For those of us who’ve had difficult childhoods, we’re not just looking to reduce our problems.
We want – we deserve – much more than that. We want well-being, and a good life.
That means having the freedom to make our own decisions. It means being physically active and healthy. It means being good at things that are important to us, and being effective in the world.
Choosing well-being for ourselves can help us to achieve the goals that are most meaningful to us, and to live up to our highest values, or at least move closer to those goals and values. Well-being means having fun. And it means feeling truly happy and fulfilled in our lives.
Well-Being? Sometimes Just Being Is Tough
Of course we can’t feel totally happy and fulfilled all the time. That’s especially true if you’ve had a rough childhood. But we all struggle with getting what we need versus doing what we have to do. Things can get out of balance.
You might be in great physical health and have a good job, but feel like you’re going through the motions. Doing what you have to – not what you need or want to. Or maybe you have lots of freedom but aren’t doing anything you find meaningful.
And of course life is going to throw challenges at you, setbacks that make your path seem steeper – at least at first.
What we can do is build well-being into our daily routines, so we have the stability to experience life’s challenges as manageable bumps in the road.
That way, we can keep moving towards well-being and a truly good life for ourselves.
Well-Being and Its Building Blocks
So what does well-being look like? What is it built on? And how can you bring it into your life?
Let’s talk about what everyone needs, and about the potential that’s inside all of us.
There are things that we all need in our lives, as humans in search of well-being. Unwanted or abusive sexual experiences in childhood can make these things even tougher to achieve as adults.
We’ve divided them into several parts, each about a fundamental human potential or need that, when fulfilled, promotes well-being.
- Freedom – From control or manipulation, by other people or by parts of oneself (e.g., thoughts or ‘voices’ in your head that judge, criticize or yell at you).
- Physical Health – Healthy sleep, exercise, nutrition; freedom from illness and disease, or, if present, they have the least possible negative effects.
- Comfortable in Your Body – Feeling safe with the experience of being in your body, whatever happens to be going on with it (which is not the same as being physically healthy).
- Relatedness, Belonging, and Community – Including caring for others
- Competence and Effectiveness – Being good at things that are important to you. Based on your unique abilities and potentials, being effective in the world (e.g., relationships, work) and with yourself (e.g., managing your emotions).
- Playfulness and Humor
- Moral and Ethical Thoughts and Behavior – It’s not just about being good, but reducing conflicts and bringing greater freedom, effectiveness and enjoyment to yourself and your relationships.
- Part of Something Bigger – Including spirituality or religion, connection with nature, serving others.
It’s All Interconnected
The more you’ve achieved one kind of well-being, the greater your ability to achieve others.
Freedom is often most important, especially for people who have been abused or exploited. To have such experiences is to have your freedom trampled. This can lead to feeling unworthy of making important decisions for yourself, or even not knowing what you really want in life.
Also, no matter what aspect of your well-being you are trying to enhance, if you’re not freely choosing to do so, but doing it because someone else is telling you to, or because you feel like you should or have to, any positive changes you make aren’t likely to feel right inside – or to last.
Some aspects of well-being go hand-in-hand and you can’t achieve one without another. For example, you can’t have playfulness and humor in your life if you’re disconnected from other people.
But it’s also possible to go overboard striving for one aspect of well-being, and to do so in ways that end up making an overall healthy life out of reach.
For example, a person may be enslaved to an exercise addiction. Or someone may have lots of freedom, but not use his time or abilities in ways that are effective or beneficial. Or someone may strive to be moral in a rigid way that shuts out playfulness and causes disconnection from others.
And again, given the unpredictability of life and the inevitable bumps in the road, there will always be times when things get thrown out of whack. But understanding the building blocks of well-being, and how they’re interconnected, and then putting that understanding into action, will bring a lot more well-being into any life, no matter what surprises life dishes out.