Rarely do I get a feeling that there is not enough advice to go around. It’s quite the opposite. Advice is often free and accessible, despite not always being useful or applicable.
In this article, I would like to share some thoughts on what I think is useful. It is the product of my conclusions, which I have continuously been testing for the last four years. It works. It helped me, and I believe it will help you too.
The starting point
2016 was a turning year for my family. We lost our place to live, both got unemployed, and if that was not enough, we suddenly began to expect a child. For me, it was a point of reflection — one of those that can bring the end or become the new beginning.
Because of the earlier frequent ups and downs, career changes, somewhat contradictory ambitions, and a symbolic thirtieth birthday, to build a “sustainable life” seemed to be by far the most reasonable option. By sustainability, I didn’t mean a boring life — quite the opposite. I was interested in a life full of adventure, friendship, love, financial wealth, entertainment, and meaning! In other words, I desired to get to a state where all of the things I cared for could be there, without loss or regret, and with minimal sacrifice. How familiar does it sound to you?
The path of balance
It wouldn’t be wrong to say that life is a continuous stream of time, where we have to make decisions. Even indecision is a decision. With days composed of 24 hours each, and for everyone equally, our position is pretty much the product of choices of how we spend the most time. It is about habits, thinking patterns, and routines rather than “single shots” and sprints.
For this reason, it is worth considering how to limit wasting our time. It is a reasonable first step. For me, however, it was rarely about wasting my time. I believe, as you are reading this text, the same holds for you too. Indeed, to spend time on something means not to spend it on something else. Therefore, we should, perhaps, ask ourselves, how can we better switch between different activities? How to spend the time on what matters? Can you even name what matters?
The five elements
Our needs and aspirations are often very different. Studying happy people and contemplating both their and my own experiences, I concluded that there are five aspects to life, which seem universal and equally important:
- financial condition,
- spiritual growth.
They each contribute to our existence, and they all must have a place. Let me explain.
I have only ever met one person that despite a terrible health condition, was genuinely happy. This person was one of very few highly realized Tibetan lamas, who despite being stuck to a wheelchair, displayed indescribable freedom of uncommon depth.
Still, the example of this man feels more like an exception to the rule. The poor physical condition leads to diseases, and they involve pain. Therefore, if we can do something to stay healthy, we probably should. Not only because suffering isn’t exciting, but also to avoid unnecessary situations where we would have to rely on others’ help.
Family members and friends are not the only relationship types to care. Also, colleagues at work, customers, vendors, or business partners are the people we meet. Just like it is easy to sabotage one’s health through haste and excuses, it is also not that hard to let the interpersonal bonds erode. Patching broken relationships takes time. Regaining trust is not easy. Relationships feed on vitamins called attention, and it requires to be involved, not just “be.”
Happiness is not your bank account, but life is undoubtedly better with the wallet full rather than empty. With money, you have a choice. The more you have, the more you can reach.
During my undergraduate years, there have never been holidays where my friends and I would not be hitch-hiking. Most Eastern Europe got accessible to us thank to others’ kindness. Anyways, despite unforgettable adventures, I always had an undeniable feeling of guilt only because I was dependent. A few years later, I still hitch-hiked, but it tasted much better, as I had alternatives.
Once again, it’s better to be the one who can help than the one that must ask for help.
This domain is strongly related to the last one, but it does not cover it. Perhaps you chose to make your career in finance? Maybe you are a nurse or a singer? Here, no choice is wrong unless what you do does not bring you at least some level of joy or at least helps you move in this direction.
A career is not as much about the money as it is about the way you spend your time. At work, you trade your time! You exchange an nonrenewable resource for something replaceable. Continue to do that for 30 or 40 years, 8 hours a day, and you will realize how the effects get compounded.
And if you have the privilege to do something fulfilling, ensure to keep developing your skills. You would not like to lose this state, would you?
Spiritual growth is the last one I am adding to this “big five.” Why? It’s because it fills everything with meaning. Without this element, relationships would only mean security. The money would equal pleasure. The health would be the lack of pain. It is all good, but not where it could be.
I am not by far religious. Even if I were, there are thousands of religions, beliefs, or churches. It is not the point. The point is to seek meaning. It is to get to know, to experience — the world, and yourself. Do it through meditation, contemplation, prayer, travel, or even bungee jumping if you think it would open the way to get to know yourself better. As you get older, make sure you get wiser as well.
Hopefully, I managed to explain the essence of these five elements well. Looking around, I can fit most of the activities to at least one of these groups. Most importantly, from what I observed, they only ever make sense if practiced in harmony. To replace one with the other leads to discouragement or even burnout, which makes life non-sustainable.
The good news is that often engaging in one of the activities may not necessarily imply resignation from another. If played well, they can reinforce each other, where you would take a break from the sport to read a book or challenge your work colleagues for some healthy competition.
Personally, a good journal seems to do the trick. In retrospect, it enables me to estimate the proportions of how I spend my time. Practice jogging a minimum twice a week? OK, but no more than four. Work your ass off? Sure, but not seven days a week. Help your family out? Of course, but sometimes say no. You get the idea.
I think this is it for the first experimental (non-technical) post. Please, let me know what you find useful. Have a good day!