Enhancing Well-being

Photo by Lee Vue on Unsplash

Well-being is “a set of skills that can be learned and cultivated over time, just like learning to play a musical instrument or riding a bike.” The Center for Healthy Mind

Here we are again, another new, fresh, unopened year ahead. Like a new baby, it arrives with its own temperament, its own spirit, its own personality, waiting to be unwrapped and discovered.

I think back to last year as we imagined what 2022 might be. Who among us predicted a brutal war, the death of a queen, the demise of Roe v Wade, evaporating reservoirs that foretell a future parched earth, violent storms bringing waves of water, sheets of ice, and snow measured in feet rather than inches. Dare we imagine what the next year might bring?

How might we prepare ourselves for the surprises, stresses, and challenges of this new year? How might we build resiliency to meet the exigencies of 2023? How might we cultivate a sense of well-being—that life is as it needs to be and we can handle what comes our way?

I checked in with the Center for Healthy Minds out of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  They have explored factors that contribute to a sense of well-being and provide a solid foundation for meeting life’s demands and difficulties.

They name four pillars that contribute to a sense of well-being, bringing together mind, body, spirit. The four pillars are awarenessconnectioninsight, and purpose. We can all learn these practices to enhance our well-being.

Awareness

As we enter 2023, let us build skills that contribute to our well-being.The first practice is awareness, attending to “your environment and internal cues such as bodily sensations, thoughts and feelings.” The opposite of being aware is being distracted. How often do I catch myself on auto-pilot with thoughts far from where I am? Awareness looks a lot like mindfulness, being where I am, here and now. Distractedness increases stress and anxiety. Staying attuned to our senses helps us remain in the present moment. What are the sounds around me? What am I smelling, tasting, touching? Meditation is an effective tool to build our mindfulness skills, focusing on our breath, returning each time we stray, always back to the breath.

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Awareness is good for our memory as well. When my mind has drifted elsewhere, whatever I am reading or listening to goes offline, lost in the space of distraction. I try to be particularly attentive when I meet someone, I attend to their name so I can remember it, say it aloud. I find a hook—someone else with that name or a visual cue. I remember a former classmate whose name was Robin. She had red, curly hair tied on top of her head. I thought of her hair as a nest, a robin’s nest. I have never forgotten her name.

Connection

The second pillar is connection, “a feeling of care and kinship toward other people, promoting supportive relationships and supportive interactions.” We increase our capacity for connection with compassion. How might it feel to be them in their circumstances? What might we have in common? How did they come to view the world as they do?

We build connection by showing appreciation for others and why we are grateful for their presence in our life. I sent a tip with a note to my newspaper delivery person describing how I appreciate her bringing me the daily paper. In the summer I am often on the porch when she tosses the paper from her car. I shout a hearty thank you. Her faithful delivery makes my life better. If it’s late, I am reminded how valuable a service she provides.

When we have negative first impressions of people we don’t feel connected. We set up a comparison and rank them as less than. Rather than carrying a sense of well-being, we’re swimming in a stew of competition and arrogance, playing a game of one-upmanship.

Insight

The third pillar is Insight, “self-knowledge concerning how our emotions, thoughts and beliefs shape our experiences and sense of self.” By attending to how we feel, we notice when anxious thoughts arise and can be curious about them. I ask myself, is this coming from fear based on a current danger, from old family beliefs no longer useful, or my own critical voice that needs to be muffled?

When I look with insight, I challenge beliefs that are remnants of someone else’s story, out of date coping skills, or childhood fears that I can address with my adult self. Self-knowledge builds the capacity to leave our self-imposed prisons, forgive ourselves, and grow in understanding of the person we choose to be.

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Purpose

The fourth pillar is Purpose, “being clear about your core values and deeper motivation and being able to apply them to your daily life…… A strong sense of purpose is associated with improved health outcomes and behaviors, including increased physical activity, decreased incidence of stroke, fewer cardiovascular events, reduced risk of death, lower health care utilization, and even better financial health.” We do this by remembering how ordinary tasks and routines contribute to our purpose. For instance, when I buy my food at the farmers market, I remember that I value caring for the earth. Buying locally reduces my carbon footprint. I am able to share my appreciation with the grower. I often engage with neighbors and friends. I connect my behavior with my values.

Richard Lieder, a local speaker on the purpose of life and author of Who Do You Want to Be When You Grow Old?: The Path of Purposeful Aginsays, “While the roles we play in life—parent, child, friend, author, coach, teacher, you name it—are important, they are not our life’s purpose. Purpose is not a role or a goal; it is an aim and a mindset. To awaken, to grow, to continually give, and to make a difference to others—that’s why we are here. It’s who we bring to what we do.”

As we enter 2023, let us build skills that contribute to our well-being—that sense that we can handle what comes our way. The skills of attentionconnectioninsight, and purpose contribute to a flourishing life, a sense of agency, a grounding in joy, health, and self-knowledge. With that we can welcome the new year, with all its surprises and adventures.


Mary Lou Logsdon is a Spiritual Director in the Twin Cities. She can be reached at logsdon.marylou@gmail.com.

Last Updated on January 7, 2023

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