Flourishing in Life | Psychology of Wellness | My Amazing Discoveries in Wellness
BY: T. Franklin Murphy | July 3, 2020 (October 17, 2021)
Life plays out in many unexpected and fascinating ways. Wellness comes from our interpretations of these collisions with reality.
Sometimes I smile, not in some condescending way or anything, just in a warm recognition of the jubilance of hopeful young minds at the beginning of a long journey. I draw lessons from their energy, pulling back from my late life cynicism to enjoy the moment. However, I also learned wellness isn't mastered from reading a couple books, and being in a "good spot." Life is dynamic, often knocking us out of balance, and scurrying for recovery.
"Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don't lose faith."
Explorations into Wellness
Here I am, nearly ten years into my exploratory journey into wellness. At the beginning, I honestly thought I would uncover the hidden secrets, write a book, and bring myself and tens of thousands of others to happier and more fulfilling lives. At times, I thought I was on the cusp of something big. In hindsight, my discoveries only scratched the surface of a massive universe of research, each stone overturned revealed more unknowns. Aristotle warned that “The more you know, the more you know you don't know.” My search goes on.
I still haven’t discovered any marvelous secrets. My life is not pain free. I still experience sorrow. Our contentious country, struggling children, and declining health take a toll. Yet in many ways, my life has changed, improving materially and emotionally. I can’t give sole credit to my wellness investigation, but, perhaps, the knowledge has contributed. The wisdom of age is most likely the greater sage. I’m now content; something I wasn’t at the beginning of this incredible journey.
Somewhere I lost my youth. Innocent, starry eyed dreams shattered, smashed against unforgiving reality. Supertramp's The Logical Song perfectly encapsulates my experience. Now, new dreams fill the emptiness. Please, don’t get me wrong, my life was not a disappointment. I was goal-driven—a good worker. Many of my childhood hopes came to pass in beautiful and satisfying ways; but not all of them.
My joys from achievement grandly burst on stage, igniting a storm of excitement, and then slowly melt away. The quick highs burn out, resetting to the accustomed emotional (homeostatic) balance. Chasing happiness, the hedonic version, keeping positive emotions always on stage, is a disappointing illusion.
My joys from achievement grandly burst on stage, igniting a storm of excitement, and then slowly melt away.
Give me a life satisfaction survey after a great weekend with my wife, or a warm bonding session with one of my grandchildren and I will nail it. Best life ever. However, catch me on a down day and those cheery scores dip—significantly.
Measuring hedonic happiness through a subjective questioner is tricky—a little deceptive. Life decorated only with positive emotions isn’t the goal—at least not for me. I prefer something a little more encompassing. I subscribe to a wellness that stabilizes all my emotions, that is capable of enduring moments of sorrow, disappointment, or even pain. I’ve come to understand that discomforting affective states promote growth and enhance joy. I subscribe to a eudaimonic view of wellbeing.
Amidst the struggles and joys contentment is discovered. Emotions no longer scares me. I know that if I’m too upset, I won’t sleep well. My Kindle patiently waits to rescue me from those sleepless nights. The next day, I usually reset with new experiences that bring their own joys and sorrows. Fretting over emotions magnifies their power, so I’ve learned to accept, feel, explore.
The Circumstances of Our Lives
Life’s conditions do matter. Somewhere in positive psychology with the emphasis on the present moment, we lost sight of the significant role of external circumstances. Our worries intrude to motivate action. The we-should-be-happy-no-matter-what movement undermines evolutionary systems.
Real people experience pain from real events that need addressing. Violence, disease, and mental illness take a significant toll on wellbeing. Contentment is evasive when we are pained with an empty stomach. Choices do matter. We may need to escape an abusive partner. We may need better employment. We may need to address personal inadequacies. Our biological alarms sound when survival (and wellbeing) is at risk.
Many things have gone right for me over the last ten-years. Many fortunate circumstances contribute to my current wellness. My finances are set. I won’t be rich but certainly never destitute. I have a roof over my head, food on the table and a car in the driveway.
The previous decade was wracked with worry. The anxiety robbed me of many days, weeks, and months of wellness. Blessings, opportunities, and frugal living changed the daily grind. Now I spend thirty hours a week writing a wellness blog, something I enjoy but produces no income. For me to preach wellness, present myself as an example, to someone suffering in poverty, explaining they should be happy, is ignorant.
Relationships and Wellness
Relationships are also an essential part of the wellness equation. My relationships are set. I have my children, friends, and a wonderful wife. Each relationship brings its own blessings and challenges. However, there is contentment.
The ups and downs are mostly predictable. I’m occasionally caught off guard with by the timing of a disruption, but not by the magnitude. When conflicts arise, and we repair the disconnect and quickly move on. I learned being momentarily upset is a passing experience. I can regulate the emotion and tame my reaction. I can pause, soothe, and repair without unnecessary disruptions to important communications. I’m secure in the love I give and receive. Wellness, no matter how positive our thoughts, is hampered by drama infused relationships.
Life is a song - sing it.
Life is a game - play it.
Life is a challenge - meet it.
Life is a dream - realize it.
Life is a sacrifice - offer it.
Life is love - enjoy it.
Scientific Theories on Wellness
I still continue this search for human wellness—flourishing; except now, I no longer expect to put it together in tidy sentences and chapters. The complexities don’t neatly fit between two covers. The human mind is fascinating, deserving of exploration, igniting my passion. Perhaps, the engagement in a meaningful search contributes more to my wellbeing than the actual subject matter.
The wealth of wellness knowledge provides endless fodder for contemplation. I see many of the investigated theories in action, applicable to my own life and the lives of those around me. However, my mind is too finite to dissect the exact equation leading to late life contentment. Extracting the actions, beliefs, and practices that ultimately created this desirable end state is impossible. The infinite variables blur any coherent narrative. We have no control group for comparison. We simply must settle for the story that best settles our fears and propels us forward, understanding our personal narrative is limited in scope and not easily projected onto the lives of others.
I’m certain many psychological findings point the way to a better life. I’m fond of many. Roy Baumeister’s research on willpower, Martin Seligman’s work on optimism, John Gottman’s theories of relationship repair, Carl Roger’s interpersonal psychology, Ellen Langer’s mindfulness, and countless others have influenced my thought, research, and life. I can’t, however, know the extent of the impact. Together, the theories provide an intertwining philosophy, nudging thought and creating my personal narrative.
Our Mind A Self Governing Machine
Our mind is a powerful, self-governing machine. We create an environment composed of a broad collection of experiences and learning. The mind then has an abundance of information to unconsciously sort and organize when needed to sooth disrupting emotions, understand experience, and motivate action. The conscious work of exposure populates the mental library with material for unconscious processing. We do plenty of conscious work and then the mind takes it from there.
My goal for understanding wellness has changed. I will never discover an ancient secret hidden in the dark caves of philosophy or buried in historical psychology text. I will never lead a world movement, lifting humanity from the emotional morass of living. But I have learned to live comfortably within this mental jungle of the unknown and unpredictable. I hope to continue this crazy investigation for the next twenty years—not to save myself from sorrow—but to understand sorrow and further appreciate the joys.
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