Forget the quick fixes, such as yoga workshops and juice cleanses: lead a rewarding life, rather than chasing short-term
Most of us strive for a life where we feel we have real choices about how we spend our time and energy. But we get boggled in that pursuit – confused about where exactly we’re heading.
Self-Care has become a staple in our lives. From juice cleanses to yoga workshops, we are sold breezy fixes in pastel-coloured packages. This is faux self-care, but we are made to feel at fault when they don’t work. But we are not broken: the game is rigged against us.
Research on Wellbeing is divided into two theories of how to go about living a good life: the hedonic approach and the eudaimonic approach. Hedonic wellbeing focuses on the feeling states of happiness and pleasure. In many respects, faux self-care – the diets, the cleanses, the retreats, the life hacks – is aligned with this, with its focus on what feels good in the moment and escaping difficult situations. Don’t get me wrong – we all need escape once in a while, and the ability to do so is a privilege. But eudaimonic wellbeing, by contrast, focuses on actions congruent with our values; it is the feeling that our lives are imbued with purpose. Instead of prioritising pleasure, it emphasises Personal Growth , self acceptance, and connection to meaning. It is linked to improved sleep, longer lifespan and lower levels of inflammation. All the good stuff we’re looking for, right?
Cultivating eudaimonic wellbeing isn’t straightforward. It looks different for everyone because achieving it depends on our personal beliefs and values. For some people, it means letting go of fitness goals and spending weekends volunteering. For others, it may mean switching to a career aligned with their values. But what is similar for most individuals is that each person is doing what matters to them and understands the meaning beneath how they spend their time. Far more than any wellness retreat, this is real self-care.
The million-dollar question, of course, is how do we distinguish real self-care – the practices that lead us to eudaimonic wellbeing – from the coping mechanisms of faux self-care. At its core, real self-care is ultimately about decision-making. You must be assertive in prioritising your own needs and desires. To do that, you must learn to say no and to set boundaries. Balancing the needs of people close to you, like your partner’s preference or your children’s needs, with your own. You must learn to stop being controlled by feelings of guilt, which are inevitable. The next step is to look honestly at what you need (and what you want) and give yourself permission to have it. It’s a process of getting to know yourself, including your core values, beliefs and desires. It’s an internal decision-making process that requires introspection, honesty and perseverance.
You’ll know you’re practising real self-care when it feels like your outsides are matching your insides. Real self-care, wherein you look inside yourself and make decisions from a place of reflection and consideration, is an assertion of power. It’s having the audacity to say: “I exist and I matter.”