Find your contentment in perspective

I’ve got no business pretending to be a self-help guru, having spent years turning up my nose at those quick to tell us how to live. I shake my head as Deepak packs another auditorium, Dr. Phil fills our ears with psychoprattle, and Covey makes an eighth habit of getting rich.

Still, as an amateur guru, I think I can save you hundreds of dollars because these 550 words are free and they contain the secret to a better life.

The underlying principle is perspective, oft-stated but seldom practiced, as evidenced by people who overreact to minor misfortune. The principle suggests that troubles seem smaller when examined with a broader perspective. A flat tire is minor when considering the transmission might have failed. Receiving no pay raise is small indeed when considering you might’ve been laid off.

By taking a broader view, life’s bumps can be less jarring.

The mind can be trained to make these more expansive comparisons, but the examples above are limited to the conscious examination of individual incidents. What about our subconscious attitude toward, say, our overall contentment, which is shaped by far more than daily happenings?

If you were to spend all day sitting cross-legged at the bottom of an empty swimming pool, you would quickly conclude that life is no more colorful than blue-painted concrete. That would be a sad loss of perspective.

Whether breadwinners or homemakers, many people do the same thing, allowing the “job” that consumes the greatest portion of their lives to limit their perspective. For such people, that singular focus becomes the lens through which they measure life’s worth, and if that job hits a pothole in the road, their whole life can be shaken.

The remedy is balance. Everyone should counterbalance life’s singular focus with something different. For example, a friend of mine waits tables to pay the mortgage, but in the off hours, she’s writing a book. Another friend is a full-time parent, but he finds balance by volunteering for an international aid organization. A co-worker develops marketing materials from 8 to 5, but unless she can devote some hours each week to sculpting ceramics, she’s just not content.

At least on the outside, these three strike me as among the most content people I’ve known.

Call it a hobby, a passion or just a distraction, a sideline activity gives you a more balanced view of life.

Better still if the counterbalance engages the opposite side of your brain. If you’re an accountant by day, try painting watercolors on the weekend. If work is chaotic, seek balance with the calm and orderly process of building a scrapbook.

One might wonder, isn’t a life of both work and family already in balance? That happens to be my wife’s situation. She takes her career and child rearing pretty seriously, but I’m pushing her to find something more. The all-consuming combination of career and family can leave anyone with the myopic impression that life is defined by immediate needs and obligations. Balance for her might be found with something devoid of deadline.

So however you do it – snowboarding, stargazing or cross-stitching – engage in something that counterbalances the activities that dominate your life.

As for me, I will continue to counterbalance my day job by writing newspaper columns, not self-help books.

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