The Inward Journey: How to Cultivate Well-being

A woman meditating in lotus pose in the forest

Everyone seeks well-being, but there is little consensus on a firm definition for what it is or how best to foster it in your life. With so many defintions and approaches, it can feel difficult to know where to start. Deepak Chopra, MD, often speaks of the pillars of individual well-being as:

  • Good sleep
  • Stress management
  • Movement
  • Emotional balance
  • Proper nutrition 

Deepak’s work with the Gallup organization helped identify five essential elements supporting and linking a person’s individual well-being to social well-being:

  • Career
  • Social
  • Financial
  • Physical
  • Community

Further still, the World Health Organization broadly categorizes well-being into subjective and objective, with subjective being your experience of your life and objective being a comparison of your life circumstances with social norms and values.

Paths to Well-Being

While individual well-being can be a complex topic, there are generally two different paths to attaining it—the hedonic and eudaimonic approaches. The hedonic approach is mainly characterized by the ongoing seeking of pleasurable experiences (pursuing happiness) and the avoidance of painful experiences, and can be associated with positive affect and life satisfaction.

The eudaimonic approach seeks personal fulfillment not by pursuing pleasure per se, but by realizing your own essence and potential, and can be characterized by a sense of mastery over your Self and environment, life purpose, and positive relations with others. Developing either or both hedonic and eudaimonic well-being are linked to better health.

Regardless of how you pursue well-being, it’s important to note that you, as a person, are at the center of the process. The foundation of true well-being is to properly attend to who is seeking well-being rather than only on the experiences sought to attain it. Experience itself is characterized by a continually changing landscape of what are considered pleasurable and painful experiences. In each case, you are the same, but the perception of the experience is different, and this yields a waxing and waning of well-being accordingly to the (perceived) nature of the experience itself.

When you think about cultivating well-being, you typically think about what action steps you need to take to manifest it. Instead of thinking about activities you should or shouldn’t do, start an inward journey to discover your true Self.

The Inward Journey

Numerous philosophies provide the understanding that Awareness is universal, that Consciousness is a singular manifestation of that Awareness, and that the entire world of perception—of nature—is unitary Consciousness. Satchitananda (Sat-Chit-Ananda) is a description of the experience of Awareness, revealing the characteristics of existence, consciousness, and bliss. Revealed too is the realization that this Awareness is your Awareness, your very own Self.

Cultivating awareness of the Self draws your ongoing sense of identification away from the innumerable changing features of experience to who is having the experience. As perception yields to Awareness, those characteristics of existence, consciousness, and bliss are gradually freed from perception and revealed. (This process is sometimes described as stepping out of the egoic or conditioned self and into the Universal Self). Thus, the movement towards getting to know the essential nature of your Self as that Awareness is a vital foundation of well-being.

In western academic studies, this aspect of well-being is rarely addressed. Dr. Chopra often speaks of “total well-being,” by which he means extraordinary well-being beyond what you think is typically possible. Developing awareness of the Self helps bring fruition to developing extraordinary well-being.

There are many approaches to cultivating awareness of Self, including mind-body practices such as meditation and yoga. At the Chopra Center, Dr. Chopra often draws attention to questions such as “Who are you?” or “Who is doing the listening?” These sorts of questions prompt you to momentarily step away from your normal participation in entertaining thoughts and perceptions, and instead, draws you to the experience of your non-object Awareness. This approach of self-inquiry has been advocated by many great Vedantic teachers, including Ramana Maharishi and Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, among others.

Self-Directed Biological Transformation (SBTI) Initiative

The Chopra Center recently completed a research study, called the Self-Directed Biological Transformation Initiative (SBTI), that examined the health and well-being effects of traditional Ayurvedic practices, which included:

  • Group meditation and yoga
  • Massage
  • Diet
  • Adaptogenic herbs
  • Lectures
  • Self-inquiry

Ancient forms of medicine, such as Ayurveda, were developed with the understanding that cultivating a deeper awareness of Self and the embodied Self’s connection with its environment are key to fostering health and well-being. Findings from the SBTI study indicate that the brief intervention led to increases in well-being as assessed by measures of:

  • Spirituality
  • Gratitude
  • Self-compassion

The SBTI study also found that these Ayurvedic practices helped decrease:

  • Blood levels of metabolites associated with inflammation
  • Cardiovascular disease risk
  • Cholesterol regulation

The study, which has been published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine and Scientific Reports (copies of these manuscripts can be found on the Chopra Foundation website), included a large team of scientists and clinicians from:

  • UC San Diego
  • Duke University
  • UC San Francisco
  • Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute
  • Harvard University
  • Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai
  • Scripps Translational Sciences Institute

In order to cultivate well-being, start with an inward journey to understanding your true Self. Adopt practices that nourish your mind, body, and spirit. These practices will allow you to dig into the depths of who you are and give you the strength to show up as the best version of yourself.


UC Wellbeing Channel: In an effort to further support the well-being of the community, the Chopra Center for Wellbeing and Jiyo launched a new media channel focused on well-being, in a collaboration with the University of California (UC).  This new UC Wellbeing Channel has a significant amount of content relevant to supporting well-being. Check it out to support your path to perfect health.


If you're ready to begin, strengthen, or return to your path to well-being, we have the perfect program for you. Join us for Perfect Health, a six-day retreat designed to create balance in the mind and body. Learn More.


 

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About the Author
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Paul J. Mills

Professor and Researcher
Paul Mills is a Professor of Family Medicine and Public Health, Director of the Center of Excellence for Research and Training in Integrative Health at the University of California, San Diego, and Director of Research for the Chopra Foundation. He has expertise in psychoneuroimmune processes in wellness and disease, publishing over 325 manuscripts and book chapters on these topics.Read more