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Two months ago I wrote about the importance of taking care of ourselves with kindness and self-compassion during this time of challenge and isolation (see: Be A Friend To Yourself). Little did I know back in April when that was written that today we would still be social distancing, grappling with continued unknowns and ever changing game plans. This state of unknown leads to increased feelings of unrest and anticipatory anxiety of what’s to come…not a place to easily foster feelings of well-being.

As I sit down to write today I’m asking myself if now is a good or appropriate time to talk about ways to improve our feeling of well-being and increase our sense of happiness. The reality is we may feel like surviving is about all we have the bandwidth to tackle right now and subjective feelings of happiness and well-being may seem far beyond our reach.

AND the other possibility is, now may be just the time!

Whenever we have a shake-up or crisis in our lives we tend to reevaluate what’s important—how we want to spend our precious time, what brings us pleasure and joy, what brings meaning and purpose to our days and ultimately our life. In other words we suddenly see things as though we’re looking through a magnifying glass. Soul-searching is a natural response when we see the fragility of our lives brought on by the disruption of our “normal”.

I’m proposing now is a wonderful time to dedicate some focus and energy into understanding what makes us feel whole and well and happier. These current times are tough and if we can find ways to glean some joy, closeness, and comfort we will weather the storm much better. A favorite quote of mine is, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” ~Anne Harbison

Extensive research has been done within the field of Positive Psychology supporting the idea that subjective feelings of happiness and well-being are felt when we live a life filled with meaning and purpose, close relationships, and moments of joy in our daily experiences.

In other words, we identify what’s important to us…our meaning and purpose, AND we find ways each day to enjoy the journey. We’re striving towards experiencing a sense of flourishing rather than just getting by or “hanging in there”.

As the classic song reminds us, “These are the good old days.” Our goal is to find ways to live that truth…today, now, is the “good old day” even if it’s a challenging one. Why? Because now is all we have.

There are many models available to help identify ways to focus on improving our well-being as a daily practice. One model is the SPIRE Well-being model, which ascribes to “whole person” wellbeing. We have many different aspects to our lives and each of these contributes to our sense of happiness and well-being.

The SPIRE Well-being model was created through the collaboration of Tal Ben-Shahar , a teacher and writer of Positive Psychology and Happiness Studies, http://www.talbenshahar.com/ with Maria Sirois and Megan McDonough of Wholebeing Institute, https://wholebeinginstitute.com/

The Wholebeing Institute’s website describes SPIRE in the following way: “SPIRE well-being considers the whole person—it encompasses spiritual, physical, intellectual, relational, and emotional well-being. By taking the whole into account, the greatest well-being can be realized. We call that wholebeing; and we use the term as our definition of happiness.  SPIRE wholebeing helps you gain perspective as you continually grow into the highest and best you’re capable of, while deepening your connection to self”.

Here are the components of SPIRE with definitions for each letter:

S= Spiritual:

Leading a life of meaning and purpose while savoring the present moment.

We often associate the word spiritual with religion or faith and that’s a true interpretation for many people who find their meaning and purpose in their religious beliefs; used in this context the word is interpreted with a much wider lens…meaning and purpose is what we feel makes our lives worth living…be it our relationships with family and friends, our calling in life, our creativity, etc. Meaning and purpose need not be grand, it can be realized and cultivated in our everyday life experiences.

P= Physical:

Caring for our body and recognizing the mind/body connection.

Extensive research shows physical activity benefits us in many ways including increased strength, improved cardiac status, improved cognition and elevating our mood. When we care for our body we are caring for our whole self.

I= Intellectual:

Engaging in deep learning and remaining open to new experiences…being curious.

Finding ways to stimulate our brains by seeking new knowledge or expanding on what we know is enlivening and enriching to our lives. Curiosity is a great lens through which to view life (see earlier blog: Choose Curiosity) especially in these times of challenge and learning something new helps us focus and have a sense of control.

R= Relational:

Nurturing a constructive relationship with self and others.

Research shows that relationships are the number one determinant of reported well-being and happiness. This does not mean you must be married or in a significant relationship. Relational as defined here means you have a sense of compassion for and connection to others in life…be it family, close friends, a book club, team sports, community involvement, etc.  You feel connected and part of the larger whole.

E= Emotional:

Feeling and recognizing all your emotions, while striving towards resilience and optimism.

Every day we experience a range of emotions and we shouldn’t try to dismiss nor bury the uncomfortable ones…they’re a part of us as much as the positive emotions. It is only by experiencing sadness that we can recognize joy; we experience dark and light most days.

This model is a tool to use as a guide, helping us identify ways to improve our well-being.  We focus on the parts as they contribute to the whole.  If we’re having a challenging day (or months!) checking in with how we’re feeling on these five levels can help us choose a behavior to help us in real time. Here are a few examples…

  • You’ve been at your desk for several hours doing work and are feeling stiff and fatigued. Taking a walk or doing a few minutes of stretching can bring increased energy and comfort. That’s P.
  • You’re feeling disconnected because of the continued social distancing restrictions and you feel sad and lethargic. Calling a close friend or scheduling a ZOOM visit with family will restore your feelings of closeness and remind you this is a shared experience. That’s R.
  • You love to learn new things and you just got an email from the museum that there are virtual tours available. You decide to visit an online exhibition featuring an artist you’re not familiar with. That’s I.

Checking in with yourself using the SPIRE model is a way to help you identify how you’re feeling now and choose where to bring your attention. We’re not usually balanced across all levels nor do we need to be, for instance—if we’re training for a marathon we’ll be much more in the realm of P, if we’re preparing a business presentation, more in the I. SPIRE provides us a way to examine our current state and recognize the interconnectedness of our body and mind.  We can use this awareness as we aspire towards improved whole being health and happiness.  

The take-away here…we can nurture ourselves and find ways to enjoy ourselves while living a life of meaning and purpose. If we pay attention to how we’re navigating today and what we need now we’re setting ourselves up for a life of whole being well-being.