How to Create a Life that Honors Your Best Self
Being happy, satisfied, content, joyful, optimistic, loving, emotionally and physically healthy - all the ways of “being” that suggest the highest ideals of life can be like trying to catch a rainbow in your hand. Beautiful colors that disappear when we reach for them. Even so, the rainbow does exist, it’s just that it’s in the form of light.
It’s human instinct to be fascinated by rainbows and chase that light, and grab it in whatever form we can. Now science is giving us more ways to understand that each of us has a unique range of colors - our skills, talents, hopes, and dreams - that we reach for and use to become our best selves. Psychologist Scott Kaufman calls it our ‘optimal self’ and by trusting our instincts and choosing goals that resonate with our mind and heart, we move ever closer to our own unique sense of happiness.
5 Tips to Create Your ‘Optimal’ Self
In an article in Scientific American, Kaufman condenses the views of many psychologists, sociologists and philosophers to offer guidelines for living an “authentic” or “actualized” life. That means you encourage your natural talents and desires and also choose parts of yourself you want to improve or change, lovingly, of course. Here are Kaufman’s tips for becoming your best self, not in the judgment or eyes of others, although that may come about, in alignment with your own heart and soul.
- Strive for balance - Find work or activities you enjoy and can succeed in, at whatever pace works for you. Balance that with recreation, relaxation, and most of all, positive relationships. A workaholic may be successful in a career, but friendships, love and community enrich life.
- Set meaningful goals - If you were writing songs and singing at festivals by the time you were 12 and want to be a professional musician, go for it. But if you’re happy playing the piano for yourself at home, your goal might be to learn to play one of your favorite songs. Don’t go to medical school because your parents want you to be a doctor (sorry parents). Go if you have a burning desire to help those who are ill and you want encourage health, despite the stress doctors must bear with life and death decisions often in their hands.
- Choose social roles wisely - When you’re part of a group that enhances your natural personality and your identity, you strengthen your “authentic” self. It is also enriching to embrace diversity and change and have a social group that adds to your experience of the world. All the while, aim to keep your uniqueness without becoming either too isolated or so influenced by any group that you slip into norms that may not be nourishing for your “best” self.
- Aim to modify problematic aspects of yourself - OK, so maybe you’re relaxed about time, maybe even prefer to be on ‘island time’ whenever possible.But that’s a part of your personality or instinct that can cause you and your family and friends to miss flights or shows or be disruptive at meetings with colleagues. So in order to make a bit more peace with time and others in your life, it’s a good idea to bend this aspect of your tendency when necessary and develop habits that help you be on time.
- Transcend yourself - Find a cause or a pursuit that brings you internal satisfaction and also does some good for the world. It could be teaching children to read, rescuing stray dogs or helping to develop sources of clean water in another country. Make sure this mission is meaningful to you.
Kaufman’s suggestions for becoming an ‘optimal human’ are similar to, or complementary to, Abraham Maslow’s “hierarchy of needs.” These suggestions for your ‘optimal self’ rest upon the foundation of meeting our basic physical needs, as well as safety, love and belonging, respect by and for others, and then ‘self-actualization.’
“The thing to do seems to be to find out what one is really like inside, deep down and as a member of the human species and as a particular individual.”
-- Abraham Maslow
Kaufman, Scott Barry, “How to Be An Optimal Human,” Scientific American, Feb. 7, 2016
Setton, Mark, “Abraham Maslow and the Hierarchy of Happiness” The Pursuit of Happiness, 2016