What is quality of life and how do I get it?

What is quality of life?

Do you ever take time to ponder those big seemingly unanswerable questions? When we’re busy, working hard and getting on with our lives it’s very easy to become immersed in the process of life as it is lived. But the question is; does this automatically lead to the quality of life we could potentially achieve?

What is quality of life
Does the ‘nose to the grindstone’ ‘get on with it’ attitude automatically yield a quality of life that ‘seems’ really worth having? Of course the alternative is ‘no quality of life’ and that is not a very good option.

But maybe we could have more quality and therefore more intensity and satisfaction from life. So my answer to the, ‘What is quality of life?’ question is this: Satisfaction, meaningful engagement and happiness. I think these when achieved will bring quality of life. It is a short list but each one is a dimension that can be allied to every area of your life.

  • Satisfaction with relationships, work hobbies and overall life direction
  • Meaningful engagement with interests, projects, people and your future
  • Happiness with yourself in all of the areas above!

What is quality of life? The examined life

So what is quality of life? A wise man (Plato) once said, ‘the unexamined life is not worth living’ and maybe that is one of the keys to achieving a ‘quality of life’ that is able to give a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. Carry out a quality of life assessment. What might an examined life look like? What do we mean by examined anyway? It sounds faintly medical.

There is always a tension in life between going with the flow, which is relying on automatic processes or paying conscious attention to what is happening. Neither of these opposite processes has the monopoly on good outcomes. As an example of where automatic behaviour is definitely desirable think about how hard it was to learn to write as a child. At first it was very difficult but as you practised your writing skills you started to feel more comfortable, then it felt repetitious and boring and then it all seemed automatically easy.

What is quality of life - writing
Now you write almost entirely without conscious attention. Long passages can be written and you hardly know what you wrote. And curiously it is this very automaticity that makes you a good writer. And that is how it should be, the process of writing is only a tool to convey your thoughts and intentions. The tool should never take precedent over the purpose.

Your brain simply cannot think about writing while also composing meaningful sentences. Try writing your signature consciously. It is pretty hard! Most ongoing and complex that we commonly perform are relegated to automatic systems. These automatic systems can make decisions faster and more accurately that we can and that leaves us head space for more complex thoughts. But the very power of these automatic processes can be our biggest enemy in the struggle to achieve a good quality of life.

What is quality of life? Giving up bad habits

Trying to give up habits like smoking, drinking, drugs, or some less conditioned behavioural habits is very hard indeed, and maybe impossible unless you bring conscious awareness to the task. To rely on hope that things will change because you ‘want them to’ is tantamount to giving up on the attempt.

What is quality of life - bad habits

That is one reason giving up smoking is so hard. It is difficult to keep re-focusing your attention on the task, but that is what is needed to make any real progress. When attention goes back to sleep then the smokers mind jumps in to fill the gap. When you are struggling to challenge negative thoughts, or trying to ‘stamp on ANTs (automatic negative thoughts) it is really hard to keep focused on the task when the requirements of life keep intruding into your head space.

As a general principle it is very hard to learn anything new and stick with it unless an amount of focused conscious attention can be devoted to the task. This brings us to the third element in the drive to have a good quality of life: motivation.

What is quality of life? Motivation

Motivation to achieve anything is a very fickle mistress. One moment we are motivated to do something, half an hour later we are not. Motivation waxes and wanes depending upon the amount of attention we give it. Another wise man (G.I.Gurdjieff) once hypothesised that we had a number of personalities within us each called an ‘I’.

It works something like this: I want to give up drinking. Later on, I want a drink; or I want to give up self criticism.  Later on I am stupid. Each time we think or say ‘I’ we are identifying with the desire that the little ‘I’ is expressing. It can seem very confusing until we remember that no animal that is not trained can be expected to behave as expected.

Likewise our habits if not trained are not going to behave as we might want them to. The task therefore is to train them in a structured and sensible way that moves us closer and closer to that sought after quality of life.

What is quality of life? Bargain

Training takes effort and without an effort little can be achieved. This is where ‘The bargain’ kicks in. The bargain is what you decide, in a rational moment, is your goal in life. Without a goal it is hard to know what to do next.

With a goal many if not most things are achievable. A bargain has two parts; what you want and what you are prepared to do for it.

Your goals are what you want and the sacrifice is what you are prepared to do to get it. Many people can manage the first part but stall on the second because they may not know what they have to do and lack the support needed to get there.

There is no law that states you have to do all of this yourself. If you have a friend interested in these kinds of things they might want to help or you could help each other. Form a team and work towards each of your goals.

What is quality of life? Environment

The environment is rich in textures, sounds, movements and objects. Each of these elements can be made to help you or hinder you. Imagine that any external element in your life could be associated with an internal goal, desired mental state and motivation.

What is quality of life - environment
Going into a pub may make you feel like a cigarette and a drink, going into your kitchen make you feel like eating, looking in the mirror at your own image may make you feel self doubt, looking at a toilet will make you feel like you have to go! All of these feelings can be attached to outside stimuli.

When searching for the answer to, ‘What is quality of life,’ spend some time learning to recognise where your conditioned attachments are located and feel the pull of motivation as you enter each one. And if you really want to experience the force of these environmental elements, then try to resist for a while before giving into the desire to satisfy the urge they create.

It can be quite fascinating to observe the many ways the world robs you of personal control. The smallest amount of attention given to observation is time well spent as only through conscious effort can we master the process of achieving our goals and achieving a quality way of life.

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