In my life as a counsellor and psychotherapist, I see many people who are, one way or another, striving to maintain a happy existence. While it is true that inner peace is an excellent way to happiness, it is also true that inner peace is somewhat easier if certain areas of our lives are well-arranged.
The following seven areas of life are the ones which appear most frequently in discussions with clients. Whatever our situation, they seem to be aspects of life which we must manage well in order to give us the time and energy to be happy. No two people will handle them the same way. One person will be happy with a home on the top of a mountain, and another with a city home. One person will choose to have no money; another may choose to allow wealth to accumulate.
Here they are:
#1 – HOME
Humans are animals. We have evolved around the concept of a home, a place where we spend most of our time. Even nomads carry with them equipment or vehicles which are their ‘home territory’. Our home is our consistent living environment, our base. It is usually where we sleep and wake. Insecurity about home accommodation is a great cause of anxiety and disquiet to many, and we are wise if we make sure that we are clear where home is, and how we choose to manage and maintain it.
#2 – RELATIONSHIPS
Humans are social animals. We have developed in collaboration with each other. From the moment we are born, we are dependent on each other for food, resources, and a sense of security and adventure. Even the most independent of people get lonely. Maintaining at least a few good human relationships is a skill to which we need to pay attention with humility.
#3 – FINANCES
As well as being a therapist, I am a chartered accountant, trained to assist others with their financial position and direction. Finances are just a reflection of our relationship with the world.
- If we take from the world (spend) more than we give (earn), we fall into debt.
- If we give to the world (earn) more than we take (spend), we move into credit.
Yes, fate can cause apparently random and unjust reversals of fortunes. And yes, others’ generosity and meanness can also affect our finances. But the broad thrust of modern economic activity, based as it is on individual earning and spending, is to make sure we manage the relationship between what we earn and what we spend.
#4 – WORK
Work provides two functions. Firstly, it provides the main basis for the money we earn. Secondly, it provides us with a focus of activity each day. Lack of work can cause psychological distress, partly because it removes a sense of financial agency, and partly because it removes a sense of daily purpose. It is better if we can find work that is fulfilling for us. We are all different, and we need to take care to find a job that suits us well.
#5 – HEALTH
We are living organisms. This means that we depend, for our life, on maintaining homeostatic balance. (Homeostasis is our ability to keep steady in a challenging environment.) When we need water, we drink. When we need food, we eat. We need to give ourselves, every day, appropriate nutrition, physical exercise, mental challenge, social activity, rest and sleep. We also need to keep away from bad foods, from bad drugs and habits, from unhealthy environments, and from unhealthy mental stress. Also, to keep our minds steady, we need to find ways of mastering our thoughts, through mindfulness or meditation.
#6 – CREATIVITY
Humans are creative organisms. We enjoy our five senses so much that we develop them into arts: smell and taste into cuisine; hearing into music and storytelling; sight into visual arts and sculpture; touch into fabric work and design. We enjoy film, theatre, radio, social media. We like to play with ideas, with identity, and with new feelings. When we are starved of these things, life becomes impoverished. Philosophy and religion are creative developments from daily experience. Architecture is creativity applied to the structures that house and transport us.
Creativity is interlinked with our development. It helps us form our identity, manage our feelings, build narratives that sustain us, and communicate with our peers.
#7 – CARE FOR OTHERS
We can have home, relationships, money, work, health and creativity, but be missing something. We can be trapped in a selfish world. Sooner or later, we may realise that many of our anxieties are rooted in selfishness – in wanting to overprotect what we imagine is ‘ours’. We can be happier if we loosen this stifling focus on the self, and begin to cherish others instead. The ‘self’ we are protecting is only imaginary.
In reality, no individual organism can exist in isolation. If we analyse our ‘self’ carefully, we will see that it is not at all clear where we end and the ‘outside world’ begins. The distinction between ‘self’ and ‘other’ gets weaker and weaker, until we can relax our over-defensiveness, and become more philanthropic. We then feel more a part of the universe, instead of separate from it. Our mental health can improve dramatically.
These 7 items make a good checklist for anyone wanting to review their life situation. It is always worth running the mind over each area, seeing if there is anything that can be done to improve things. A little time, each day, on each one, is perhaps wise.
To repeat them, they are:
- Care for others
We all have our own unique approach to each of these items. But any well-organised life makes time for each of them.