Living well certainly includes pleasant feelings and comfort, but that is only part of the story. While good feelings are valuable to our health, they are also temporary. We are not biologically built to be happy all the time — at least not in the sense of feeling comfortable.
Well-being also depends on more durable aspects of the human experience such as connection, belonging, competence, and meaning. This means that the gritty, complicated, uncomfortable, unwanted, and even painful parts of life provide opportunities to flourish and thrive.
We have a profound capacity to approach life with calm, compassion, focus & confidence — even the really tough bits.
And this is exactly what I mean by being hearty — meeting all of life, including discomfort, uncertainty, challenge, and change, with awareness, acceptance, purpose, courage and kindness. We have an incredible capacity to do this. We can choose our response to the unwanted and unpleasant stuff. We can increasingly align our behavior with valued goals, commitments, and relationships.
We do not have to be driven by the pursuit of good feelings or the avoidance of discomfort. We do not have to keep repeating habitual responses that are not working for us.
Living a hearty life takes practice. It requires that we consciously cultivate the internal resources of mindfulness, gratitude, wonder, love and joy. It requires that we build the skills of accepting awareness, compassionate confidence, purposeful action, and supportive connection.
So, we are free to pursue happiness — to chase after fleeting moments of comfort and pleasure hoping that this time they will last. We can twist our lives into pretzels in the attempt to avoid anxiety, loss, sadness, stress, anger, frustration, annoyance, setback, fear disappointment, or heartbreak.
However, if we take some time to look deeply and honestly at our own lives or to speak with others from the heart, we can see that all of the effort to feel good at all times is a fool’s errand. There is a reason that “happily-ever-after” only shows up in fairy tales.
We do have the option of practicing a hearty life every day. We can focus our life on working peacefully and powerfully with whatever shows up. We can depend less on our circumstances to determine the quality of our lives. We can learn to trust our internal resources, to treat ourselves and others with kindness and respect, to refocus on what matters most in the midst of all the demands and distractions of a human life.
This life will end for each of us. We do not have a choice about that. We do have a choice about what we practice between now and then. And this choice makes all the difference.
The human heart is an enduring metaphor for traits such as courage, compassion, confidence, kindness, toughness and tenderness. Hearty also means wholehearted, heartfelt, warm-hearted, joyous, spirited, healthy, strong, resilient, complete, wise, sincere, genuine, faithful and supportive.
Hearty means nourishing. This is first definition in the dictionary.
I believe that it is a beautiful aspiration to live a life that is
nourishing for you and for others.
A hearty life is a practice. There isn't some place we arrive
or goal we achieve. We are continually cultivating the skills
necessary to respond peacefully and powerfully to whatever
shows up in life.
A hearty life is not about perfection. The reason I
like the image of the heart to the right, rather than
the simple outline that we see at Valentine's day, is
that the heart is complicated and messy. There is
plenty of room in this practice for missing the mark,
taking responsibility, gaining insight, and beginning
again. We can do all of this without harsh
self-criticism or judgment.
This practice leverages our human capacity to focus
on fulfillment, wellbeing and connection. Rather than
being driven by the avoidance of discomfort or pursuit of
comfort, we can live a rich, deeply connected and purposeful
life in the presence of all kinds of internal and external challenges.
This is not the "the truth" or the only way to approach life. The hearty life is a set of perspectives and practices based on scientific research, lasting wisdom, and lived experience. Do not take my word for any of this. The only way to find out if it works for you is to try it and pay attention to what happens.
Practicing these skills requires that we embody them. Doing and feeling is different than thinking and talking. At first, many of these practices can seem abstract and conceptual. The more you practice, the more you will feel it in your body. Any resistance or skepticism you feel about this kind of practice is completely normal. Most of us were not raised with instructions on how to work with what goes on in our own nervous system.