I think back to my younger self quite often. To that young girl with an old soul who was just trying to figure her way out through life with little guidance from the world around her. School and culture never really addressed questions like, “What does it really take for a human being to live a good life?”
In my day, there was no school curriculum that focused on how to cultivate lifelong well-being, especially not from a holistic perspective. Sure, we had physical education, but that was really the extent of it. We never discussed the other vital aspects of it, like emotions, or relationships, or meaningful work, or even the sensitive, yet noteworthy, topic of spirituality.
In many ways, not being given some of those lessons offered me the opportunity to go figure them out on my own through good old lived experience. I wouldn’t take back any of what I lived for the world. At the same time, if I had the opportunity to go back and sit down with a younger self, I would take it. And here’s what I’d ask her to focus on early on…
Take care of your body.
Your body is the foundation for your thoughts and emotions, and by extension, influences all of your life experiences. Nurturing your energy levels through nutrition, movement, rest, and stress regulation is a vital part of supporting your psychosocial life over the long haul.
Your body is also the vehicle through which you will experience some of life’s most pleasurable moments — a long hug, a deep belly laugh, an expressive dance, a savory meal, the creation of a new life. Treat it as a sacred home that houses your soul on the journey of life.
Cultivate an intimate relationship with your emotions.
These, too, will influence all of your life experiences, and they will control you if you don’t learn how to harness them. You can either become a slave to your emotions, or they can become one of your greatest allies on the journey of figuring out your way through the world. Learn to understand, regulate, channel, and process your emotions so that they inform your life instead of driving it entirely.
Learn to recognize and question your automatic thoughts.
Your conditioned patterns of mind are not always conducive to your well-being. Cultivating the skill of questioning your thoughts can save you a lot of suffering. The more you question the thoughts and patterns that no longer serve you, the more your well-being will benefit.
This skill is also key to helping you learn, grow, and develop more robust mental models through which you construct your reality. The more you challenge old ways of making sense of the world and take on new perspectives, the more prepared you will be to meet life’s inevitable challenges.
Good relationships are probably the most important key to a good life.
(Research would agree with me here.) Relationships that allow you to be who you authentically are, that help you grow, and that bring out the best in you are rare and life-giving. Invest in those and nurture them. This especially applies to the person you choose to marry or partner with long-term, so choose wisely.
Relationships are also a wonderful container for personal growth. By leaning into the inevitable challenges associated with intimacy and navigating life with others, you have the opportunity to face your limitations, hone your strengths, and evolve into greater versions of yourself.
Find or create meaningful work.
You will spend a hell of a lot of your life working; better make it as fulfilling as possible. This sounds simple, but it takes a lot of effort and sacrifice. The key ingredients to fulfilling work are a) work that you feel engaged with and that offers opportunities for you enter into states of flow, b) work that you’re good at and through which your natural talents have opportunities to express themselves, and c) work that serves others or benefits society in a way you find meaningful.(Research also agrees with me here.) Take stock of this as soon as possible and begin working toward this over the long-term.
Invest in personal, constructive pastimes.
Humans benefit from being engaged in activities that have no end goal or purpose, other than joy and play. Engaging in personal interests and leisure hobbies will enrich your life more than you could possibly imagine. They are an incredible way to keep your mind and body sharp, connect with people of common interests, and learn new skills that could be applied to other areas of life.
A disclaimer here is that some hobbies and interests are simply going to be more constructive in the long-term. A reading hobby is likely going to be better for you over the long course of life than a drinking hobby is, so choose wisely here as well.
Find communities of common interest for energy exchange.
As human being, you are a social creature, whether you like it or not. You will benefit from being part of groups because you can both give help and receive help in those groups. You can both learn from the group and contribute your skills and talents. Ideally, you will get to choose the groups you spend time with, so connecting over common interests is a good way to start. Whether that’s a hobby community, service community, professional community, spiritual community, or whatever else, community is going to be a pillar of well-being for you.
Travel as a way of learning about yourself and others.
Travel is a rich source of personal growth. Go see how differently people live in places far from your home. Learn about their approach to life, use their approach to challenge your own culture’s scripts, and perhaps even incorporate some of those lessons into your own life.
Experience who you are when you’re far away from home in an unknown land. Traveling will grow you up. It will make you learn new ways of seeing and being in the world. If nothing else, it’ll deepen your appreciation for your own culture and home.
Nurture your environment.
By that I mean the different places you inhabit in your daily life — your home, your city, your workplace, nature, and whatever other places and people you surround yourself with. Your physical environment undoubtedly influences your psychological state. Be intentional about inhabiting and creating spaces that bring out the best in you. (Bonus Note: Spending time in real nature is essential!)
Additionally, be aware that your relationship to the different environments you inhabit is reciprocal. Do everything you can to respect, sustain, care for, and give back to the environments that you do inhabit.
Give yourself over to something larger than yourself.
You don’t have to believe in God for this, but that is certainly one way to go about it. The point here is to continuously reckon with the qualms and mysteries of existence. It’s about questioning the larger processes and forces outside of the realm of your capacity as a mere human to fully grasp. In essence, it’s about contemplating the meaning of life.
These questions will never get answered, but that’s not the point. The value is in the process itself — the process of exploring your connection to all of nature and the cosmos, and your place within it all. By simply engaging in this process, it will keep you humble and curious. It will inspire wonder and awe in you. Most importantly, it will nurture within you a reverence and appreciation for all of life, including and especially your own.
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