THE BLOG

Stop Chasing Well-Being and Start Practicing It

09/09/2015 12:16 BST | Updated 08/09/2016 10:12 BST

All photos courtesy of unsplash.com

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Everyone wants to experience well-being. Everyone desires the life that is promised in the storybooks and the car commercials. And we are good at chasing after it. We push hard to make it all work so that we can have the life we want. But is all this pushing really working? Are we pushing in the right direction? Does more wealth, for example, lead to greater life satisfaction? The answer to that particular question depends on how you look at the numbers. Countries with higher GDP generally have higher levels of life satisfaction. However, within a country, the research shows that even as overall wealth increases, life satisfaction generally does not. We know that after basic financial concerns are taken care of -- food, health, housing, education -- more money does not equate to more happiness.

Then why do we want more money? I believe it is because we think it will help us with the two most popular strategies for chasing well-being:

  1. Trying to ensure that only wanted and comfortable stuff shows up in our lives.
  2. Trying to keep unwanted or uncomfortable stuff from showing up.

These are exhausting and impossible strategies. The universe is too complex and too unpredictable to control even a small corner of it for long. And, we each have a human body that is going to create discomfort no matter what we do. No matter how "perfectly" everything is arranged, our nervous systems are bound to generate discomfort from time to time. People, situations, thoughts, and feelings are going to show up -- some we like and some we don't. We may as well work skillfully with what shows up so that we are not derailed when it does. This is the heart of well-being practice.

Well-being is the practice of focusing and acting upon what is most important in the face of whatever shows up. It begins with awareness -- the skillful use of attention -- also known as mindfulness. And it often finishes with action -- the skillful use of energy -- also known as purposefulness. As soon as we take some action, something else shows up, and we have the opportunity to start all over again with awareness. From awareness to action and back to awareness.

How do we practice working skillfully with stuff that shows up? Here are some concrete, research-based techniques. You may find that you already have skill in some areas and that it is worth paying more attention in others.

Awareness -- mindfulness, yoga, active listening, spending time in nature

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"The faculty of voluntarily bringing back a wandering attention, over and over again, is the very root of judgment, character, and will." ~ William James

Acceptance -- self-compassion, forgiveness, letting go of comparison

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"I long, as does every human being, to be at home wherever I find myself." ~ Maya Angelou

Lighten up -- relaxation breathing, laughter, letting go of rumination

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"Lighten up on yourself. No one is perfect. Gently accept your humanness." ~ Deborah Day

Gratitude -- journaling, meditation or prayer, expressing thanks to others

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"If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough". ~ Meister Eckhart

Savoring -- slowing down, breathing in the moment, smiling for no reason

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"The passing moment is all that we can be sure of; it is only common sense to extract its utmost value from it." ~ W. Somerset Maugham

Kindness -- empathy, compassion, service

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"No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted." ~ Aesop

Self-care -- exercise, sleep, eating well

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"When the well's dry, we know the worth of water." ~ Benjamin Franklin

Each morning we wake up with the opportunity to practice well-being. There is nothing to wait for, nothing to chase after. We can, in this moment, bring our attention to what matters most, and then we can take action on behalf of that. We can dive into the miracle of existence over and over. And, when we forget or become distracted, we can simply begin our practice again.

Dave Mochel has been a teacher of human development, neuroscience, leadership, and well-being for twenty-five years. He coaches and trains people and organizations to be happier, healthier, and more effective by integrating the practice of well-being into everything they do. You can reach him at dave@appliedattention.com or www.appliedattention.com