The warm weather this week has everyone excited. Everywhere I go, people have something to say about it (80 degrees in March!) and a smile on their faces when they talk about it. When I wake up in the morning now, I hear the birds chirping through my open window, indicating another glorious day. I get out of bed with a lightness that is missing in the cold, dark days of winter.
All of that leads me to think about my perfect day. This is a tool that I use with students as a starting point to figuring out their values. If you can make a list of things that constitute a good day for you, it gives you an idea of what is most important to you. What I’ve seen this week is that warm, sunny weather is very valuable to me!
Here are some other things that would make up a perfect (or very good) day:
- Time spent with friends or family. Whether I reach out to someone, or they make contact with me, it feels good to talk (in person or on the phone) with someone I’ve known a long time. It is a reminder that I have a support system out there.
- A really yummy meal that isn’t too unhealthy. I love to cook and I love to eat, so this is a significant part of the day. Having healthy food is a bonus because I can feel both satisfied and virtuous about the meal.
- Some work to do, but not too much. I like the challenge of work and feeling like I make a contribution to something bigger than myself. On the other hand, I like to have choices about how I spend my time.
- Some physical activity that I enjoy. There’s that good feeling of exhaustion that comes with working my body hard, but not too hard. I don’t need to run a marathon, but I like to get out and move. Running, hiking or yoga all fit the bill.
- A good book to read. I’ve written before about the important role books have played in my life, along with curiosity and learning. Whether I’m reading novels or non-fiction, I always take something from the books I read.
- Words of love or encouragement. This could be my kids saying, “I love you, Mom”; a student saying he was helped by my class; a co-worker praising my work; or even a stranger complimenting me on what I’m wearing. Affirmation always brightens my day.
- Physical contact with someone I love. The skin is the body’s largest organ, and the sense of touch an important way to communicate. Hugs and kisses are a necessity on a perfect day!
When I look at my list of “perfect day” requirements, I see that they correspond very closely to the six dimensions of wellness: Physical (the exercise and eating); Social (time spent with friends); Emotional (physical contact and words of love); Intellectual (reading); Occupational (working a little bit); and Spiritual (appreciating that warm, sunny day with the birds chirping). Without consciously thinking about it, my desires are reflecting my core values.
Do we know the perfect day when we are living it, or does it exist only in retrospect? Can we wake up every morning with the desire to live it well?
The Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore wrote, “Do not say, ‘It is morning,’ and dismiss it with a name of yesterday. See it for the first time as a newborn child that has no name.”
Several years ago, when I was part of a boot camp fitness program, I was running one morning with my group. A woman passing by asked us “What are you training for?” Without missing a beat, our instructor answered, “For life.”
Today I’ve been thinking about this idea that we have to be ready for whatever life throws at us, the curve balls like divorce, job loss, deaths or serious illnesses. Sadly, too many people I know are dealing with some of those big life stressors right now. While we expect in an abstract way that our lives are going to have low points, it still can feel like a ton of bricks when we are hit with it. And when we have to deal day after day with the repercussions of divorce, or caring for a sick family member, it will tax even those of us with deep reserves of strength and good health.
Coming into a stressful situation with high levels of wellness in all dimensions can help people be more resilient and better able to meet the challenges. Physical wellness is very important, but it’s not the whole story. The 6 Dimensions of Wellness model emphasizes the whole person:
- Physical – Do you have healthy eating habits and engage in regular exercise? Are you getting regular medical exams and engaging in self-care?
- Occupational — Are you getting satisfaction from your work? Do you feel like you make a contribution to something? Does your choice of work align with your values?
- Social – How are your relationships with family and friends? Do you feel that you have a support network you can call upon when needed? Do you feel connected to others in a community?
- Emotional – How able are you to accept and express your feelings? Is your outlook on life more optimistic or pessimistic?
- Spiritual – Do you feel a connection to something larger than yourself? Do you feel your life has meaning? Are your actions in harmony with your values and beliefs?
- Intellectual – Are you a life-long learner? Do you take opportunities to be creative, to challenge yourself, and to share knowledge with others?
All of these dimensions make up your wellness path, and contribute to your ability to handle stress. Visualize your path right now, and think about an area you would like to improve. Focus on enhancing your wellness in just that one dimension for now. Here are some ideas to get you thinking:
- Physical – If your nutrition needs a boost, set a goal of eating 5 servings of fruits and vegetables each day.
- Occupational – Evaluate your current job. Can you develop a new skill for use there or in your next job?
- Social — Reach out to someone you’ve been missing. Make a date to go out with friends. Plan a neighborhood get-together.
- Emotional – Start writing down your feelings in a journal. Watch a funny movie to lighten your mood with humor.
- Spiritual – Take a walk in nature. Get involved in helping others. If you have been religious in the past, think about reconnecting with your faith.
- Intellectual – Set a goal to read a newspaper every day, or a book each month. Perhaps sign up for a class on a subject you’ve always wanted to learn.
Wherever your path takes you, and no matter how many bumps in the road, I wish you ease and well-being in body, mind and spirit. Train for life!