Running in Circles

This article was published more than 1 year ago. Some information may no longer be current.

One day, while in agony doing sit-ups, I wondered why I put myself through the torture of morning workouts. It was a rhetorical question because I know that when I exercise I feel better and have the satisfaction of knowing that, even on the toughest days, I’ve done something just for myself.  Exercise is something I do to stay happy.

It occurred to me, possibly because my head was spinning from exertion, that I could draw a picture of the important things that determine happiness in life as a series of concentric rings.

Happiness Rings Graphic - Out from center: mental health, physical health, family/friends, community

Health is clearly at the centre however I’d probably start with mental health.  Surround this with physical well being.  Having taken care of yourself the next source of happiness is family and your closest friends. Then comes your work and work colleagues. Finally on the perimeter is your community and the world at large.

This framework can, over the long term, help guide your actions towards where they make the most difference for your happiness and success.  You have to start with yourself otherwise everything else suffers.  Your family is the next priority since these should be your longest, most essential relationships. Fortunately, after investing in yourself and your family there is still a lot left to give to your work and community.  In fact, I’d argue that it isn’t a zero sum game.

The more effective your investment in yourself and your family, the more you’ll actually have to give to the rest. Conversely, when your health or personal relationships suffer, it invariably impacts your work.

I know, this isn’t a perfect model.  This way of thinking about happiness is clearly from the perspective of a life of privilege.  If you are destitute or are part of an abusive relationship the world is a very different place.

On any given day, sometimes for extended periods of time, we may prioritize our efforts in the outer rings ahead of the inner rings. That’s OK as long as the trade off is conscious and doesn’t become chronic.  The point is to think about whether you’re putting your effort in the right places.

The beginning of a new year is a good time to reflect on the things that are important in life and to resolve to be intentional about your actions in each area.  After all, it’s much better to divide your investment wisely between these (or some other) concentric circles than to spend another year running in circles unsuccessfully chasing happiness.

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