Have you ever considered what it means to live well? This might sound like an easy question, or some of you may consider that living well is a luxury only afforded to the most privileged. However, I believe that we all have the potential to live well.
Don’t get me wrong, living well does not imply having a life without trials, without tribulations, nor is it that elusive reality that I often see promoted of ‘living the life you always dreamed of’. I find the latter to be somewhat abstract from reality and to be honest, it has never really resonated for me. One quote about ‘we work to live, not live to work’, is one that is very much in line with my philosophy of living well. When we are driven or consumed by the drivers or motivations passed on through our environments, I would suggest that we are not ‘living well’, but we are just existing.
In my own exploration, when I asked myself “what does it mean to live well?” I had to carefully consider my personal definition of the meaning of my life. I know there are many paths to existential questioning, some based on religious or spiritual traditions. For me, however, it simply came down to a feeling of contentment that I am doing my best to live a life that is an authentic reflection of what I want it to be. In other words, the decisions and choices I make for my life, emanate from a place of what I desire for my life.
Earlier in my life, those decisions were motivated by the desire to be ‘seen’, affirmed and ultimately belong. It was based on how I experienced my environment, and as a result I often felt the need to prove myself, to show that I am worthy of acceptance and that I am a valuable human being. This particular way of living and being can become exhausting because, in truth, external validation is a desire that needs to be fed constantly.
Over time, I have learnt that until I am able to affirm and see myself as worthy, no one else will. It was a long journey, but one that got me to understand that I am in charge of my life. It meant that I had to answer the question; “what does it mean to live well?” for myself. From this point, when considering new opportunities, or even just making some important decisions in my life, I evaluate those decisions or choices against how it would impact my commitment to living well. I am in no way trying to over-simplify the context of complex social relations that we are embedded in. I am merely suggesting that it is possible to live your life on your own terms.
I have come to realise that the presence of the following four characteristics is an affirmation of me living well.
1. Strong connections and relationships.
In a world where there is much to do, it is easy to forget the importance of community. I have to admit, my family is a top priority and being able to maintain those relationships is a critical aspect of me living well. In addition, where possible, I value friendships and solidarity circles. The importance of community is linked to a sense of belonging, social cohesiveness and also plays a role in our mental well-being. Being able to plug into these connections and relationships will help you gain perspective on your own life and struggles. I have often talked about having ‘your people’, and this requires energy investment and time to maintain so that it enriches my existence.
2. The ability to maintain my physical well-being.
Living well means having the capability and opportunity to enjoy my life and existence. This means that I have to be able to maintain my physical well-being. It means taking care of what I eat, creating time to exercise and having an awareness of what it is I need to do to take care of my health. This may sound intuitive, but in reality, this is an area most of us struggle with. We are so caught up in the humdrum of our lives, that the easiest area to neglect is our own physical well-being. When we are busy, we eat whatever is easiest (and cheapest) and those are often not the healthiest options. I am still learning to do better in this area. It has required me to learn more and become an expert on my own health and body.
3. Doing work that is meaningful.
Living well always comes back to a question I ask myself; “why are you here?”. I am certain it is not merely to survive from one moment to the next. I am certain that I have a contribution to make to the world, however small it might be. The ability to do work that I consider meaningful contributes to my overall sense of well-being, the feeling I get for living my life and doing what I can while I can. I do consider myself fortunate in that I have found what that is, and that I continue to get opportunities to do the kind of work I consider meaningful. For each of us this may be different, but in the end, knowing we can do work that makes the world better is part of living well.
4. Making space and time for joy.
This category for many people I know evokes a sense of selfishness and self-indulgence. However, I do think that we all need more joy in our life. Whether that is dancing, going to a movie, going for a walk or hanging out with those who bring out the best in us. We do need to make time to be joyful, have fun and just be in the moment – this is an absolute must for living well!
5. Opportunities to grow.
Last but not least, for me, in order to live well, I have to feel that I am growing. I believe that when we do not choose our growth paths, life chooses it for us. The latter option is often more painful. So, whether it means doing something you have never done, travelling to places that are unknown, doing things that scare you or simply learning something new, it is all part of living well.
My hope is that all of us live well! To me, it means truly reflecting on our own lives and being brave enough to go outside the confines of what we have been told or led to believe it would mean. Find what it means to you.