I think that to have a satisfying life means having a sense of who we are, what our current situation is like, how these match and what we can do about any mismatches.
All of us live in particular situations, and these situations can be more or less good for us.
All of us live in particular situations, and these situations can be modified to a lesser or greater degree by us.
The two sentences above seem true to me. They also seem to me to be the basis for a satisfying life. I’d like to spend this post explaining why I think they are so important.
1. I think we can blame ourselves for too much.
In my experience most people are too hard on themselves. Some compensate for this by praising themselves or seeking praise from others. When I have had the chance to speak in some depth to those who are hard on others, I have found that they are even harder on themselves.
Recognising that our situation does affect us can help us to lighten up on ourselves (and others). For me this has usually happened through the comments of others. Things like: “No wonder you’re stressed”, or, “anybody would be tired after what you’ve been through”.
2. It’s important to know our needs.
Which situations suit us is very much an individual matter. And it can take awhile to figure out what suits us and what doesn’t. I was in my thirties when I figured out that I was really cut out to be a freelancer. I wanted the freedom to pursue my own strange interests and projects. These were unusual and so working for someone else just wasn’t going to work for me. It was only in my 40’s that I started discovering what kind of diet really suits me and what foods I prefer.
Roughly speaking I think we have sets of needs: physical, emotional, mental, spiritual and social. Usually we will be more aware of some area of need than others.
3. It’s possible to have a sense of whether situations are good for us.
Often we will have an intuition or a gut feeling about whether a situation suits us. This may not be infallible but in my experience has always been worth listening to. Usually my intuition or reaction has alerted me to something important.
As we get a better sense of our needs we can get better at knowing whether a situation suits us.
4. We can develop a sense of our strengths and vulnerabilities.
As with our needs, it can take time for us to learn what we are good at and vulnerable to. Some environments don’t encourage us to develop some strengths. It was not until I worked in a drop-in centre that I learned I could do leatherwork — I had never had the opportunity to try it out and so didn’t realise that this was a strength I could develop.
Similarly, it can take us time to learn our vulnerabilities. If we work in a workplace where the feedback is done well we may not discover that we are vulnerable to bullying.
5. We can usually do something.
In most situations that aren’t life threatening we have some room to manoeuvre. We can usually do something about how we understand and respond to our situation. We can also usually do something to affect it.
To have a satisfying life means having a sense of who we are, what our current situation is like, how these match and what we can do about any mismatches.
To get a good sense of what this could mean for you I have two experiments you might try out.
Imagine your ideal life.
Depending on what works for you this may be imagining a holiday or a typical day or year. It is important with this exercise to be as detailed and vivid as possible.
You can then analyse this to find out what you need for your ideal life. You can also use it to learn what needs you have that aren’t currently being met.
You can then decide what actions you can take to move closer to your ideal life.
Remember your best times.
Make a list of what have been the best times of your life. Put down as many as you can.
What did these have in common? What do these common things say about you and the situations that you like best?
(You can also contrast this with your worst times, but this may be depressing and so not be helpful.)
I’d like to hear what you have learned about your own needs, strengths and vulnerabilities. Have you found which situations suit you best? I look forward to hearing from you in the comments.
All clinical material on this site is peer reviewed by one or more clinical psychologists or other qualified mental health professionals. This specific article was originally published by Dr Greg Mulhauser, Managing Editor on .on and was last reviewed or updated by