“Those who find ugly meanings in beautiful things are corrupt without being charming. This is a fault. Those who find beautiful meanings in beautiful things are the cultivated. For these there is hope.”
Achieving well-being has been the concern of philosophers since Aristotle, and is, in many respects the essence of human existence. In recent years, well-being has come to the fore and there has been much research on the roots of well-being.
I have heard a number of talks on well-being and one of the most recent was as part of a talk given by His holiness the Dalai Lama. The host was Richard J. Davidson. He is the William James and Vilas Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry and Founder and Chair of the Center for Healthy Minds, at the Waisman Center at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. His is the chap that measured Matthieu Ricard’s brain and was able to prove that Mathieu is one of the happiest men in the world.
Anyway, Richard has identified four, scientifically and well-researched constituents of well-being. There maybe others but these have been well researched. There is the concept that we can take more responsibility to develop these constituents and thereby, further develop and improve our own levels of well-being. Since our brains are structured in a way that allows for neural plasticity, it means that we can develop skills and techniques to strengthen these constituents. The four constituents are:
- The first is called Resilience. It is defined as “the rapidity that we recover from adversity” that defines resilience. The faster that you are able to recover from an adverse situation or event, the more resilient you are. Mindfulness meditation helps in this area as it helps to build resilience to adverse situations and helps you recover more quickly. The only downside is that it takes about 6,000 hours before the neural pathways in the brain change.
- The second is called Positive Outlook. The idea is about seeing the positive in situations, in other people and in life’s events. The supportive and forward looking. People with this element have lower levels of stress and may actually have better physical levels of non-stress in their lives. Loving Kindness and Compassionate mindfulness meditation are the key ways to do this. However, unlike resilience which takes time, using loving kindness meditation practices can rapidly change the neural pathways in the brain. How quickly? Only seven hours or about two weeks are sufficient to make the change.
- The third is Attention or a Focused Mind. A wandering mind is an unhappy mind. On average, about 47% of an adult’s time is spent with a wandering mind. The ability to bring your mind back into focus is critical. Being present with another person, intently listening. Learning to pay attention to the present moment and to accept what happened in the present moment is critical in this area. Being more contemplative helps in this area. When was the last time you too time out to just sit and be? Sunday was a beautiful day. The sun was shining and it was warm outside. I just sat in the garden and appreciated the day.
- The fourth is the most important. It is Generosity. This is the one that drives everything else. This is not just about money and giving to charity. It is more about altruistic generosity. Here are a few tips to help in this area as well.
- Get connected: Feeling connected to other people, even by just reading words like “community” and “relationship”, makes us more altruistic.
- Get personal: We’re more altruistic when we see people as individuals, not abstract statistics. So if you want to encourage aid to people in need, give their problem a human face.
- See yourself in others: In general, people are much more likely to help members of their own group. Finding a thread of similarity with someone else, even something as simple as liking the same sport or team, can motivate altruistic action toward that person.
- Give thanks: Grateful people are more generous, perhaps because they’re paying forward the gifts they appreciate receiving from others. Receiving gratitude can also encourage altruism.
- Lead by example: People who constantly display altruism encourage others to follow suit.
- Put people in a good mood: Happy people are more likely to be generous.
- Finally, fight inequality.
The conclusion is that Well-being is a skill that you, me, or anyone can learn and develop.
To watch a talk on the four elements of well-being, go to:
To watch the talk given by His holiness the Dalai Lama, go to:
I leave you with the following quote:
“There are many aspects to success; material wealth is only one component. …But success also includes good health, energy and enthusiasm for life, fulfilling relationships, creative freedom, emotional and psychological stability, a sense of well-being, and peace of mind.”