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Finding balance

Building a balanced life for health and happiness

Many of us could do with a bit of encouragement and support to build balanced, healthy lives. That’s why we’ve teamed up with The School of Life to explore five aspects of this elusive ideal, including its value, its roots and how to attain it.

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1. Why does balance matter?

Finding the right balance in the face of competing demands is something many of us aspire to in one way or another. Juggling the pressures of hectic work, home, social and family lives is no mean feat. And when you’re always busy, it’s hard to take stock of your situation, rethink your priorities or change your habits.

It’s all too easy to sacrifice one aspect of your life while trying to fulfil another, which can lead to feelings of anxiety, failure or guilt. In turn, those feelings can affect your general wellbeing and your relationships with others. At its core, balance is about living a life that’s aligned with your capabilities and needs.

2. Where does imbalance come from?

In our busy lives, imbalance can come about for admirable reasons – from career options to where and how we live. We are faced with myriad opportunities these days, but so many choices can actually be overwhelming.

Big ambitions can pull us in several directions, and achieving a sense of balance across these is 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.

But when you look around, very few people seem to really achieve this. Although it’s something we’ve only started to talk widely 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.

3. 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 and gave him 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 he hadn’t indulged to such excess. He learned that often you need to go to excess – and become slightly unbalanced – to understand what the right amount of something is.

4. Too much of one thing

Aristotle wanted to find out what makes us healthy in the broadest sense. He saw medicine and philosophy as deeply interconnected pursuits – a connection that’s reflected in our partnership with The School of Life. It takes a philosophical approach to the conundrums of human happiness and health, complementing our medical expertise.

Aristotle was struck by the fact that people who were doing exceptionally well in an area of life – in politics, business, social life or sport – weren't always the happiest.

Ironically, the absolute dedication these people showed to one pursuit tended to squeeze out other things linked to happiness. Centuries later, the psychoanalysts 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.

5. How can you start to find balance?

Finding a sense of balance is especially tricky for successful, busy people – and it seems that it always has been. But there are plenty of things you can do to change this. A good starting point is to ask yourself a few key questions:

  • What does balance mean to you?
  • Are there areas of your life where the balance feels about right?
  • Which areas would you like to give more to – home, family, work, fitness, pastimes, friends?

If you feel that work is dominating your life, think about changing your approach to technology.

As you weigh up different aspects of your life, keep in mind that your mental wellbeing is the foundation for everything else. Make time for exercise – not just for its physical benefits, but its emotional benefits as well. Watch our video on building your resilience to stress, and remember that anxiety is both common and treatable.

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