9 building blocks of a great life!

We instinctively know what we need in order to feel good. And yet, in our obsession with playing busy, we forget the very things that are most important to us. It’s time to pay attention to what really matters and start experiencing joy and wellbeing—not some day in the future but every single day

Normally, when we think of building blocks of life, we think of DNA and microbiology, of the evolution of life from unicellular micro organisms to complex creatures such as human beings. But for humans, life is a lot more than just physical existence. We are multidimensional beings and our wellbeing doesn’t just depend on getting food, water and air. To live a life of meaning and joy, we need a lot more—we need good health, fulfilling relationships, satisfaction at work and a purpose in life, among other things. Doing well in only one or two areas of life at the cost of others never works.

Here are nine basic building blocks of wellbeing that constitute a great life. Without these in place, your life is likely to wobble and be at a risk of crashing any time. The best part about these building blocks is that they are easy to understand and integrate into your life. What you need is a commitment to live your best life with consistent effort until it becomes your natural way of being. So let’s get going!

1. Embrace the real you: Cultivate a healthy self-concept

Man holding a mirrorRegardless of where you’re at, your timing is perfect. No matter how old you are, no matter how many mistakes you’ve made, no matter how much time you’ve wasted in unfruitful thoughts, activities, relationships or jobs, you are meant to be here, right now.

One day, you’ll see how all those “wrong turns” and difficult experiences in your life have worked together to create the perfect you and your perfect life. Right now, you are perfectly designed to live and serve the world in a way that only you can.

This isn’t about creating a self-indulgent “me, me, me” kind of life. Rather, it’s about finally having the courage to recognise the person who you really are, and to make your most important life choices based on that. Your most authentic life and your biggest contribution to society come from the wonderful tapestry made up of all the parts of you—your flaws, your mistakes, your dreams, your talents, your experiences and your natural likes and dislikes. You are completely unique on this planet and in history, and you are here for a reason. Until you start being the real you, in all areas of your life, you can’t possibly experience the fullness of the life that most certainly is waiting for you.

Before depression and desperation forced me to leap and embark on this wonderful adventure that is my life today, my days used to feel like a life sentence. 15 years ago, I was a depressed, anxious, burned out Emergency Medicine resident who panicked under pressure and felt faint at the sight of large amounts of blood.

1years ago, I was a depressed, anxious, burned out Emergency Medicine resident who panicked under pressure and felt faint at the sight of large amounts of blood

One night, I reached the point where I no longer wanted to keep living. Thankfully a miraculously timed phone call from a concerned medical colleague saved me from the brink. She told me to take a stress leave, to consider quitting the residency programme, and to think about who I really was and what I might want to do with my life. That phone call set me on a whole new path.

Today, I am a wellness and lifestyle expert who speaks internationally and coaches people around the world. I also work with international media and blog for Psychology Today. In the midst of it all, I became a professional flamenco dancer. There’s a lot more to my story [you can read about it in my book, Live a Life You Love: 7 Steps to a Healthier, Happier More Passionate You] but the bottom line is that once I realised who I really was and started making choices from that place, my life bloomed and transformed completely. Your life can, too.

Luckily I don’t always believe what people tell me, otherwise during my season of depression, I might have accepted the “reality” that I was a biologically depressed person who would have to stay on anti-depressants for most of her life. Today, I can’t remember when I popped my last “happy pill”. From the moment that I reconnected with who I really was, and gave myself permission to be my true self, I began making choices that were right for me, instead of listening to what other people thought would be best. And that was when everything began to turn around, and the darkness turned to light. Where once people used to feel sorry for me, today they tell me that they envy my fulfilment and freedom.

If no one else was watching and potentially judging or criticising you, who would you be? What different choices would you make? What is the truth that is in your heart? These questions aren’t frivolous. They are vitally important in shining the light on the true beauty that is the one, the only, you.

2. Prioritise and nourish fulfiling relationships

I frequently talk about relationships as being one of the most important contributors to your health and happiness. And it’s not just your closest relationships—the number of social contacts you have in your daily life [including the bank teller and your neighbour down the street] are directly associated with your wellbeing.

9-building-blocks-of-a-great-life-2-350x224I’m an introvert and could happily spend long stretches of time working and hanging out at home, without interacting with anyone other than my husband and our dog. Though I love people and deeply appreciate my friends, I don’t have a strong drive to regularly reach out to others. I’m terrible when it comes to calling people, and can easily let long intervals of time pass by without connecting. This hasn’t got anything to do with whether or not I like them, I’m just not very socially oriented. That said, I’m increasingly aware that given the health and happiness benefits of time with other people, it’s in my best interest to override my anti-social tendencies and spend more time with others.

Last week at church, the sermon highlighted three elements that are required to create a better relationship with the divine. While listening to it, I realised it was sensible advice about creating a better relationship not only with the divine, but with anyone who is important to you. Here are the three points, with my take on them:

  1. Notice and act on your desire to connect with others
    Whenever you think of someone, or spend time with someone, and feel a desire to spend more time with them in the future, make note of it. You might meet someone new who you really like, or hear a song on the radio that’s your uncle’s favourite, or run into an old friend on the street. In that moment, you may be struck by how much you enjoy that person’s company and feel a desire to see them again soon. What do you do when that happens? Like me, do you file it away in your mind, forget and then after five years pass them by and ask yourself, “Has it really been five years since I last saw Jenny?”
    When you feel that desire to spend more time with someone, act on it. Make a date for lunch, even if the next possible opportunity is a couple of months or a year away. Pick up the phone and call them when you think of them, just to say hello. Send a quick Facebook message to let them know you were thinking of them.
  2. Spend “real” time together
    Speaking of Facebook, I heard someone comment the other day that even though it’s so easy to “keep in touch” with people these days through social media comments, emails or text messages, it’s not the same as real time. Don’t let your regular brief contact with someone online replace face-to-face or voice-to-voice time.
  3. Make a special effort that demonstrates your commitment and caring nature
    Relationships don’t develop automatically and don’t deepen on their own—they take effort. Be conscious of this in your relationships and think about what efforts you can make to deepen your connection with people who matter to you. What kind of effort would be most significant to each individual? Some people don’t care about birthdays [or actually hate being reminded they’re a year older now], while others feel slighted if they don’t get a phone call or an e-card. Pay close attention to what other people value, and make the effort to connect with them on that level.

Make time for people in your life, especially the ones that you love the most and the ones that make you laugh the most. If a hermit like me can do it, you certainly can. In fact, last night after a long day of work and flamenco dance rehearsals, I dragged myself all the way back into town to go to a friend’s birthday party because I knew that her birthday was important to her. A group of us had dinner, ate heaps of rich flourless chocolate cake, and then went out dancing. I had the time of my life. In retrospect it’s quite funny that I thought I was making the effort just to please my friend. When we’re good to our friends and family, we’re really taking care of ourselves.

To summarise, focus on helping and loving people, while still taking good care of yourself, and you will thrive.

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A version of this article was first published in the November 2015 issue of  Complete Wellbeing.

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