My tendency to listen more than talk has allowed me to be privy to a lot of conversations going on around me. I have this amazing ability to make it look like I’m not eavesdropping listening. Poring over a book. Making it seem like something really interesting is going on with my phone. Staring out the window as though the passing cars are as fascinating as a da Vinci painting. All this to say that I’ve listened to some very interesting conversations. And the common thread interwoven among many of them is the belief that life satisfaction comes at some distant point in the future. When the house is paid. When the kids are out of school. When I retire. When, and I quote, “put my mother-in-law in an old folks home far away.”
I looked over to the person who said it, and something caught my eye (I was getting my hair done at the time). Her son was tickling himself pink with some hair rollers. He had created some make-shift hair roller people, with a house (represented by 4 rollers), a car (1 roller), and a little village of rollers scattered all around. He had completely lost himself in it, creating a vivid imaginary world that I wanted to be privy to. “This,” I said to myself, “is satisfaction. This is pure joy. His world has purpose. His world has a meaning – and he doesn’t even realize, let alone care, that they’re rollers!” I set off the next day to research and “life satisfaction” and to analyze the elements that make up contentment (we are currently collecting data for this test). Here’s what I found in my research and by talking to people from various walks of life:
1) People who love their life are satisfied with the social aspect of it. They love their relationships with their family, friends, and partner, even if they aren’t perfect. And you don’t have to have tons of social contacts to be satisfied – it’s quality that matters, not quantity.
2) People who love their life are satisfied with their job. They have good relationships with their colleagues, an understanding boss, and are content with their job conditions. Most importantly, they are in a field that excites their passion and brings out the best in them.
3) Financial health, while important in terms of practicality, was related to, but not strongly correlated with, life satisfaction. This doesn’t come as much of a surprise. When analyzing results of our Career Motivation Test, money didn’t even crack our top 10 motivators. When I asked people whether having more money would impact their happiness, many of them recognized that while it would be convenient, they also held to the philosophy that “money doesn’t bring happiness.”
4) Satisfaction with self: This includes body image, physical health, and psychological well-being. You know what they say – if you don’t have your health, nothing else really matters. And as for body image, you would be surprised to discover the amount of slender, beautiful people I spoke to who are sorely discontent with how they look. Beauty, my friends, is truly subjective.
5) Existence of life goals: Aside from accomplishments and a sense of purpose (whether that’s running a major company or raising wonderful children – they are equally awesome life goals), this aspect of life satisfaction also includes a sense of belonging (which ties into the social aspect), sense of freedom (to make your own decisions, to be yourself), and a sense of pleasure. “Pleasure is the only thing one should live for,” said Oscar Wilde. “Nothing ages like happiness.” Of course, Oscar Wilde’s life of, let‘s say, indulgence and decadence (at least for some part), may not be the best example. Just remember to take joy in life’s little pleasures as often as you can.
6) A positive outlook: Optimism and resilience, according to research, are major aspects of life satisfaction. This means facing obstacles head on, acknowledging your strengths, and believing that every time you fall and get up again, you are that much closer to achieving your dreams. Most importantly, it means not dwelling on the past. We spend far too much time focusing on the things we’ve done rather than what we will do next. I heard an interesting piece of wisdom from a Reiki healer: “You have to live in the now. This is the only moment you have. How do you know if you’re living in the now? If you’re feeling regret, you’re thinking about the past. If you’re worrying, you’re thinking about the future. Live each moment now, with joy.”
Here are some tips that can help increase your satisfaction with life – aside from playing with hair rollers:
- Take practical steps to deal with mental health issues. Whether it’s depression, anxiety, loss or any other problem you’re dealing with, take the steps necessary to resolve it. Life satisfaction will seem all the more difficult to obtain if you don’t overcome these obstacles first. Therapies have come a very long way in the past few decades and show very successful outcomes for numerous emotional difficulties. Get the disorder in order, and then get your life in order.
- Find your “raison-d’être.“ Whether it’s a hobby, raising your children, training/fostering animals, creating art or music, or volunteering, find something that adds meaning to your life. This sense of passion will make you feel renewed, and help you realize how special and important you really are. Not to mention the fact that you will be making a positive impact on someone’s life.
- Set goals. Even if it’s just “to clean out the garage and have a garage sale,” a goal sets your focus on something to achieve. It gives your life a sense of purpose. Nothing can be more draining than being in an unproductive rut. Set some solid goals that are challenging but achievable, and chances are that you’ll feel motivated to keep going. In the least, it will keep your mind off of what isn’t going well in your life.
- Don’t think of problems – think of solutions. Don’t waste time wallowing and complaining about the fact that you’re overweight or single. Take a piece of paper and write out your problem. Then come up with at least 5 to 10 solutions. The human brain loves to work out problems, so rather than using yours to think about the problem, use it to think about solutions. So if you don’t like the number on your scale, find a weight loss community to join online, join a gym, or find some fun workout DVDs. If you’re searching for Mr. or Mrs. Right, join a dating site, go to a speed dating event, or talk to friends or colleagues about single people they may know.
- Live each day like it’s your last. Ask anyone who has had a near-death experience – they suddenly realize how precious life really is, and how every little moment should be enjoyed and appreciated. This isn’t to say that you should purposely put your life in danger in order to experience this epiphany. But when life and all the little disappointments are really getting you down, ask yourself if it all really matters in the grand scheme of things. That argument with your partner, those few extra pounds you gained, that less than satisfying performance review – as much as they bother you in the moment, do they really matter in the long-run?