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Better Life? 3 Ways to Live a Better Life in the New Year

Want to live a better life in the new year?

I can think of many things our world needs. I can think of few things the world needs more, however, than this: better people living better lives in a world gone very wrong.

“What is a better life?” you ask.

1. A Better Life is Life Lived Authentically

A better life is an authentic life.

Remember the story of Nicodemus in the Gospel of John? He’s the fellow who came to Jesus at night, full of affection, but full of questions and doubts, too.

Want a Better Life in the New Year?

Want a Better Life in the New Year?

I was taught to believe if you question things or admit to ever having doubts both were signs of a weak faith.

I now know differently, however.

Until you question your faith, for example, your faith is at best perfunctory. What you really have is a collection of inherited beliefs. You cannot be sure that the person or spiritual tradition from which you inherited those beliefs ever bothered to question their authenticity either.

The path to a better life begins with your questions. Which makes Nicodemus a representative you. You have questions and sometimes doubts, even if you refuse to admit to them publicly. But the place to begin in living a better life is to start by questioning everything.

2. A Better Life is Life Lived Happily

What is happiness? It’s a skill. In other words, a better life is a happy life and a happy life is a skill you develop.

I was raised to believe, as Abraham Lincoln purportedly put it, “People are as happy as they make up their minds to be.”

What we know today, however, determined largely from the vast amount of scientific research into what is called “”the science of happiness” is this: “People are about as happy as their parents were.”

The Formula for Happiness

Martin Seligman, for example, father of “positive psychology,” has developed a formula for happiness. It is based on years of research in what constitutes human fulfillment…human happiness.

Here’s what the research indicates:

A.  Half the happiness you are likely to experience in life is genetically predetermined. Hence, you will be about as happy as your parents were.

B.  Roughly, ten percent of the happiness you’ll know in life is determined by your life situation. Are you healthy? Wealthy? Recognized? Rewarded? Did you win the lottery? Any and all of these things contribute to our sense of well-being. None of them, however, will provide life-long fulfillment. In other words, if you won the lottery, you would likely be happy…even very happy. For weeks. Maybe even months. But, the research shows us, if we saw you one year or two years later, you would be right back to the same level of happiness you were experiencing, or not experiencing, prior to winning the lottery.

So, if half your happiness is predetermined already and only ten percent of it has anything to do with the circumstances of my life, what about the other half of the happiness formula?

C.  The other half of your happiness is based on the choices you make in life. In other words, half your happiness is up to you and the skills you develop that can enhance the quality of your daily life.

To live a better life, therefore, requires the development of life skills that will positively contribute to the overall level of your personal happiness.

What skills will result in a better life? There are many, but here are three:

1) Maintain balance between work, rest, reflection, and play. Think of these as the spokes in a wheel. They help your life go forward evenly, more smoothly.

2) Never let a day pass but what you do something kind for someone else. As Maya Angelou used to say, “Try to be a rainbow in someone’s cloud.”

3) Listen to your heart more than your head. Rumi said, “Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love…it will never lead you astray.”

What is the “strange pull?” Some call it “intuition.” The name matters not, however.  That you learn to heed this “strange pull” does.

This third suggestion is the single most important way I am learning to maintain balance in my own life. It is the best way I know to avoid becoming too self-absorbed in your own pursuits.

Your heart knows. You head seldom does. So, begin now, learning to listen to your heart. You’ll hear many voices in your head. You will only ever hear one voice in your heart. Better heed that voice. It is infallible.

Want a better life in the new year?

3. A Better Life is Life Lived Purposefully

Live your life connected to a purpose bigger than you.

For me, that’s pursuing a spiritual path and helping others who are seeking a spiritually-connected life. I gave up long ago, however, believing there is only one path to authenticity or one path to happiness or just one way to a divinely-connected life.

So, when people ask me today, as many still do, “Do you believe Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life?” my response is, “He’s my way, my truth, and my life.”

But, “Is he the “only” way?” they press.

Some believe he is and that is fine. I do not and that is fine, too.

What is infinitely more important to me today is to help people…and that includes you, for example…yes, you, the person reading this right now – what’s infinitely more important to me is to help you find and follow a path of life that takes you outside yourself and into that something greater and grander than yourself.

To enjoy a better life, the question you must ask yourself is this: What is that “something” for me? To what great and grand person or cause have I given myself? How would I describe to someone else the overarching reason for living to which I am giving myself daily?

A better life for yourself in the coming new year…in the coming years…awaits how you answer that question.

