I write about things people can do to create resilient, passionate, fulfilling lives. I draw on the work of psychologists and the great traditions of Christianity that speak to behaviors and transcendent values people can embrace to truly live well. Living well doesn’t mean being rich, never experiencing physical pain, or living a worry-free life. I’m not a prosperity Gospel preacher nor am I someone who thinks happiness can be obtained by following a few simple life rules. Life is complex and most likely includes struggle, failure, pain, and hurt along with joy, success, pleasure, and peace. Because it’s a complex human experience it means we can’t oversimplify how to live well. If someone is giving you a simple solution to living life well, they’re probably not giving you something that works.
There are some things you can start doing to be a better person and I want to share them with you in this post. I call these “things” dimensions of living well because you can’t oversimplify life; you need to understand it as a multidimensional experience. These dimensions are supported by Christian spiritual masters and research psychologists. For now, just ponder them and we can explore them more deeply over the coming weeks:
The first dimension of living well is learning to love well. Love is a powerful force in our lives. We were created to love others and to be loved. Yet, in this broken fallen world we seem to withdraw love from others and get hurt because others take love from us. Additionally, we seem to love in disordered ways. We love people as objects and objects as people allowing ourselves to accumulate unnecessary things while people struggle to find a place to sleep and food to eat. If we want to live passionate, resilient, and fulfilling lives we need to allow ourselves to be vulnerable and walk in love.
The second dimension is learning to exercise self-control. Too often we allow situations to control our behavior instead of taking charge of ourselves regardless of the situation. Self-control means being able to direct all of who we are toward more fulfilling, healthy, and inspiring experiences instead of allowing mindless unconscious drives dictate what we do with ourselves. Another important aspect of understanding self-control is understanding what we mean when we say “self.” The self is not just some cognitive entity, it involves your body, mind, emotions, relationships, and spirit. Learning to master all these areas of your self can help you be a much more fulfilled person in control of your life.
The third dimension for living well is commitment. People need to have meaning and purpose in life and once someone has found it, they need to commit to it. Laser focus, fortitude, and being driven toward healthy living activities such as exercise, learning, loving, friendships, and spiritual practices not only gives you a sense of fulfillment it creates mastery in your life. Learn to be a committed person and watch how you become competent and successful in numerous areas of life.
The fourth dimension important for our topic is generating a healthy self-respect while growing in humility. We have to recognize while we may fail at things, behave badly at times, and allow our sin nature to show its ugly head, we’re still loved by God and other people. We have to find ways to respect the person God created (us!). We need to look in the mirror each morning and say, “You may not be perfect, but you’re uniquely created and loved.” Humility is important because it keeps this self-respect from becoming self-elevation. We would probably think pretty highly of ourselves if we didn’t seek out the virtue of humility. Yet, if all we did was act humbly we might not just rid ourselves of overblown self-respect, we’d probably become self-abasing door mats everyone has the right to step on. Neither is good and that’s why these two virtues need to be fostered as one dimensions.
The fifth dimension has to do with hope. People need a sense of optimism in their lives. They need to know even when things are tough there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. Hope turns struggle into an exercise of growth instead of a reason for giving up. We want to be hopeful people in order to become better people.
The sixth dimension important for healthy flourishing lives is friendships. We’re not meant to live as isolated islands of flesh, we need other people. It’s important we find people who want to be our friends but also to become a friend to someone else. Sharing ourselves is exceptionally important because a life poured out for others is not a life that becomes empty but rather a means to be filled with something greater than ourselves. We need to develop and foster friendships.
The seventh dimension of living well is learning to be a forgiving person. This is a topic I spend a great deal of time exploring because as a therapist and spiritual director I’ve seen the great results forgiving others has in the lives of hurting people. When we learn to forgive others not only do we benefit from the release of that emotional weight, but so do the people we love. Without forgiveness, we have nowhere to place the anger and hurt we feel except on the backs of those closest to us. When we forgive, we learn to release that anger and hurt so it no longer impacts us and the people we love.
These seven dimensions I’ve discussed help people live resilient and flourishing lives. The biggest lie you’ve been told is you were meant to be happy all the time. Happiness comes and goes, it isn’t the perpetual state of human living. However, in the end, the sum total of a passionate, resilient, and flourishing life is happiness. When you add everything up, the pain the suffering, the joy and pleasure of living, you will find happiness if you work on these seven dimensions. When you lay down on that bed for the last time, what criteria will you use to say you lived your life well? I want mine to reflect how well and who I loved, the manner in which I controlled my life instead of the circumstances around me, the commitments I made and kept, the self-respect and humility I demonstrated, the hope I lived by, the friendships I made and fostered, as well as the way I forgave those who hurt me. This is a life lived well. This is living instead of merely existing. Which do you choose for your life?