We all face the same problem: how do we use our time and energy in intelligent ways to make our lives healthier and happier?
Well, maybe not everyone thinks about life this way. But since you’re reading this blog, it’s a safe to assume that you’re interested in learning about how you can lead a healthier, more fulfilling lifestyle.
But first, let’s qualify something: happiness is a very broad word. What makes me happy might make you sad, and vice versa.
For example, maybe you love really hot showers and going in hot tubs, while your friend enjoys cold showers and diving in freshwater lakes. Or maybe the difference is even more pedestrian, and you like chocolate ice cream while your friend prefers vanilla.
The point is, happiness is subjective. We believe the word “fulfilled” can be a better word to use in its place, because the word “fulfilled” lacks so much of the emotional baggage that comes along with the word “happy”.
Also, since so many books and articles have been written about being happy, there’s an idea in popular media that we’re supposed to be happy all the time, in a state of joyful ecstasy from sun up to sun down.
We’re here to tell you: that image of life is unrealistic. However, you can spend MOST (not all) of your time in states of well-being, of living in the moment, of feeling energetic, alive, and connected to ourselves and other people.
If that last paragraph resonated with you, and you want to dig into the strategy of how you can live a higher quality experience of life, you’ll enjoy this post.
Today, we’ll be going through the 4 pillars of a healthy, fulfilling life and how you can wisely invest your time and energy in them. The 4 pillars are:
But first, let’s talk about why it’s so important to balance yourself among these four areas.
The law of diminishing returns, in the context of health and well-being, basically means that as you put more and more effort into any area of your life, you get less and less results per unit of effort.
Sound complicated? We’ll simplify with an example.
One of the four pillars of health is social health, which basically means:
Let’s say you are at ground zero of social health, an orphan with no family or friends. If you make even one good friend, your level of social health just skyrocketed up. Then, perhaps you get adopted by a loving family. Again, your social health goes WAY up.
But now that you have a loving family and a close friend, another new friend, while adding quite a bit to your social life, doesn’t affect you as strongly.
And once you have 4-5 close friends, starting to develop romantic relationships may make you quite a bit happier, but making more friends will only make you slightly happier (assuming your current friends treat you well that is).
Another short example: if you currently don’t work out at all, and you haven’t in years, probably the best action you could take would be to start walking 15 minutes a day.
Sure, walking for a short amount of time won’t make you super ripped, or turn you into an incredible athlete. But you will feel much happier and be much healthier than you were as a couch potato.
Compare that to: if you already lift weights 3 times a week, adding one more workout day won’t help all that much, and may even hurt your results if you aren’t resting enough.
The moral of the story is this: you see the most benefits in going from “ground zero” in any of the 4 pillars to “good”, and you see less and less benefits relative to how much effort you spend after that.
This picture sums it up pretty well:
The implications of the law of diminishing returns for your health and happiness are clear: it is better to have 4 “good” pillars than it is to have 2-3 “amazing” pillars and 1 “terrible” one.
Physical Health helps you:
Example of physical health in action:
Jenny feels pretty bad about herself, as she currently weighs about 50 pounds more than she would like. So, she starts drinking a protein shake for breakfast instead of eating a muffin. After two weeks of this routine, she feels much more energetic in the morning (and less hungry too).
Inspired by this early win, Jenny joins her friend Marilyn and they start walking together a few times a week, enjoying the sunshine and catching up together. Jenny notices her back doesn’t ache nearly as much as it used to, and she feels a lot less irritable at work as well.
She and Marilyn talk about joining a local yoga studio, and Jenny is excited to keep moving forward with her self-improvement.
Pitfalls and solutions: If you hate working out, maybe start by getting more sleep, or eating differently. If working out alone is the absolute worst for you, go to a group exercise class or get some friends involved.
Social Health helps you:
Example of social health in action:
Rick is a freshman in college, and he feels very alone. He thought that going out of state for school would be a good way to make a fresh start, as he wasn’t very popular in high school. But now, he is starting to rethink his decision.
One day, Rick gets so fed up with sitting alone in his dorm room that he walks down the hall, to where music is blasting. He finds a couple dorm mates relaxing and talking, and he nervously introduces himself.
Two weeks later, and Rick is fast friends with his dorm mates, and he plays video games with them almost every day. It’s a lot easier to concentrate on schoolwork now that he isn’t constantly thinking about his high school friends.
As the semester goes on, Rick gets involved in a campus social group that organizes video game tournaments and parties. He even meets a cute girl that seems to like him at one of these events, and they start dating.
