When you think of the word balance, a few different images may come to mind. A tight rope walker, a cyclist, a yoga pose, a scale. All things that are synonymous with grace, agility, or flexibility.
When we speak of a balanced life we can all agree that we think of being happy. But all too often we also assume that a happy and balanced life is a life that never wavers from elation. We experience extreme instances of happiness and are convinced that life must exist at a high pitch in order for it to be fulfilling. The success and quality of our life is judged by whether we can sustain the high levels of happiness we experience when we fall in love, get a job promotion or win the lottery. You’ve probably said or heard someone say “I am angry” or “I am happy” but you aren’t those things. Happiness is an emotion, a feeling, and feelings are not meant to last for very long periods of time. There is no permanent state of happiness and there is no permanent state of anger. Emotions are experiences meant to guide us to make better decisions.
Psychologist Stan Gilbert says, “Your emotions are a compass. They are telling you which direction to go in. When you feel bad you turn left, you try something different in your life. When you feel good you keep on marching in the direction you are going. That’s what emotions are for. What good would a compass be if its perpetually stuck on North. It turns out that humans beings need their emotions to be elicited, but then to come back down to baseline and happiness is one of the emotions that does exactly that.”
The answer is more simple than you may realize: You begin. Now.Tweet It!
That is not to say that you can’t experience more happiness in your life than you do now. Many people experience happiness more often by changing the way they interact with the world around them. Studies have shown that people who are focused in the present moment and who practice gratitude daily are happier than those who do not. Ancient Yoga culture is based in this philosophy and many yogis live very fulfilled lives because they engage in these practices. But yogis also understand that happiness, just like everything in this world, lasts only for a while and leading a happier more balanced life requires a conscious and daily effort.
All of this advice seems great in theory, but how then do you put it into practice? What do you do, so that you can begin to lead a more balanced life that is rewarding and joyful?
The answer is more simple than you may realize: You begin. Now.
I grew up in an abusive home and, like most children of abuse, I held on to a lot of the anger that had built up over the years. I called myself strong and brave, but really I was frightened, confused and bitter. I hid behind harsh words and a cold demeanor in an effort to protect what little hope I had left. Finally, a desire for a better life and a friend brought me to seek counseling and it was there that I learned what balance truly was.
When I walked in the counselors office for the first time, she just sat there and listened. She listened to me recount every traumatic event. Day after day, week after week I would come into her office and share memories and experiences that I had never shared with anyone before. She’d just listen and invite me to come back and keep talking to her. After a few sessions she asked me why I was coming to therapy. “I want to know what its like to be happy,” I said, “but I don’t know if that’s possible after everything I’ve experienced.”
“You have eighteen years of abuse, of bad experiences and bad memories," she replied, "but you have the rest of your life to create new ones. Spend the next eighteen years creating happy moments and eventually the good moments will be as many as the bad. By then, creating happy moments will be easy and you’ll keep creating them. The pain will not go away, but it will become so small that it will only serve as a reminder of how far you’ve traveled.”
I was overwhelmed: “Eighteen years is very far away,” I said doubtfully.
“It is," she replied, "but you’re here and you’re alive and that’s not something I can say for many kids who walk through my door. There’s a reason for that, and you get to choose what happens next. What you do today, that decides your future, not what’s already happened.”
Since that conversation with my counselor, I have worked daily at creating a balanced life. I have had to change how I interact with the world, but every change has been rewarding. I have learned that where you were or what you have experienced is not an indication of where you can go. Your past is nothing more than a marker to distinguish how far you have come. I have also learned that nothing in this world is permanent, not pain and not pleasure, not life and some believe not death. Balance then; or the happiness, love, and freedom we all seek, is not being in a state of elation all of the time, it is being present and actively choosing experiences which lead to a more fruitful and joyous life. It’s not taking a single moment for granted, but instead being grateful for each opportunity we are offered. Whether it’s sitting in a counselor’s office, teaching a class, eating a meal, or walking down the street. Balance is actively participating in your life.
I have learned that where you were or what you have experienced is not an indication of where you can go.Tweet It!
I meet many people that seek balance in their life and it is hard to explain to them that balance is not something you obtain. Like our emotions, balance is an experience not a goal. It is a dynamic byproduct of our dreams, hopes and desires meeting the effort of our free will. The brilliant Albert Einstein once said, "Life is like riding a bicycle. In order to stay balanced you must keep moving." Our satisfaction in life comes from active and conscious movement in the direction of our dreams, and each step no matter how large or small is boundlessly significant in creating a greater world for us and those around us.
There is no secret to creating happiness. Building the happy and balanced life you want requires work, and it isn’t necessarily hard work, but it's work that you have to put in religiously over time. The simple act of being present and playing with your children, or laughing with your partner will not make you happy immediately, but over months and years of practice it will change your life. If we give ourselves the opportunity to be present and to be grateful it is the surely the key to a happier life.
I have three more years till I have created eighteen years of happy memories. Each day is a reminder not of what I have overcome, but rather of the many gifts I have been given and of the great opportunities that lie ahead. There are still moments of fear and anger, and there are still days that I doubt myself. But there are still days, and in each one I am grateful to experience every opportunity to build the life I have been given.
Take a moment today to stop and be present. Look around you at what you have, and take a moment to be grateful for it. Acknowledge the emotions you are experiencing, and take action to create the balanced life you want. Don’t listen to doubts or concerns that say where you are now is too late. Everything you have done has brought you to now, and now is right on time.
Monica Pirani is a yoga teacher living in New York City with her amazing husband. She grew up loving dinosaurs and shoulder stand, and is a self-proclaimed science geek. She loves writing, yoga, summer, french fries, and empowering others to remember that they are already whole and complete. One day she’ll own a dog, but that’s a story for another day.
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