Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance

This article’s title is a partial quote of Thomas Merton (1915 ~ 1968), a Trappist monk who was a major contributor to modern Roman Catholic thought. The full quotation is as follows: “Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance and order and rhythm and harmony.”

Did you ever feel like a tightrope walker trying to keep your balance as you follow your life path? Pope John Paul II describes the feeling: “Man always travels along precipices. His truest obligation is to keep his balance.” You see, we take on many roles in life, each of which allows us to express a different dimension of our being. It is these separate roles that need to be balanced. Here are some examples. If you are doing well in your career, but your family is complaining that you’re not spending enough time with them, your life needs balancing. If it is not only your career, but also your body size that is ballooning, your lifestyle needs balancing. Finally, if you get to prove your skill in chess, bridge, or mahjong every night, but have no time to fix the leaky faucet, mow the lawn, or clean the garage — your life needs balancing.

There are two main ways to balance life. Since life coexists with time, the first way to balance life is to balance time. To learn how to develop your time management skills, there is no finer book than “The 10 Natural Laws of Successful Time and Life management” by Hyrum W. Smith (Warner Books, 1994). The second way to balance life is by balancing our attitude, perspective, or worldview. And we do that by avoiding extremes and taking the middle path. For instance, extreme political views, whether to the right or left, are divisive, but moderate or centrist views are unifying.

We move ahead in life by setting goals and we live a balanced life by setting goals for all our roles. Let’s start by looking at our major roles in life and follow that by steps we can take to get better balance. CAREER: provides us with the opportunity to earn income, express our personality, and develop our potential. FAMILY: provides us with the chance to express love, assume and share responsibility, and contribute to society. SPIRITUALITY: an opportunity to tap into a power greater than ourselves and a source of inspiration. An appreciation of morality, the arts, wonder, awe, and nature will heighten our awareness of the spiritual dimension. FRIENDS: an opportunity to practice sharing and caring, as well as baring our soul. SOLITUDE: quiet time to recharge our batteries, meditate, and make plans. Also, a time to work on improving our emotional and intellectual development. A time set aside to work on self-improvement. FINANCIAL: here’s where we plan for the purchase of a car, home ownership, family vacations, and a retirement income. LEISURE: fun and recreation release steam and provide opportunities to socialize and develop new skills. HEALTH: an important component of mind, body, and spirit balance. Exercise, a proper diet, and sufficient sleep are the ingredients to success in this area.

Now, for some steps you can take to increase the balance in your life. 1) List your various roles and show by percentage how successful you think you are in fulfilling that role. For example, CAREER, 80%; FAMILY, 60%; HEALTH, 40%, and so on. Bringing the present state of imbalance into your awareness is the first step in changing the situation for the better. The areas with the lowest percentage are the areas that need the most work. The areas with the highest percentage show where you are devoting most of your time.

2) Decide how you can divert time from high percentage areas to low percentage areas. As an example, you may want to divert time from your CAREER to your FAMILY. You can do this by eliminating wasted time, developing your time (life) management skills, working more efficiently, and wresting control of your job rather than letting it control you.

3) Whenever possible, perform several roles at once. For example, if your family joins friends for a volleyball game at the park, you can fulfil several roles at once: LEISURE, FAMILY, FRIENDS, HEALTH (exercise), and SPIRITUALITY (by getting in touch with nature and enjoying a sunset in the park). Moreover, if your friend is from work, you would also develop your CAREER role as well.

4) Take control of your life by making deliberate choices. Carefully weigh the costs of living with imbalance. Take corrective action where necessary, and regularly monitor and fine-tune your progress.

5) Remember, we are all unique. It is unreasonable to expect everyone to perfectly balance each role in life. After all, part of our uniqueness lies in how we interpret what roles are the most important to us. Great artists, for example, may be consumed by their craft, spending little time elsewhere. Yes, their lives are imbalanced, but of great value to society. So, the important lesson is not about balancing our lives perfectly, but about balancing them in a manner that best expresses our potential and role on earth.

6) Follow the simple laws of BE, DO, and HAVE. You’ve got to BE self-disciplined to DO the necessary steps to balance your life. And when you do so, you will HAVE balance, peace, and contentment.

7) Here is some good advice taken from “How to Be a Happy Parent…In Spite of Your Children,” written by Fred G. Gosman, “Finding the perfect balance is getting harder and harder. We need to teach our children to be cautious without imparting fear, to learn right from wrong without being judgmental, to be assertive but not pushy, to stick to routines without sacrificing spontaneity, and to be determined but not stubborn.”

What happens if you’re on a plane with your child and oxygen masks suddenly pop in front of both of you? The answer is, put on your mask first, then your child’s. After all, an unconscious parent is no help to a child. Because we can not help others until we help ourselves, it is important to balance our lives. It is only after doing so that we can maximize our contribution to our family, friends, and society. How do you know when your life is balanced? If you can die today, contented with your life, it is balanced!