Many aspects of life affect our overall well-being.
These are both independent and interdependent. A
happy marriage and healthy body can be stressed
by financial difficulties. A rewarding but time-
consuming profession can make it difficult to
maintain strong friendships. Financial well-being,
career choice, emotional health, and family life all
affect each other.
When there is a significant imbalance, when one or two areas of well-being dominate all others, it may be time to consider why this is happening.
Balancing multiple aspects of well-being is never a perfect science. It is an ongoing adjustment. When these adjustments are based on internal values you are, despite an imbalance, often still having your needs met. For example, staying up all night to help a good friend who is going through a difficult time will meet your values of loyalty and
friendship, however, energy and cognitive performance will likely be affected the next day.
Working extra-long hours to achieve a professional goal can meet your intellectual, creative and
financial needs, though social, familial, and physical needs may go unmet, creating problems if
this continues long-term.
Sometimes we make choices that don’t meet our authentic needs. External messages can cloud our judgment and sense-of-self, making those compromises less rewarding, and causing significant imbalances in our health and well-being.
What are external messages? These are messages about values that come from outside us
and affect our thinking. They may be from a dominant culture, family of origin, workplace,
school, or community. These messages include aspirational messages, social appeal messages,
and messages about substitutes. Aspirational messages say that if we behave a certain way, we
will attain higher status, more power, or approval. Social Appeal messages claim that certain
behaviors will result in romantic love, friendship, inclusion or happiness. Messages about
Substitutes imply that choosing a product orexperience will result in something you actually desire. An example is this ad by Sbarro showing four girls sitting closely around a table eating pizza. The tagline, “Bring your friends closer”says nothing about the quality of their product,
but instead implies pizza creates an opportunity for closer, happier relationships.
When your well-being “wheel”is balanced, it will roll more smoothly. When certain areas are neglected, the ride may get bumpy!
We are surrounded by external messages. Social media companies’ billions of dollars in profits are earned from their ability to target and manipulate us based on what they know about our needs and vulnerabilities. If we can stay attuned to our authentic values and needs, it is easier to maintain a balance in our well-being. If we respond to too many external messages, we may find ourselves making life-choices that do not genuinely meet our needs, or substituting inauthentic experiences for vital and important ones like joy, autonomy, and friendship.
Is it possible to make decisions based on your authentic values, even while being bombarded by
endless external messages? Yes, if you AIM yourself in the right direction. AIM stands for
Awareness, Investigation, and Movement. First, be Aware of external messages that affect
your thinking. These may not be as intentionally manipulative as targeted advertising, and
could come from trusted family, teachers, clergy, or loving partners who genuinely believe they
are acting in your best interest. Next, Investigate your true motivation. If you are eating pizza
when you really want to be laughing with close friends, it may be because of Sbarro’s
advertising, but it could also be because you are unwilling to experience the vulnerability and
intensity of close friendships, or need to create more time and personal energy necessary for
close relationships. Then, make sure you Move in the direction of your authentic well-being.
Make choices based on your true needs and values, as opposed to the needs and values of
others, or the promise that a substitute or ‘stand-in’ will meet your actual needs.
When making a decision that affects your well-being, consider the motivation behind your
choices; is it an outside influence, or an attuned understanding of your own authentic values?
Even when you make compromises that create temporary imbalances, you can feel truly
fulfilled if those choices are meeting your needs. If you find yourself in a pattern of substitutes
or compromises, just observing and being aware of this will help you see where you need to
eventually correct imbalances. (Some trades, perfectly good in the short term, in the long term
are unsustainable or unhealthy.) While your wellness may never be perfectly balanced, awareness and commitment to following your internal messages will help maintain your well-being, and continue to shape the life you truly want.