In the opening post to this series, Finding Our Mental Sweet Spot, I suggested that if we want to acquire balance in our lives, we need to find our “mental sweet spot.” This requires developing the right mental perspective, which in turn produces a place of tranquility in our minds where we feel fulfilled and content no matter what our circumstances may be.
I originally intended to write only two posts on this subject, but once I got into it, I realized I wanted to explore the subject more. So, I decided to turn it into a small series which I should be able to finish up this coming week.
I can’t get no satisfaction
On a summer evening in Tucson 1978, I spent all night within sight of a ticket booth hoping to buy tickets for a Rolling Stones concert. The line was thirty feet wide and a hundred feet deep. When the booths opened at 10:00 a.m., the crowds rushed forward, and I was packed within whispering distance from a lot of strange looking people. Two hours later, I had inched forward only half the distance when a guy with a bullhorn announced that all the tickets had sold out.
I Can’t Get No satisfaction. That’s how I felt.
Ironically, this is the title of a popular Stones tune. Sixty years ago, the song expressed what a lot of people were thinking after they couldn’t get tickets to the hottest event of the year. And I hope at this point in time they have found the satisfaction in life they were seeking. – But perhaps some have not.
Feeling dissatisfied seems to be our default state of mind. Overall, most people have to work really hard at staying happy. Because it doesn’t matter how much we have, how much we’ve accomplished, how many friends we have, or even if everything in life is going swimmingly. When it comes to achieving satisfaction all of these details matter very little. What really matters is finding that sweet spot to life; that state of inner peace where we have developed a balanced mental perspective that allows us to feel content and fulfilled no matter what our circumstances.
Achieving this balance is a challenge everyone must navigate from all over the world given their own set of unique circumstances. In a way it’s a journey, but more of a maturing, as we take life one-thought-at-a-time and learn more about ourselves; more about what we can do or accomplish in life; more about all the wonderful and tragic things happening in the world around us; and then somehow balance all of these factors in our minds where we can establish permanent contentment.
3 essential questions
I don’t presume to know everything about this journey, especially because it’s so personal. The subject is also so complex. I think we can simplify the steps in this journey, however, by asking three simple questions. These questions will help to isolate the major areas in life which have the greatest impact on our ability to achieve our own state of equanimity.
- What do you want out of life?
- What are the factors that contribute or prevent you from getting what you want?
- How do you achieve inner peace when life doesn’t work out like you wanted it to?
The first question helps us to recognize that finding balance is our responsibility. It is the most important goal we can set for ourselves. Asking the second question, helps us to get a handle on all of the factors in life that influence, impede, or contribute to attaining this goal. And the third question, helps us to understand the importance of developing the most appropriate perspectives or attitudes about life.
Today’s post is about discovering what we can learn about finding balance in our lives relative to our wants and needs. In a few days I want to follow up with a brief outline how religion, culture and a host of other factors affect our ability to achieve balance. And in my final post we’ll delve into the third question by exploring how to mentally achieve the serenity and balance we all seek, and how meditation can be useful in this pursuit.
What do you want out of life?
The fact that each one of us is a unique entity, an autonomous “self,” who must fight to survive and hopefully find a little pleasure in life, is inescapable. The great English poet John Donne may have written “No man is an island,” but when it comes to you having to chart your course through life, you are in charge. Forget for the moment what evils you have been taught about being selfish, acting in your own best interest, or striving to achieve your wildest dreams. What you accomplish or fail to, is entirely dependent on you.
This is an exciting question, because to answer it effectively you really have to know yourself. Consider it an invitation to think about life in purely selfish terms, because this is the only way for you to embark on your journey of self-discovery. Self-discovery, is all about finding out what your interest are, the things you enjoy doing – and preferably – what skills and talents you have in order to contribute to the lives of other people. So, being “selfish” is crucial to feeling any sense of self-worth; and having self-worth is essential to feeling confident and relevant; and this encourages self-esteem, which empowers people to think beyond themselves and contribute to society.
The source of our discontent
But herein lies the source of our discontent: Self-discovery may lead to the utmost in personal satisfaction, or it can be the source of intense emotional suffering.
The contrast between the risk and rewards of these two opposing outcomes could not be more severe. On the one hand, everyone needs to do all they can to satisfy their personal interests and goals. On the other hand, too much wanting, craving, greed and desire to satisfy our “self” can cause a lot of frustration and emotional pain.
The problem is twofold: If we fail to achieve our dreams and goals we suffer because of our failings. Our egos can become bruised, and our desires crushed to the extent that we no longer feel motivated to ever dream big again. Moreover, if we are too focused on satisfying our personal desires, we can overlook the emotional benefits of satisfying the needs of others. This can leave us feeling irrelevant, undervalued, and not appreciated by others.
So, these are a few of the primary challenges to finding balance in our lives. No matter who we are, where we live, or what our circumstances may be; every person must negotiate the challenges of living within the parameters of these two, seemingly opposing, dynamics to life. How well each person succeeds or fails at negotiating this challenge is what we characterize as achieving balance or equanimity in life.
There is one constant, however, that applies to all:
Achieving balance all comes down to striking a balance between our needs and our wants. Satisfying our needs is what our primal brain is good at doing. And there is much contentment to be gained by simply being satisfied with what we have – especially if it is enough to survive. Modern life, though, has opened up a cornucopia of other potentials and possibilities of things we can aspire to do and additional ways to enrich our lives. The trouble is, there is a lot of suffering to be actualized when we fail to achieve those dreams.
So, it’s all about arriving at that place in life and in our hearts where we feel satisfied for what we have and what we don’t have.
(In the next post we will look into how religion, cultural and social dynamics, and a variety of other factors contribute or impede us from achieving balance.)