On well-being

Posted by Dr. Dan Gottlieb in Life After Paralysis on April 21, 2017 # Health

The discussion I host is called “On Well-Being”, simply because that’s what we all want.

Well-being is the difference between happiness and not. As a matter fact, all living beings want well-being. You and I just define it differently than a reptile! But for most of us humans, well-being includes being accepted for who we are, it means feeling compassion when we suffer, it means being loved and loving.

Well-being also means having a sense of purpose in life and the ability to contribute to the welfare of others. And well-being involves the sense of faith that there is something inside of us that is able to deal with adversity. In other words, deep faith in our own resilience. And whether faith comes from a higher power or an inner belief, the results are the same.

Okay, this sounds great but how do we get there? The same way we get to Carnegie Hall: Practice, Practice!

There are many things we cannot control but even more that we can.

For example, we cannot control our genetics. Life is easier if we have the “happy gene” versus risk for depression. And we cannot choose which parents we grew up with. It matters whether we were loved and secure and not overprotective. But keep in mind, biology is not destiny. We can create new habits that affect our neural pathways in our brain. I was born to two very good parents but both of their parents survived the trauma of the pogroms in Russia. So they were highly anxious, worry warts and prone towards depression. Years after my accident, I found myself quite gratified in my career, loving and grateful for the life I have. Of course, being a therapist, I tried to use my joy to help my parents be less cranky. That may have been my biggest professional failure!

And there are many other things we cannot control like career, finances and social resources at the time of the accident.

So you get the drift here – if we have that basic emotional safety net on the outside and on the inside, we are much more likely to experience well-being.

But here’s what we can control:

We can choose to live the life we have rather than waiting for the life we want.

With practice, we can develop a sense of kindness and compassion towards ourselves and our bodies. In my next blog, I will go into more detail about self-compassion.

When we suffer, we can look to all who suffer and feel kindness and compassion for them. When we do that, we understand that we are not alone and we can open our hearts more often and more easily.

And as we develop a sense of self compassion, we will no longer be ashamed of our dependence and vulnerability, understanding that these emotions are universal. As such, when we need a hand, we will have the courage to say three very difficult words: “please help me”. In other words, but being comfortable with our own humanity.

And finally the most important element in well-being: love

Contrary to popular opinion, the act of loving is actually a learned behavior that grows with practice. Once we develop kindness towards ourselves, we can more readily feel that towards others. So when you look into the eyes of someone you love, see if you can feel what it’s like to live inside their skin with their hopes and fears. See if you can love the person you are seeing wishing for only their happiness and well-being. And then tomorrow love someone else that much.

You see, the more love you have in your life the more well-being you will have, the longer you will live in the healthier you will be. And the thing about love is this: it doesn’t matter whether you are giving it or receiving, love does the same thing to our body/mind.

You want Well-being? Practice loving.

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.