Dr. Steve McSwain is an author and speaker, counselor to non-profits and congregations, an advocate in the fields of self-development, interfaith cooperation, and spiritual growth. His blogs at BeliefNet.com, the Huffington Post, as well as his own website (www.SteveMcSwain.com) inspire people of all faith traditions. Dr. McSwain is an Ambassador to the Council on the Parliament for the World’s Religions. His interfaith pendants are worn by thousands on virtually every continent, sharing his vision of creating a more conscious, compassionate, and charitable world. Visit his website for more information or to book him for an inspirational talk on happiness, inner peace, interfaith or charitable living.

This post first appeared on Dr. McSwain’s own blog.

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8 Responses to Better Life? 3 Ways to Live a Better Life in the New Year

  1. Dennis Raffaelli February 21, 2014 at 2:25 PM #

    For me, the issue, I tend to keep in the dark, is my belief that eventually, all will be reconciled to God. I read years ago in 2 Corinthians chapter 5 that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, NOT inputting their sins unto them. If God does not input our sins to us, and God has reconciled us to Himself, how can anyone be lost forever? Why would God give infinite punishment for a finite crime? Why would someone be lost for being born in the wrong religion or country?

    There are few people I can discuss this with. My change in belief started with the belief in eternal security. I lost my position as an elder and had to leave a church for believing in the security of the believer. What would they do to me, if they knew that I believe in the restitution of all things?

    The church I now attend is more inclusive so I might be okay, but I still watch what I share.

    • Dr. Steve McSwain February 21, 2014 at 3:14 PM #

      I know the feeling about watching carefully what one says. I live with that tension too. On one hand, Jesus said, “Don’t cast your pearls before swine.” On another hand, he says, “Let your light shine.” It is a challenging place. Hang in there my friend. Thanks Dennis for writing.

  2. Gayle February 24, 2014 at 2:27 PM #

    Picture a strong wall – on one side of the wall are things of the spirit – on the other side of the wall is human nature. I’ve been living on the human nature side of that wall. But now, there’s a hole in the wall, a pin prick of a hole. For the first time in 50 years, I’m less afraid of death, sin, the devil . . . .I’m beginning to connect of few dots that never quite lined up before.

    I don’t feel strong enough in what, I feel to be the truth, to live an “authentic” life. My fear is that folks like me, whose wall is just starting to crack, will feel they have failed because they still question, fear, and don’t have the peace you often describe – I so long for that peace. All I have right now is a little light coming through, and enough faith in God to know I must keep searching.

    • Dr. Steve McSwain February 24, 2014 at 8:56 PM #

      Follow your heart. It will never misdirect you. That inner feeling you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing…following what you’re supposed to be following is a trustworthy feeling. Do not ignore it.

  3. Allison May 8, 2014 at 12:41 AM #

    I’m awake; maybe for the first time ever. I’m reading your blogs, reading posts from other readers, thrilled that you quoted Rumi, but most importantly, liberated and encouraged. I’m a mid-thirties, mom of 2 toddlers, and survivor of a recent domestic assault. I love The Lord, accept people as they are, and never quite understood why it’s strange to support other religions and individuals pursuing a more meaningful spiritual life; no matter what God/higher power is being observed. After all, is it very “Christainly” to cast judgement? Didn’t Jesus accept people as they were? As I read your blogs, I feel truly accepted in my quest for spiritual peace and quietness. Life is beautiful. Sometimes we just have to keep looking through the tears. Thank you for such exciting literature. I’m stoked! Btw…. Really great stuff for parents particularly with young children. Meditation is great for calm parenting!

    • Dr. Steve McSwain May 8, 2014 at 7:09 AM #

      Allison, glad you found my blog. I’m always curious about such things – how did you? Nonetheless, I am glad you did. Subscribe to my newsletter, if you’d like and friend me on Facebook and follow on Twitter @DrSteveMcSwain.

      Now that I’ve gotten all that out of the way, I am glad you are pursuing your spiritual path as you feel directed. That IS what you must do. Just give attention to the spiritual/transcendent/mystical or, what I call, the DNA of your soul and it will guide you where you need to go. Blessings on the journey.

