, I was on a service trip and three of my friends and I were digging an aqueduct in the rain. It was so the village would be able to access water at various points, rather than having to walk down a steep and rocky hill to the spring. It also meant they would not need to carry heavy gallons of water back up that hill.
For two and a half weeks, I had eaten nothing but fruits, vegetables, rice, and occasionally meat. There was no pop or coffee, only water. No electricity meant no flushing toilets, no cell phones, and lights out when the sun went down. I went to bed every night on a hard wooden floor with bats flying overhead, my muscles sore from a long day of labor. And I loved it!
If you think about it, it’s funny what makes us happy. It’s so strange what gives us a sense of wellbeing. I could have felt miserable and deprived, homesick, and craving sugar and a hot shower. (Though showering in a waterfall was really cool!) Instead I was incredibly happy, felt healthy and full of life. I was thriving!
Researchers have been fascinated by this apparent paradox for years and have sought to understand the elements of wellbeing and happiness. What they have found is that our wellbeing depends upon the delicate balance of multiple components of our lives. These are:
Optimal health. Not only the absence of disease. Consuming enough nutrients that our bodies need, avoiding toxic food and beverages, and increasing our movement are three ways to improve our physical health.
Having more positive feelings than negative is shown to result in better wellbeing. Well, yeeeaaaaaa……. Ways to increase positive emotions are: doing things you enjoy and being with people you love. For people that have experienced trauma, emotions can either be very intense and overwhelming, or almost non-existent like you no longer have emotions. We will explore in a future blog how to regulate your emotions again after trauma.
Our brains are always able to be shaped and changed. New pathways are built or strengthened with practice, and begin to erode without practice. Practice having more positive thoughts than negative. If you notice you are having negative thoughts, purposefully look at a picture of a loved one, recite an encouraging message to yourself, or do something that makes you feel happy. People often believe they have no control over their thoughts, but this myth has been disproved for millennia by meditators.
Spend time with friends! Be present with your family in the evenings! People from the happiest countries also have the strongest ties to community. If you struggle with making friends, that is something you can work with a counselor on too.
All of you – mind, body, and soul – is important in attaining wellbeing. Whether you currently have an established set of beliefs or not, exploring your spirituality can bring clarity and purpose to your life.
When we feel capable of providing for our family and do not worry about our financial security, our financial wellbeing is good. This is a more difficult component of our lives to control, but something that everyone has the ability to move towards with hard work and dedication.
How satisfied are you with your life? Often people realize that they don’t have the “picture perfect” life that the media and social media tell them they need, but that they are still very happy and satisfied with how their lives are! If you are not satisfied, what is not in line with your dreams? What can you do to move closer to achieving your ideal life? (Notice the keyword: ideal – not perfect!)
Engaging activities and work
Do you find meaning in the work you do? I could tell you countless stories of people who have high-end jobs and hate the work they do, and other people who have “menial” jobs and LOVE what they do. Ask yourself why you do what you do, and how it impacts the people around you. Also, engaging in meaningful activities outside work is one of the best ways to boost your happiness! Volunteering of any kind – informal and formal – boosts your good feelings for weeks!
What You Can Do to Improve Your Wellbeing
You don’t have to take a trip to the mountains of Costa Rica to find wellbeing. If you simply take each of the eight elements above and work on improving each a little at a time, you will begin to feel more alive.
Remember that it is not realistic to constantly work on every single one of the listed elements. When a juggler is juggling, she only has her hands on one or two flaming torches at a time – the rest are up in the air! At the right time, she’ll focus on each individual torch and give it a boost. Then she’ll let that one be while she focuses on the next torch. In the same way, spend each day or week working on one or two of these at a time and then move on to the next. That is the only way to realistically keep all these life areas in balance at the same time.
Have a wonderful week on your continued journey in life! If you would like some help in boosting one or more of the areas of your life, call me at (531) 289-8246 and we’ll see what I can do to help. Either through counseling or pointing you in a needed direction.