You have probably been hearing the complaint that managing the obligations of life these days is nearly impossible, given the requirements of maintaining a good relationship, secure job, solid family, adequate retirement account, college account for the kids, and oh yes, don’t forget to include your own personal well-being on the list. And yes, for most of us that usually does come last.
One of the most commonly-held concerns that people bring to us is “My life is way out of balance and despite my best efforts, it just seems to be getting worse.” Given the seemingly endless list of obligations, it’s not surprising that so many of us feel overwhelmed. We hear ourselves thinking, “How did things get so out of control?” “Is it like this for everyone or is it just me? What am I doing wrong?” Is there some way that I can fix things so that I’m not at risk of drowning in unfulfilled commitments? Help!”
The bad news is: You’re right. Most of us are living in a state of overwhelm much of the time and this was not what we expected. If you came of age in the 70’s or 80’s, you probably heard the phrase “You can have it all!” The “all” is personal happiness, spiritual fulfillment, wealth, material success, love, health, and anything else that our heart desires. We just put it on our checklist.
Yes, it’s true you can have it all but there’s a catch. It depends upon what your all is. If your all refers to your needs, then there’s no problem. We’re not just talking about physical survival needs, but the needs that have to be met in order to have a meaningful life. If you’re all refers to wants then you’re out of luck. As it turns out the Rolling Stones had it right. You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometime, you might find, you can get what you need. Wants are infinite, and we never stop having desires even when our desires are fulfilled. It’s the ongoing pursuit of desires that keeps the whole cycle going. The Buddhists call this cycle “samsara”. Enough” is always just one more desire away.
This is not to say that we should not pursue desires. Desires themselves are not the problem. It’s the compulsive need to fulfill them that keeps the whole cycle alive. In recognizing the futility achieving gratification by getting our desires met, we become less compelled to continue this pursuit. We are able to distinguish between our needs for true fulfillment and our desires for temporary gratification. In making this critical distinction, we create healthier priorities, ones that will enable us to direct our precious resources of time and attention to what truly matters. We discover that which has the power to promote fulfillment, rather than temporary gratification or sense pleasure.
Not that there’s anything wrong with pleasure. But when we can see more clearly what it is compared to what we really seek, we become less driven by our desires. We give a higher priority to what feeds our soul.
The top ten needs that are on the lists of most experts of well-being include:
- Physical survival (Food, clothing, water, shelter, etc.)
- Economic security. (Feeling that I have enough).
- A sense of self-worth. (Feeling that I amenough.
- Close and meaningful personal relationships. (Knowing that I am not alone.)
- Physical, emotional, and mental health.
- Feeling a part of something bigger than myself. (A sense of being connected, not separate from the world).
- A sense of meaning and purpose.
- Learning and personal development
- The ability to adapt to change
When we are aware of the essential elements of life fulfillment, we can easily make choices about our priorities. The object is not to eliminate pleasurable experiences but rather to bring balance into our lives. Paradoxically, when we feel enriched, we experience deeper pleasure than when we are desperately seeking it.
Even while managing an onslaught of information and obligation, it is possible to invest our time and energy in the things that actually do lift our quality of life. And when we do, we may be surprised to find that some of the non-essentials drop away.
There is an old saying that “you can never get enough of what you really don’t need”. Some of those things that we think we need aren’t as necessary as we think. When we get our deeper needs met, the drive to meet our wants often diminishes and that seems to change everything. Nothing has really changed except our perspective. And strangely enough, that’s enough.