Want to live a better life in the new year?
I can think of many things our world needs. I can think of few things the world needs more, however, than this: better people living better lives in a world gone very wrong.
"What is a better life?" you ask.
1. A Better Life is Life Lived Authentically
A better life is an authentic life.
Remember the story of Nicodemus in the Gospel of John? He's the fellow who came to Jesus at night, full of affection, but full of questions and doubts, too.
I was taught to believe if you question things or admit to ever having doubts both were signs of a weak faith.
I now know differently, however.
Until you question your faith, for example, your faith is at best perfunctory. What you really have is a collection of inherited beliefs. You cannot be sure that the person or spiritual tradition from which you inherited those beliefs ever bothered to question their authenticity either.
The path to a better life begins with your questions. Which makes Nicodemus a representative you. You have questions and sometimes doubts, even if you refuse to admit to them publicly. But the place to begin in living a better life is to start by questioning everything.
2. A Better Life is Life Lived Happily
What is happiness? It's a skill. In other words, a better life is a happy life and a happy life is a skill you develop.
I was raised to believe, as Abraham Lincoln purportedly put it, "People are as happy as they make up their minds to be."
What we know today, however, determined largely from the vast amount of scientific research into what is called ""the science of happiness" is this: "People are about as happy as their parents were."
The Formula for Happiness
Martin Seligman, for example, father of "positive psychology," has developed a formula for happiness. It is based on years of research in what constitutes human fulfillment...human happiness.
Here's what the research indicates:
A. Half the happiness you are likely to experience in life is genetically predetermined. Hence, you will be about as happy as your parents were.
B. Roughly, ten percent of the happiness you'll know in life is determined by your life situation. Are you healthy? Wealthy? Recognized? Rewarded? Did you win the lottery? Any and all of these things contribute to our sense of well-being. None of them, however, will provide life-long fulfillment. In other words, if you won the lottery, you would likely be happy...even very happy. For weeks. Maybe even months. But, the research shows us, if we saw you one year or two years later, you would be right back to the same level of happiness you were experiencing, or not experiencing, prior to winning the lottery.
So, if half your happiness is predetermined already and only ten percent of it has anything to do with the circumstances of my life, what about the other half of the happiness formula?
C. The other half of your happiness is based on the choices you make in life. In other words, half your happiness is up to you and the skills you develop that can enhance the quality of your daily life.
To live a better life, therefore, requires the development of life skills that will positively contribute to the overall level of your personal happiness.
What skills will result in a better life? There are many, but here are three:
1) Maintain balance between work, rest, reflection and play. Think of these as the spokes in a wheel. They help your life go forward evenly, more smoothly.
2) Never let a day pass but what you do something kind for someone else. As Maya Angelou used to say, "Try to be a rainbow in someone's cloud."
3) Listen to your heart more than your head. Rumi said, "Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love...it will never lead you astray."
What is the "strange pull?" Some call it "intuition." The name matters not, however. That you learn to heed this "strange pull" does.
This third suggestion is the single most important way I am learning to maintain balance in my own life. It is the best way I know to avoid becoming too self-absorbed in your own pursuits.
Your heart knows. You head seldom does. So, begin now, learning to listen to your heart. You'll hear many voices in your head. You will only ever hear one voice in your heart. Better heed that voice. It is infallible.
Want a better life in the new year?
3. A Better Life is Life Lived Purposefully
Live your life connected to a purpose bigger than you.
For me, that's pursuing a spiritual path and helping others who are seeking a spiritually-connected life. I gave up long ago, however, believing there is only one path to authenticity or one path to happiness or just one way to a divinely-connected life.
So, when people ask me today, as many still do, "Do you believe Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life?" my response is, "He's my way, my truth, and my life."
But, "Is he the "only" way?" they press.
Some believe he is and that is fine. I do not and that is fine, too.
What is infinitely more important to me today is to help people...and that includes you, for example...yes, you, the person reading this right now - what's infinitely more important to me is to help you find and follow a path of life that takes you outside yourself and into that something greater and grander than yourself.
To enjoy a better life, the question you must ask yourself is this: What is that "something" for me? To what great and grand person or cause have I given myself? How would I describe to someone else the overarching reason for living to which I am giving myself daily?
A better life for yourself in the coming new year...in the coming years...awaits how you answer that question.
Dr. Steve McSwain is an author and speaker, counselor to non-profits and congregations, an advocate in the fields of self-development, interfaith cooperation, and spiritual growth. His blogs at BeliefNet.com, the Huffington Post, as well as his own website (www.SteveMcSwain.com) inspire people of all faith traditions. Dr. McSwain is an Ambassador to the Council on the Parliament for the World's Religions. His interfaith pendants are worn by thousands on virtually every continent, sharing his vision of creating a more conscious, compassionate, and charitable world. Visit his website for more information or to book him for an inspirational talk on happiness, inner peace, interfaith or charitable living.
This post first appeared on Dr. McSwain's own blog.