Meditation Teacher and LUC Alumnus
Are you happy? Do you know what you want to do with your life (after LUC)? Do you have the necessary tools to cope with the high academic stress life throws at you? Do you know what to do when life is not going your way? These are all big and difficult-to-answer questions. However daunting they might appear, having an honest look at yourself and diagnosing where and how you can improve your well-being will be invaluable for your academic and personal life. As a LUC graduate with years of experience as a meditation teacher, I have both superbly thrived and seriously struggled at LUC. So, in this blog post, I would like to share some of my most important hard-learned lessons, which I have summarised in 5 strategies you can adopt to improve your well-being. Life is supposed to be a fun ride, isn’t it? That is why, in this blog post, I want to share my 5 strategies using a car journey metaphor. So, buckle up and let’s hit the road.
The most fundamental strategy for higher well-being is to be intentional. Being intentional means carving out the time and gaining clarity about who you want to be, what your core values are, and where you want to go in life. Similarly, as you wouldn’t just get in a car and start driving, hoping to arrive somewhere nice, you don’t want to sleepwalk through your life without guiding principles. Metaphorically speaking, being intentional means taking the time to set your destination.
In real life, however, being intentional is not a one-off thing. It is much more of a mindset underpinned by regular practice. It won’t come as a surprise when I tell you that meditation is a powerful habit you can pick up to reflect on yourself and gain mental clarity. Meditation can help you to be more intentional because it helps create the mental space and time for reflection to be(come) more self-aware. With more mental clarity and self-awareness you can break through the day-to-day clutter and intentionally prioritize more of what truly makes you happy. Living with intention will help you be in the driver’s seat of your life.
Strive for purpose
If intentionality is mapping the direction of your life, then the purpose is your inner guiding compass that helps you navigate. That’s why, the second strategy I propose is to strive for purpose. Here I define purpose as knowing why you want to go where you want to go. Like a car journey, in life, there will be crossroads, turns, and twists as well as ups and downs. Having a strong sense of direction will help you navigate these difficulties.
Generally speaking, our purpose often springs from something that we are passionate about combined with something we are good at. For many, if not most of us at LUC, this ‘something’ that we are passionate about is global challenges like injustice, climate change, violent conflicts, or the prevalence of diseases. These global problems propel us to make a difference in the world, which fills us with a sense of purpose. Luckily, at LUC it is pretty easy to have a strong sense of purpose. But if you struggle to find your place in the world - which, by the way, all of us constantly work on - you can think of what puts a smile on your face and what easily gets you into a flow. Your purpose won’t be far from that.
In metaphorical terms, having a strong why makes the hours of driving, missed exits, and annoying traffic jams all worth it because we know why we want to arrive at our chosen destination. Similarly, in life, a strong sense of purpose can help us through hours of studying, missed opportunities, and roadblocks along the way.
With this long-term perspective, we are more equipped to weather the stresses and storms of our daily lives and bounce back from setbacks. And thus, we maintain our sense of direction and fuel passion, leading to lasting well-being.
Take time to recharge
As much as we might get motivated to achieve a goal guided by a strong why, just like a car runs out of gas and needs to refuel, so do we. Even when your gas tank is still not empty when on the road, we are advised to have regular breaks to prevent fatigue. The same holds for our days and life in general.
That is why I would advise you to plan your moments of recharge ahead of time, and stick to them: think of fun things to do over the weekend, buy tickets for a concert weeks from now, or book a fun vacation. Having something to look forward to can give you the energy to push through when necessary.
As for daily breaks, one of the best ways to recharge our batteries and maintain our well-being is by doing sports. Resulting from mostly sedentary lifestyles and high-stress environments, our minds are, more often than not, in constant overdrive. This can lead to chronic stress, anxiety, and even depression. These symptoms are all as much physical as they are psychological, and regular exercise can help not only build our physical but also our ‘happiness’ muscles. While exercising, harmful stress hormones, such as cortisol, are released. We naturally boost our feel-good hormone levels, such as dopamine and serotonin, that effectively maintain and protect mental health. And by the very act of overcoming physical challenges in the gym or on the pitch, we develop more mental resilience in all other areas of our life.
Together is better
Like road-tripping with a group of friends is much more fun than driving alone, so it is in life. Surround yourself with people that you can be your true self with, that truly understand you, and want to bring out the best in you.
People that you know have your back, or what is commonly called a support network, is especially important. Why? Because, like a car might have a flat tire that needs fixing, you might face struggles in life that you need to address. And doing that together is easier than alone. Replacing a flat tire with the help of a friend is much easier. But when it comes to personal issues it might feel much harder to ask for a helping hand. However, just as it is unwise to keep on driving with a flat tire, as it might burst and cause an accident, in the same way, a personal issue that remains unaddressed might turn into a lingering problem that might eventually throw you off-track. So just as you would not hide from your friends driving with you that there is a problem with the car, you should not hide important personal issues in your life and isolate yourself. Having someone you trust and can turn to in difficult times is essential.
Countless studies have found that healthy relationships are the single most important factor for a long and happy life. So, together is better. With good company, you will not only share amazing adventures, experience beautiful views, and create unforgettable memories but be able to fix any issues as soon as they show up.
Although I started the list by stressing the importance of being intentional and striving for a strong sense of direction, I want to wrap it up by saying: the journey is the destination. As cliche, as it may sound, I want to say that it is important to enjoy the journey and not just rush at high speed to your destination. You don’t want to arrive at your goal only remembering the way there in a racing blur. And one of the best ways to mindfully take in your journey is by practicing gratitude. Gratitude brings your attention to all the good things you have in your life and thus increases your satisfaction with the life you already have, instead of resenting not having the life you want.
Consider this: You are heading with your friends from The Hague to Italy for your summer holidays. On your way, you could potentially cross six countries (Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, France, Switzerland, and eventually Italy) with different cultures, and languages. On the drive, you would pass lush green pastures, race down the German autobahn, pass lavender fields in France, go through the Swiss Alps and its marvelous lakes, and eventually arrive at the Italian Mediterranean. Why am I saying this?! Isn’t there so much to see and appreciate until you arrive at your final holiday destination? And like on the road, so in life, many interesting stopovers are awaiting you that you can gratefully embrace along the way.
So how can you improve your well-being? Take the time to intentionally set a destination and do not just start driving, strive for purpose and be guided by your internal compass, take breaks to refuel, have your loved ones on board, and enjoy the ride!