The foundation for handling sadness and misfortune, and thus for leading a low-stress life, is what I like to refer to as “living right.” What I mean by this term is consistently being conscious of, and vigilant about, trying to make good choices.
Please, no relativism copout here when it comes to deciding what “living right” and “good choices” mean. I’d be willing to bet that you’ve had more experiences than you can count where you did something that, in your gut, didn’t feel right. And just as many experiences where you did not do something that you knew, deep down inside, you should have done.
In fact, you can apply the “feels right/feels wrong” barometer to virtually any aspect of life. Whenever a person who’s a hundred pounds overweight walks by me at a ballpark — beer in one hand and a container of gooey, cheese-covered nachos in the other — I think to myself, “Surely this gal must know that what she’s doing is not in her best interest.”
Specifically, she knows that it’s wrong for her health and longevity, not to mention her energy level and capacity for enjoying life. In reality, of course, she doesn’t think about it in such specific terms. Her stress level simply rises and brings with it a higher level of unhappiness.
Another example is when you allow a sales clerk, customer rep, or maintenance person to intimidate you into accepting a less than satisfactory solution to your problem. How many times have you felt stressed and inwardly angry for allowing yourself to be intimidated in such situations?
Or how about when you do something that, at the deepest level of your moral foundation, doesn’t feel right? In such a situation, if you’re basically an honorable person, your conscience won’t let you get away with it. This often brings the Guilt Fairy into your life, and along with her enough stress to take your mind off other important matters.
Then there’s the discomfort of being late for appointments, particularly if it becomes a way of life. Being late is not only a blatant display of rudeness, it also makes you look weak in the eyes of others. Worse, it causes you to feel weak.
We all desire love, understanding, and recognition, but none of these is foundational to serenity. Nor is alcohol, pills, sexual pleasure, fame, or wealth the antidote to stress. Millions have tried all of these things without conquering their stress, and all too many have lived unnecessarily short lives as a result.
The real key to conquering stress is self-examination — continual, honest self-examination regarding the harmony and disharmony in your life. Inner conflict causes stress. By contrast, leading a concentric life (i.e., one in which what you do matches up closely with what you believe in and what you say) brings harmony into your world. Harmony is directly related to how often you follow through and do what you know is right. Likewise, harmony is related to how often you demonstrate the self-discipline to refrain from doing that which you know is wrong.
Finally, if you’re a religionist, stress is a signal that you are disconnected from God. How can you be stressed if you are connected to an infinite source of power that is presumed to be omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent?
Similarly, if you’re an atheist, stress is a signal that you are disconnected from the infinite power of the universe, whatever the ultimate scientific explanation of that power may be. In this respect, I agree with Viktor Frankl’s view that there is much less difference between a religionist and an atheist than most people might suspect. The more I examine this issue, the more convinced I am that it’s very much an issue of semantics.
In Part III of this article, I’m going to suggest some specific actions you can take to lower your stress level and bring more serenity, peace of mind, and tranquility into your life.