What do you really need if you want to lead a successful life?
It seems odd in hindsight, but for a very long time no one seriously asked this question. Life was divided into traditional compartments – work, family, religion – that hadn’t changed for centuries. A breakthrough came when the psychologist Abraham Maslow offered a new model that put basic needs first and worked up the ladder toward higher needs. Thus feeling safe and secure was a basic need, while art, imagination, and God came later.
This “hierarchy of needs” has had a huge impact, and it suits common sense. A successful life requires a solid foundation to be secure. Yet life keeps changing, and I think there is now one need that supersedes all others. Without it, money and family won’t make up for the lack. A prominent career and professional status will be undermined. The very possibility of leading a happy life is jeopardized.
This one need is the need for self-care.
The accumulated knowledge of medicine, psychology, and longevity studies agree about this. Each of us has the potential to avoid disease, retard aging, and achieve a higher state of well-being if we pay attention to self-care. A new horizon has opened that millions of people aren’t fully aware of. They continue to hold on to old worn out notions that deprive them of power over their futures. These notions include the following:
1. Doctors exist to keep you well.
2. Old age is a state of decline.
3. Money solves most problems, and the more, the better.
4. Everyone has inner demons. It’s better to keep quiet about them.
5. What you don’t know won’t hurt you.
6. Life is unfair and bad things happen randomly.
7. Genes cause everything, and there’s nothing you can do about your genes.
Without examining these notions in detail, they are all contradicted by self-care.
1. Wellness is each person’s responsibility.
2. Old age reflects your beliefs about it. Positive beliefs lead to a positive old age.
3. Money provides for basic needs. After that, there’s no correlation between more money and happiness.
4. Facing your personal issues has a huge impact on how healthy you will be in the future.
5. What you don’t know gets repressed and creates emotional and physical difficulties. Your cells metabolize everything that happens to you.
6. Life matches your conception of it. The mind shapes how events turn out, not vice versa.
7. Genes are fluid and dynamic, responding at every moment to your inner and outer world.
The import of this list is that you have the power to create your personal reality, which is what self-care is ultimately about. We are badly in need of a new model for well-being. Decades of public information about prevention has made headway, but the whole subject feels less than urgent to most people. Whatever they think is good for them, most people segment their lives into work, leisure, and family. Little time is left for self-care. Yet caring for yourself today is exactly what determines your life for decades to come.
A new model of self-care would include the following:
– Making happiness a high priority.
– Making sure your life has purpose and meaning.
– Living according to a higher vision.
– Expanding your awareness in every decade of life.
– Devoting time and attention to personal growth.
– Paying attention to the fate of the planet.
– Following at least the minimal regimen of good diet and physical activity.
– Allowing the brain to reset by introducing down time several times a day.
– Getting to know your inner world through meditation, contemplation, and self-reflection.
– Practicing gratitude and appreciation.
– Learning how to love and be loved.
As you can see, self-care goes far beyond eating our vegetables and signing up for the gym. It amounts to a new model for success and happiness, a model that abundant evidence supports. Right now, the existing models feel very dead end. Consumerism is a ticking time bomb; “work hard and play hard” leads to exhaustion and eventual physical debility. Postponing happiness until you retire wastes decades of life. “Looking out for number one” deadens the soul.