As most of you know, a reoccurring question here on SMART Living 365 is, “how can we live a happy, healthy and meaningful life?” Another way of saying that is, “What makes a life go well?” I recently came across the work of a man named Dr. Nick Baylis who has spent his career in pursuit of that question. Baylis, a “wellbeing” consultant and psychologist, teaches at Cambridge University in the UK where he helped to co-found The Well-Being Institute. He is also the author of several books and is known as Dr. Feel Good in his column written for The Times (London). One of the first to lecture on the field of positive psychology in the UK, Baylis is convinced that the “science” of wellbeing is a practice of identifying and then utilizing the skills that lead to a life well-lived.
Just what is an all-around life of wellbeing mean? According to Baylis, he believes that this state is achieved “by the skill and the will to create something beautiful out of whatever life throws our way, whether setback or successes, tragedies or triumphs and to do so in harmony with a healthy Natural World.” He is equally convinced that our culture and educational system are geared toward increasing isolation and passive consumerism (TV, computers, iphones, etc.). Unfortunately, those activities usually keep us from other actions that often lead to the greatest elements of a satisfied life like: creating close personal relationships (for life, sport, creative community activities and problem solving projects.) Contrary to what advertising usually pushes, those things that bring the greatest pleasure are often much more deliberate and simple. Things like slowing down and relaxing, savoring what we already have, investing in ourselves whole-heartedly, keeping life and the world around us as clear/close/hands-on as possible—all aspects that work together to make our life feel more rewarding.
In an effort to identify many of the skills demonstrated by those whose lives are happy, healthy, helpful and good-hearted, Baylis wrote his first book entitled, Wonderful Lives. But the lives of the people he writes about are not perfect; instead as he says, “A wonderful life doesn’t mean a life that’s trouble free or without fault. It means it’s wonderful that the person is still smiling and going strong after all they’ve been through.” In his book Baylis features 50 inspiring people who he classifies as living a wonderful life. Out of those examples, Baylis then identifies four major life skills he believes helped to create these lives of wellbeing. They are:
#1 Partnering-Up with Good People. According to Baylis, the breadth and depth of our personal relationships are crucial to our wellbeing. Baylis continually recites example after example of people who, in spite of the odds, achieved a rewarding life as long as they found at least one person to love and encourage them. In fact, Baylis believes, “When someone loves us, it helps us learn to love and care for ourselves.”
#2 Becoming an Expert In our Favorite Pursuits. Baylis believes it is a mistake to think that people are either born with a particular talent or not. He is convinced that no matter what our age, we have the ability to learn and become good at anything we are passionate about. The lives of the people he studied proved that anyone who was willing to practice repeatedly at something they loved, and had the guidance and support of those who could help them nurture that passion, nearly always went on to live a wonderful life.
#3 Helping Mind and Body to Thrive and Flourish. There should be no surprise that Baylis uncovered that one of the keys to wellbeing is a healthy mind and body. His work stresses the importance of adequate sleep, diet, nutrition and physical activity. But he also emphasizes that true health includes a mind that is curious, peaceful, self-motivated, and self-disciplined. While we tend to think of negative habits when it comes to what we should or shouldn’t eat or drink, Baylis believes that the mental negative habits that we continue to entertain are equally destructive. Balance and moderation in ones’ lifestyle usually leads to greater wellbeing.
#4 Choosing and Changing our Journey’s and Life Directions. The people that Baylis interviewed that created a life of true wellbeing learned to follow their own heart-felt values and top priorities over the course of their lives. Rather than trying to please others, those with wonderful lives managed to stay true to themselves and change courses when necessary. They also didn’t give up and managed to bounce back and be resilient when things didn’t work out the way they planned. They put their passions above the pursuit of money or material success, and as Baylis says, “put themselves in the right size pond.”
As usual, most of these keys to wellbeing aren’t new. Those of us who’ve been reading or studying them during the last ten years have heard them all one way or another. What I particularly liked about the approach by Dr. Nick Baylis was the continual reminder that, “It’s not that there is a right way to live, or some sure-fire formula for success; it’s just that some particular approaches, skills and experiences do undoubtedly increase the likelihood of things working our rather well.” And even if we’ve heard them before, hearing them over and over again is a way to reinforce their effectiveness.
Another thing I appreciate about Baylis is his approach to aging. He is convinced that our minds and our bodies are “wonderfully plastic” and will continue to grow and adapt far into our maturity. He says, “…life tends to get better the more skills we acquire for living it and age has little bearing on this equation. It seems nature doesn’t intend that old age is the price we pay for living. Aging is not a disease, nor does it bring inevitable decline. It’s an opportunity–-extra time to make a positive difference and explore our relationship with life more deeply so the familiar can be seen through fresh eyes.”
Finally, it’s possible that the best idea offered by Dr. Baylis is his suggestion that we approach the pursuit of wellbeing or happiness not as a destination we hope to arrive at, but a skill that we continually practice and apply to our lives in the best ways we can. Seeing wellbeing as a skill answers our human need to continually be reaching forward and make progress in a way that is authentic, playful and optimistic. And although Baylis believes that happiness can’t be taught. “…it can be learned…by a bold, hands-on, exploration and experimentation, and an adventurous curiosity for what helps a life go well.”
In the end it seems that, like so many things on the path, it is SMART to remember that we are the only one that can truly make our life go well.
“The concept of total wellness recognizes that our every thought, word, and behavior affects our greater health and well-being. And we, in turn, are affected not only emotionally but also physically and spiritually.”~ Greg Anderson
“It is essential to our well-being, and to our lives, that we play and enjoy life. Every single day do something that makes your heart sing.” ~ Marcia Wieder