  4. Andy December 26, 2014 at 6:22 AM #

    Hi Dr. Mcswain, (this is an edit but sorry for the long winded post but if you do not read just know I wanted to say Thanks! ) I had thought about not leaving a comment and just reflect on the moment but I felt compelled to say Thank You. I had been discontent about my own acceptance of Christianity because I was sadly becoming aware that I was being inauthentic. I have always wanted to have a sincere relationship with God and I believe I have always since a child following my own interests (no one forced me to go to church). I am a fairly rational person since I do not believe there really are perfectly rational people that exist. Some more than others. I had become so discontent with my own beliefs that I started to search for better arguments to refute Fundamentalist Christians. This is due to the arrogance, hypocrisy, and sometimes dishonest actions that I was seeing. Sadly, I started to make judgments myself against both side mostly siding with the non-believers. I am a firm believer in the scientific method but somehow I still believed. So this determination had become so automatic that It was undermining my own beliefs. I saw contradictions in everything. Then I thought, what have I become? It is the actions that I disagree with and maybe a projection of my own shortcomings as well. It had become so frustrating and confusing because my original wish was to have an authentic relationship with the Holy Spirit of God. The issue was if I accepted the faith I was being inauthentic because I did not really believe out of faith but more fear and found the history to be questionable as I started to see. However, if I chose to be an atheist or even agnostic (which is really close) I was also being inauthentic because although I had took the leaps out of fear, I also have had personal experiences and accept my natural desire to Know God. I think both sides want certainty in life so they take a stance which is understandable. I was stuck and so I decided to take a step back. I learned that to better understand a personal problem, you should become a 3rd person from a distant. Doing so allowed me to see that I did not want to be like either side of this debate. It seemed mostly more about the debaters as individuals and how they fit into their model of the world than about the topic and I was doing that as well. It made me ask the question, so what is my next step nowhere? Then I had an intuition that maybe what I need to do is identify what it is that I truly believe and what it is that I want out of all of this. It goes back to wanting the really Know God and to be as sincere as possible. In order to do so, I should try and abandon any preconceived notions or beliefs I had about God or any religion’s explanation as well as the person desire to refute it from the other side just because I wanted to be right. It was kind of scary so I did a search and found your article. So in order to do so, I thought what I should do is go beyond religion. The next step maybe. That is how I found your article with that search term. I wanted to ask God what he is like and instead of me imposing preconceived notions, to try and listen. In reading your article it felt like the questions were addressed and all that were important at that moment. You covered areas that I was thinking about right before the search. Coincidence? Maybe and maybe not. I will see where this takes me and logically, I think it is in my head but in my heart which you covered, I felt like I asked for help and the matrix:) adjusted to coincide. Maybe it is consciousness intersecting through intention and searching. Thanks for making your thoughts public because It really helped me honestly. I am not sure how long but I am trying to clear negativity so that I can experience God truly. Blessings and Regards, Andy

    • Dr. Steve McSwain December 26, 2014 at 6:49 AM #

      Andy, thanks for you candid, open words. No accident, I do not suppose, that our paths have crossed. Whatever it is that causes our lives to intersect with others, even if just purely random (which I doubt) it IS what it is and all in this universe, though imperfect on one level, is quite perfectly unfolding on another. You are operating most in flow with the universe by not waging an internal war with anything, either fundamentalists (whether they be fundamentalist religious people who are, on one side, scared and arrogantly attach their little egos to a religious and rigid belief system as a means of overcoming their insecurities OR fundamentalist rationalists, as in atheist Richard Dawkins, who is equally scared and so has attached himself to a materialistic and rigid belief system in an effort to overcome his own insecurities, etc, etc). Neither approach will get you anywhere except stuck in a rigid system of belief that, in the end, won’t hold water. If those two ways of being were the only available ways of living, then of course the only course that would make sense would be the way of rationalism and scientific awareness. But it is not the only way. The path to spiritual awareness is by practicing detachment (Buddhist word) but in Christianity, the same concept is found in Jesus’ insistence that following him means, “denying yourself” or, as he put it so beautifully in the passage in Matthew 6, “Do not worry about your life…seek first the Kingdom of God – which is God consciousness – and everything will be added unto you.” Be that “3rd Person” as you described it. In the Trinity, it is the 3rd person of the Trinity…the Holy Spirit…whom Jesus said, “I will send him…the Comforter…the parakletos…who will be with you…” this is God awareness in you. It takes no effort to know God. Every thought of God IS God. Anytime you make an effort to know God, that’s you attempting to take over what grace has provided already. Just practice this: whenever you have a thought of God, say, “Thanks,” knowing that thought IS God. Make this your practice…see what happens. Now, I have an offer. If you are willing and interested in reading more about knowing God, I would be happy to send you a complimentary copy of The Enoch Factor: The Sacred Art of Knowing God. Privately email me at Steve@SteveMcSwain.com and send me a mailing address and I’ll send you a complimentary copy. It will guide you into a deeper walk with the Divine. This is your next step. Perhaps. You will know whether it is. Trust your heart. Your heart, unlike your head, is always right. The perfect Guide. The Holy Spirit in you. Blessings on your journey. It is JUST beginning.

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