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Living happier and more in balance by understanding humans nature

What are human nature and reality? What is the purpose of life? Why are we here? We all have reflected on such questions at least at one point in our lives, and people have different answers to these questions. Here I would like to share with you my point of view as a mental health worker.

You may ask what these questions have to do with mental health and well-being. Well, I do not want to get philosophical at all, but the fact is that having some ideas about the answers to these questions gives us the answer to what the backbone of well-being is: Feeling well, happy and content. Because if we can live aligned with our true nature, we will be more in harmony with the outer world and experience more inner peace and contentment. And we would even go with more courage and grace through our challenges. Don’t you think that many of our struggles maybe arise because we constantly want to live life against what we are made for?

But what is the true nature of humans? Looking at our needs can point to what our nature is. Because if we look into nature, there is a supply for every inherent need in living beings, and that need corresponds to some elements that need to be provided for the living being to thrive. Now, we can use Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to look into human needs. Based on this pyramid, we all have basic physiological needs (air, food, sleep, shelter, water, and reproduction). In these needs, we are more or less the same as animals. The difference can be that humans need to go to work to create a safe environment and deploy resources to fulfill these physiological needs. But according to the Maslow pyramid of the need, after fulfilling these more basic needs, humans move to more non-material needs such as love, intimacy, friendship, self-esteem, personal growth, and transcendence. Although these needs are not as linear as listed in Maslow’s pyramid, and he did not consider some essential elements such as culture in defining them, his pyramid inspires me to one crucial point: we all have two types of needs: physical and spiritual/transcendence/non-material. Of course, both of these two categories are important, and each contributes to the fulfillment of the other. Having these needs indicates two primary capacities in us as humans: physical and spiritual. Physical capabilities maybe can be said to be those that help us to fulfill our physiological needs. Spiritual capacities, which can be said to be only for humans, are love, higher consciousness, empathy, truthfulness, altruism, compassion, discernment, wisdom, rationality, awe, etc. These spiritual capacities are innate in all humans. This is what unites us as humans. We can call these inherent spiritual capacities virtues or what Aristotle calls character strengths. These capacities fulfill our higher-order needs.

So, we can say that human nature is physical and spiritual.

Thus, to achieve well-being, we need to cultivate these two significant capacities. However, these two do not have the same role in our well-being and cannot be weighed equally. So here, we need to create a balance. Balance does not mean something that is 50-50. It means the right measure of everything. Cultivating physical capacities realizes our basic needs but does not correspond to our complex higher-order needs as humans. If our effort is only or primarily about enabling physical capabilities, naturally, we always feel something is missing in our life. Developing spiritual/non-material/transcendence capacities (you can call them what you like) is pivotal to our well-being. Because this cultivation fulfills our strong desire for transcendence, a sense of purpose, and meaning. Therefore, in some philosophical and religious views, cultivating spiritual capacities or virtues is said to be the goal of life.

So, having an idea about what is our nature, can give us also an indication of what is the purpose of life: developing our character strengths. And if we live aligned with our true nature and our goals in life is based on the major purpose of life, then we can be happier and more content. As Martin Seligmen, the founder of positive psychology says: “The good life is using your signature strengths every day to produce authentic happiness and abundant gratification”.

But how can we cultivate virtues or character strengths? There are many ways, here are few of my suggestions:

1. Learning about your character strengths:

Each individual is different: one has a strong sense of wisdom and eloquence, while another has a deep sense of commitment, reverence, appreciation of beauty, etc. It would be best if you learned what your character strengths is. This enables you to navigate your life based on your innate strengths and shine through. For example, if you choose a job that its personal requirement is matched your inherent character strengths, you can meet the job’s challenges better, you can fulfill its needs and tasks better, and you receive joy and energy for doing it because you use your relevant capabilities.

2. Daily reflection and action on virtues:

What we put our focus on, becomes the reality of our life. So, set a time daily for meditation and reverence on virtues that you need to cultivate for things that you are going to do during the day. The best time is early in the morning after you get up and before starting your day. Read some inspirational readings or say/read prayers. Then meditate. Your meditation can be in the form of silent reflection or through writing a journal. During your meditation reflect on what are the virtues that you need today, e.g. when are spending time with your children, at work, when you are doing house chores, or in facing a current challenge, etc. See your day and think what virtues can help you to live that day to the fullest with balance and peace. At night before you sleep, you can reflect again about the things that has happened and if there were virtues you could use but you didn’t and then decide to use that virtue next time. Or if you did use a virtue in an encounter or a situation, complement yourself.

3. Use challenges as opportunity to learn about your character strengths:

I believe, challenges are best learning opportunities. As painful as they are when we are going through them, and sometimes can be deeply painful, but makes us more familiar with who we are. When you are in difficult situation, ask yourself what virtues can help you go through this period, what character strengths you can use to find solve the issue, etc. When I was in bed for several months due to brain injury, I learned that to go through this situation, I need to cultivate “mindfulness” and “acceptance” characters within me to be able to go through severe isolation and daily physical pain and by activating them, I really find inner calm and strengths to face my pains and inabilities every day.

4. Stay in touch with the world around you:

Our virtues are best used, tested and strengthen, when we are in contact with others: children, partner, family, colleagues, neighbours, community members, etc. We do not strengthen ‘love’, if do not give love to others and receive love. We do not strengthen ‘patience’, if we are not tolerant when people are not acting based on our expectations. We all need some daily moments of solitude or few days of alone retreat in the nature to recharge and gain perspective. But then through our interactions is when we see the values our character strengths, find out which character we need to strengthen in ourselves, or help others do so in themselves.

5. Be non-judgmental and kind to yourself (as you are with others):

Part of being human is making mistake. You do not need to always do the right thing and be in command. Sometimes we cannot use our character strengths and get carried away by our emotions. That is Ok. We need to non-judgmental accept our shortcomings and move on. Sometimes there are virtues that inherently we are not that strong in them, but our life circumstances bring us to conclusion that we need those virtues. That is Ok too. We can work on strengthening them in us. But change takes time. We should take little step every day and gradually we get there.

Life is life-long school we enter.

So, to sum it all up: We have to set of capacities: physical and spiritual/non-material. We have the will and ability to cultivate them to achieve wellbeing and happiness in life. To do so, we need to know that they are both important, but it is our spiritual or non-material capacities that elevate our spirit. We can call these spiritual capacities, virtues or character strengths. There are various ways to cultivate character strengths, and here I mentioned only a few.

What are your ways of activating and nourishing your character strengths? I would be more than happy to read if you would share here with me!

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