Different areas of life impact your health and well-being. These are 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, environment, and family life all affect each other.
When one or two areas dominate all others, the imbalance can manifest as stress or disease. Balancing multiple aspects of well-being requires continual adjustment. When these adjustments are based on internal values you may still, despite an imbalance, be 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, while social, familial, and physical needs may go unmet.
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? They are messages about values that come from outside us
and affect our thinking. They may be from a family of origin, workplace, advertising, school, or community. 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, instead implying their product creates an opportunity for closer, happier relationships.
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, it is easier to maintain 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 intentionally manipulative like targeted advertising, and could even come from well-meaning family, teachers, clergy, or loving partners who 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 hesitant to experience the vulnerability of close friendships or need to devote more time to build relationships. Then, make sure you Move in the direction of your authentic well-being. Make choices based on your true needs and values instead of 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 true 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 fulfilled if those choices are meeting your needs. If you find yourself in a pattern of substitutes or compromises, simply observing and being aware of this will help you see where you need to correct imbalances. (Some trades are perfectly good in the short-term, but in the long-term are unsustainable or unhealthy.) While your wellness can never be perfectly balanced, awareness and commitment to following your internal messages will help maintain your health and well-being in all areas of your life, and continue to shape the life you truly want.