Dr. Val Farmer
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

Is Your Life Out Of Control?

January 23, 2006

Life can be overwhelming. Unhappiness takes many forms. Debt robs us of our time and ease. Conflict in close relationships leaves us lonely and upset. Life without challenging and meaningful work is empty and directionless. Time pressure adds layers of stress to what would normally be pleasurable and good.

How can we take control of our lives? What is our vision of the ideal life? Do we live with purpose? Or do we flow with the circumstances of life? Does the bombardment of materialistic images and enticements put us on a treadmill with no end? How much entertainment and leisure do we really need to leaven our day?

Consider these five points.

1. Sound personal finance brings freedom. Avoid debt. Budget. Live within your budget. Spend less than you make or find a way to bring in more income.

If we are successful in creating a healthy relationship between income and expenses, then the challenge becomes one of preventing our wants from becoming our needs. No matter what our income, it seems our expenses will rise to the same or a higher level.

Savings and investments are storehouses of future time. Wealth is stored time. Debt is a mortgage on your future time. The struggle to survive economically involves a commitment of your time and energy. First survive, then thrive. Once you've crossed the threshold of meeting basic needs, use your means to do good and free your time to follow your own agenda for life.

2. Live life with purpose. Know what you want and why. In the grander scheme of things, our lives have to mean something. Our goals sustain us. We need a noble cause. We have talent to express, contributions to make and energy to apply to problems of our own choosing.

Our workday is a structured centerpiece of our lives. We need work that gives an appropriate level of challenge and stretches human talent and capacity. We should be involved to the point where we get lost in the flow of time and work. Life doesn't give its best rewards to the lazy. Sacrifice precedes success.

3. Learn to nurture loving relationships. Work has the capacity to crowd out time and attention for another aspect of happiness - human relationships. Life is about love and seeking the happiness of a mate in marriage. It's about rearing and enjoying family life with children. It's about sharing with friends and family the joys and struggles of life's journey.

We need intimacy and sharing. We need to feel connected and in harmony with those around us. We need to give freely of ourselves with little thought to ourselves. Love creates love. The love we give and the good we do will surely come back to us. We do not need to seek it, demand it or expect it.

Too few of us experiment with how service brings happiness - both to others and ourselves. Pay attention to the needs of others. Get outside self. Give the gift of service to things that really matter - to those you love, to the stranger, to the less fortunate and the community.

4. Find and put God in your life. We have a need to understand life and who we are. We need to make sense of the world. We need to grapple with justice and injustice, good and evil, right and wrong and to settle on rules for living well and happy. To feel good about ourselves, we have to live up to the truth we know and understand.

We need strength and courage for times of adversity and loss. There are times when spiritual peace and understanding can only come from above. Our understanding of God's love for us gives us faith to withstand the trails of life.

The world has many enticements, distractions and counterfeit gods that give pleasure but do not satisfy the soul. Our journey in life is short-sighted if we do not look to a greater power than ourselves. The truths we find challenge us to become better than we are and to fulfill our earthly potential.

There is a practical side to spiritual commitment. It offers a buffer to stress, a network of supportive friends, and the meaning and skills for coping with crisis. Being a regular church attender can protect us from destructive lifestyle problems - drinking, smoking, divorce, delinquency, suicide and even some forms of mental illness.

5. Cultivate optimism and a positive attitude. Our mind is a powerful tool. If we examine our basic assumptions about life, we can shape our outlook and feelings. Life is good. Other people are basically good. Our lives are precious and significant. We can trust in God and in the course of life.

Optimism helps us to take reasonable risks. Setbacks are lessons to be learned. Mistakes help us grow. Failure is a stepping stone to a future success. Grief and loss are the price we pay for loving and earing deeply.

A sense of humor, an ability to laugh at ourselves and life, is a saving grace. It puts distance between us and the problem. It is a gift to be able to detach from pressing problems by putting them in a positive light, by spiritual understanding or by laughing at their lack of power over us.

Have some fun. Laugh with your friends. Lighten up. As serious as life may be, we help ourselves when we don't take ourselves or life too seriously.