The key to a balanced life may actually be to do less and disconnect more.
“Love and work are the cornerstones of our humanness” — Sigmund Freud
We’re constantly bombarded with different advice on how to live balanced and fulfilling lives. But most experts would agree with Sigmund Freud when he said, “love and work are the cornerstones of our humanness”.
In other words, we have two innate needs — to do something productive with our lives, and to connect with others.
This formula for achieving life satisfaction sounds simple coming from the father of psychoanalysis. But Hadassah Littman-Ovadia, PhD., Associate Professor of psychology at Ariel University, is adding to the equation of a well-balanced life.
She says that, in addition to engaging in purposeful activity (doing) and connecting with others (relationships), their respective complementary states are equally important.
She describes these states as reflective introspection (being) and having alone time (solitude).
Of the two states, doing is easier to understand and probably what we’re more familiar with. In Western culture, pursuing goals, having a purpose and striving for more are all highly valued in our society.
“The concept of doing includes purposeful, goal-oriented activities,”
writes Dr. Littman-Ovadia. Like putting in the hours to perform better at work or engaging in the practice of honing a new skill we’re trying to learn.
Doing is the “default mode” for many because we’re often rewarded for it, and its benefits are easy to define. We get paid for our work. We feel proud when we’ve aced an exam. Our self-worth gets a boost when a boss affirms our contribution to the company.
But as we all know, there comes a point where achievements and pursuing more does not necessarily give us the fulfilment and life satisfaction we’d expect.
That is why experts are turning to Eastern philosophies rooted in Buddhism and Taoism to understand alternative perspectives on what it means to find fulfilment in life. The concept of simply being finds its roots in Taoist teachings, which view action-oriented behaviours like striving for wealth and status as counter productive to fulfillment.
Being is the antithesis of doing. It’s about introspection and being in the moment. If doing is the outward orientation of existence, being is the inward orientation.
“Being is self-discovery, thinking, reflecting, and simply existing,”
writes Dr. Littman-Ovadia. “[It] is about stopping the movement toward change and suspending the struggle.”
The state of being may entail more passive moments like meditating or praying. But it can also be about enjoyment or self-discovery. Like realizing a moment of personal growth after a difficult period in your life, journaling or getting lost in a favourite piece of music.
It’s easy to get caught up with “life” and we are often in a perpetual state of doing — even when it’s unnecessary. In between work and family responsibilities, many of us continue to engage in doing to achieve and pursue more. Like pushing ourselves to keep up with the latest workout trends or ensuring our homes are Instagram worthy.
If what we’re doing isn’t a reflection of our inner-being, life becomes a mindless series of uninspired actions. Fueled by superficial motivations like the fear of missing out or to maintain appearances.
On the other dimension of balanced living are relationships and solitude. Human beings are relational by nature. It is instinctual to seek out relationships, love and that feeling of belonging. The research is clear that when we have deep meaningful relationships, it boosts our emotional and physical health.
But as with many things in life, too much of a good thing can become bad. And with technology and social media, our speed and ease of connecting with others has increased to a point where we may be over-connecting with one another. Ever felt emotionally drained after a party? Or dread having to keep on top Inbox Zero?
“Too much sociality can be oppressive. We need time alone as a relief from social stressors, an opportunity for reflection and insight, and a chance for personal, spiritual, and creative development,”
says a study published in the Journal for the Theory of Social Behavior. Solitude allows for some mental and emotional reprieve from the chaos of human engagement. Sometimes, learning to say ‘no’ to social engagements may be just what we need for emotional recalibration.
We often associate solitude with loneliness or something that’s not to be desired. But when voluntary solitude is sought out in an authentic manner, it creates opportunities for growth.
We’ve all had to navigate certain challenges alone, like going for a first job interview or travelling solo. These experiences, while seemingly daunting at first, often lead to character building and a better understanding of ourselves.
Paradoxically, to experience such positive experiences of solitude, we must recognize the relational aspect of solitude. It occurs in people who have secure attachments to their primary social circle.
Think about teenagers who individuate from their family of origin when entering adulthood. They’re more likely to adapt positively to the adjustments when they have secure ties to their parental figures. When one has the comfort of secure attachments, solitude isn’t seen as aloneness.
“Solitude at its best is not oriented toward escaping the world, but rather toward a different kind of participation in it, facilitated by temporary disengagement from ordinary social interactions,”
Dr. Littman-Ovadia writes.
“Solitude is a return to the self, to what is most important in one’s life, enabling an encounter with sources of meaning and truth beyond oneself.”
Dr. Littman-Ovadia stresses that we should not think of these four states of existence as opposites and mutually exclusive to one another. Rather, the balanced life is one where the states are in constant, dynamic interaction. For example, one could assume a being state while connecting with others — think meditating in a group setting.
Just as variety is recommended in our diets, the same goes for the way we experience life. The balanced life should be one that incorporates having something to do, people to love, moments of being and moments of solitude.