Pitfalls and solutions: If introducing yourself to others is very hard, try getting involved in activities where meeting people is part of the process, like a dance class, or a local book club, or a meetup. If you hate going to bars for socializing, realize that there are many, many other ways to meet other people.
Mental/Creative Health helps you:
Improving mental/creative health in action:
Letitia is tired of her job. Really tired. She’s been working as a middle manager for a call center in Atlanta for the last 6 years, and the promotions and pay raises her superiors had promised her have never materialized.
Even worse, Letitia doesn’t like her day to day work anymore, and she feels stuck. Out of desperation Letitia starts reading books about changing careers and entrepreneurship. She also starts writing down ways that she can use what’s she’s reading to change her current work situation.
While reading one of these books, Letitia realizes what attracted her to working at a call center in the first place, and what she is really skilled at: calming people down by talking to them. She considers going back to school for a counseling degree, but doesn’t want to make such a drastic switch right now.
Letitia starts working as a consultant on the weekends for her friends that always seem to be facing conflict in their lives, and gives them her own tools and techniques for dealing with emotionally charged situations. Eventually, she develops a reputation in Atlanta for her work and is able to freelance full time.
Although her current life is no cake walk, Letitia is so much happier than she was at her old job.
Pitfalls and solutions: If you love reading and thinking about things, more information can just be a part of the problem. Try to use and apply your existing knowledge, and don’t read books without thinking about how to embody their information in your everyday life. On the other hand, if you haven’t read a book since you got out of school, try audio books or TED talks or any other way to feed your brain.
Emotional/Spiritual Health helps you:
Emotional/Spiritual health in action:
James is super successful, at least in financial terms. He has a swanky apartment in downtown Chicago, a high powered law firm that he works for, and a very fun social and dating life.
The only issue: James isn’t happy. He goes from one achievement to the next, and even though he has all the outward signals of success, he feels a little empty inside.
James wasn’t religious as a kid, and he doesn’t intend to start going to church now. However, he has read a lot about doing gratitude exercises as a way to be happier, and so James starts writing out 3 things he is grateful for in the morning as he is drinking coffee.
At first, the exercise feels mechanical, and James wonders why in the hell he is writing these things. Out of desperation, he takes the next weekend off work and goes on a silent retreat in the mountains.
James is way out of his comfort zone, and it shows. However, a weekend of resting, reading, journaling, and walking through nature does him much good, and gives him time and space to reflect on his life.
When he gets back to Chicago, James asks to be transferred to the “Pro Bono” branch of his law firm, where he works for clients that can’t afford to pay for lawyers. While he still doesn’t feel like his life is perfect, James gets a lot more daily satisfaction and fulfilment from his life than he did before.
Pitfalls and solutions: There are many religious beliefs that can be very useful for living a better life. There are also many religious beliefs that can cause fear, shame, and guilt to be embedded in your psyche. Try to focus on the universals of religion, such as being more kind to oneself and others, being more grateful, living in the present, and doing work that you find meaningful.
So, where does happiness come from? Does it come from mental health? Emotional? Maybe social?
Well, happiness comes from ALL of these areas, and anxiety and depression can come from a lack in any of these areas as well. But as we saw earlier, it’s better to be well rounded and have all 4 pillars in solid condition than it is to be excellent in 1-2 areas and failing at the rest.
Only you can decide which area to focus on, but here’s a useful exercise for sorting through all the different ways you can improve your life:
Create a bracket, March Madness style, with any ideas you’ve been thinking of for making your life better. Try to brainstorm at least 10 areas, and if you need any more suggestions, either look back at the examples we provided or download our worksheet that has plenty of habits for each of the 4 pillars.
Then, “play out” the tournament by choosing the winner of each matchup based on which action you think will impact your life the most if you do it. |For example, maybe in the first round you have “eat vegetables daily” vs “call a friend twice a week”. Ask yourself honestly: if you did only one of these actions, which one do you think would make you happier and healthier?
Repeat this process until you have one winner to focus your time and attention on. It’s quite important that you choose only ONE habit and area to focus on at a time, as otherwise, you are much more likely to fail.
Let your emotions be your guide: if you are in decent shape and would like to get more fit, but the real reason you want to get fit is so you can feel more confident in dating, perhaps you should just try improving your dating life directly.
Or if your job is OK but not inspiring, but you know no friends in the city you just moved to, perhaps invest effort in your social life before you make a career change.
Ultimately, the choices are yours.