These findings mirror the work of psychologist Richard Davidson, the author of The Emotional Life of Your Brain.
Being generous means taking an action toward another person that is attuned and sensitive to that person’s needs and wants. It involves being giving of ourselves in ways that extend beyond ourselves. As the World Happiness Report concluded, “well-being depends heavily on pro-social behavior,” which involves “individuals making decisions for the common good that may conflict with short-run egoistic incentives.” The report lists pro-social behaviors as including honesty, benevolence, cooperation and trustworthiness.
Yet generosity doesn’t just benefit the recipient of our offerings. It’s incredibly valuable to our own mental and physical health. It naturally reduces stress and combats depression, while enhancing our sense of purpose. It can even lengthen our lifespan.
Resilience describes an ability to persevere when things become difficult. It involves meeting life’s challenges rather than shying away or feeling defeated. A resilient person recognizes their personal power, while living in and accepting reality as it is. A resilient person sees their potential to change their situation, to evolve, adapt and accomplish their goals.
As Davidson describes it, attention involves being present and putting our focus where we want it. This places us in a receptive rather than a reactive mode. Mindfulness can be extremely useful in this process, as it helps us to develop our ability to focus attention and cultivate a sense of presence. When we remain in the present moment, fully experiencing our lives, we are able to concentrate on what needs tending to and take the necessary steps to reaching our long-term goals. The many benefits of mindfulness meditation include reduced stress and exhaustion and increased psychological well-being, self-esteem, and quality of life.
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The Ethics of Interpersonal Relationships, Robert Firestone addresses the benefits of seeing our common humanity and outlines the dangers of focusing on our differences and needing to see “our group” as superior.
Adopting these 4 principles of well-being into our lives can help us to live a more harmonious and rewarding existence. However, there is a fifth element I would add that can enhance our ability to live a more generous, resilient, attentive, and good life:
For each of us to tap into our inner strength and live in an “adult mode,” we must differentiate from negative past influences and programming that act as overlays on our behavior. We must identify and separate from unhealthy adaptations we’ve made in our past. These include destructive attitudes and unfavorable ways of seeing ourselves and our abilities as well as of viewing others and their shortcomings.
1. Separate from destructive attitudes that were directed toward us that we’ve internalized.
2. Differentiate from negative traits of parents and other influential caretakers.
3. Break free of old defenses that we built to cope with negative childhood events.
4. Develop our own value system and approach to life.
The goal of differentiation is to uncover the real you. It is a process designed to help us reveal our true wants and desires and separate from the less favorable familial and societal pressures that have shaped our psychological defenses. It helps us shed unneeded armor, mechanisms, and patterns of behavior we’ve built up that now prevent us from achieving these essential tasks for psychological and physical well-being.
While the process of differentiation may sound like it’s all about you, in truth, this focus on yourself isn’t selfish. It benefits everyone, because in being happier, more fulfilled individuals, we have more value to those around us. Enhancing self-understanding and self-compassion extends our understanding and compassion for others. Feeling good about ourselves allows us to be good to the people in our lives.
Like, generosity, resilience, attention, and goodness, differentiation provides a powerful lamplight on the pathway to well-being. It is a means of finding meaning and a method of fulfilling our unique destiny.
None of these principles seem to offer an overnight, quick fix to the challenges we all inevitably face, but they do reveal a way of living that can enhance our overall quality of life.