Why balance matters

Health and wellbeing: why balance matters

Two people sitting on fence

Our partners at The School of Life explore what balance is and why it’s so important to our health and happiness.

We could all do with a bit of encouragement and support to build balanced, healthy lives. That’s why Bupa Global and The School of Life have teamed up to explore what the notion of a balanced life could look like for you today. We’ll be taking a closer look at six areas where balance can be a challenge, but where it’s also important for your general health and wellbeing.

Why does balance matter?

Finding the right balance between the competing demands of life is a tantalising prospect. You might be keen to have a good home life, but at the same time you’re determined to push your career and the two just don’t sit very easily together. One aspect of life tends to get sacrificed, which may leave you feeling anxious.

How can you know what’s enough?

The German Nobel Prize-winning writer Thomas Mann learned an interesting lesson as a young boy. His father took him to a patisserie, where he gave Thomas unprecedented permission to eat as many cream cakes as he liked.

At first Thomas was delighted, then he was nauseous, and eventually surprised. What he’d imagined would be an endless day of eating actually left him wishing that he hadn’t indulged to such an excessive extent. He’d learned that often you need to go to excess – and become slightly unbalanced – in order to understand what the right amount of something is.

Where does imbalance come from?

In today’s busy lives, imbalance can come about for deeply admirable reasons. You may be hopeful in a lot of directions and have opportunities that were simply unavailable to our ancestors. That also leads to opportunities to live in excessive or unbalanced ways, which were equally unthinkable a few centuries ago.

Yet you only have the same limited resources of time, energy and willpower that people have always had. With such big ambitions in multiple directions, balance comes as an alluring thought: perhaps you can get a bit of everything – if only you could adopt a balanced diet, develop balanced views and balance the books, all the while maintaining the perfect work-life balance.

Unachievable ideal or a real possibility?

But when you look around, very few people seem to really achieve this.

“Balance is an ideal our society believes in, but doesn't as yet know enough about how to achieve, or indeed, what it might comprise."

Although it’s something we’ve only started to talk more about quite recently, the ideal of balance has been around for a long time. The first Western thinker to get excited by it was the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle.

Too much of one thing

Aristotle wanted to find out what makes us healthy in the broadest sense, and saw medicine and philosophy as deeply interconnected pursuits. He was struck by the fact that certain people who were doing exceptionally in an area of life – in politics, business, social life or sport – weren't always the happiest individuals.

Ironically, the absolute dedication these people showed to one pursuit tended to squeeze out other things that are importantly linked to happiness. Centuries later, the psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott confirmed the relevance of Aristotle’s insight to the modern world when he observed that we often pursue one activity to excess when we feel frustrated or fearful about another area in our life that’s not going so well. Some things, it seems, never change – unless you change them yourself.

How can you start to find balance?

Finding a sense of balance is always tricky for successful, busy people – and it seems that it always has been. But there are plenty of things you can do to help bring a bit more of it into your life. One starting point is to ask yourself:

  • What balance really means to you?
  • Which are the areas where the balance feels about right?
  • And where would it be good to find a bit more balance?

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