They say you have to walk a mile in a person’s shoes to truly understand what her life is like. For me, it was six miles, barefoot, across irrigation ditches and rice fields in northeast Thailand. The people I hoped to understand were members of the Santi Asoke Buddhist Reform Movement—a fringe Buddhist group who rejected the traps and trappings of modern capitalism and strived to create a better life for themselves, other people, and the planet. The year I spent conducting academic research at one Asoke community, Srisa Asoke, taught me profound lessons about how to live well.
Key Lesson: Live Intentionally
The most fundamental lesson I learned was this: we create wellbeing by living intentionally. Srisa Asoke is an intentional community. The residents weren’t born into it like a typical Thai village. Instead, they came together as adults committed to living according to their shared values and purpose. And since we are talking about Thai Buddhists, living intentionally also involves keen attention to karma. Technically, karma is the consequences of volitional thought and action that may positively or negatively affect this life (and the next, for those who believe in reincarnation). (Note: karma is not originally a Buddhist concept, but most Thai Buddhists I have known take it seriously.)
Here’s karma in a nutshell: good deeds bring good results, and bad deeds bring bad results.
To me (a non-Buddhist), living intentionally means considering consequences of my choices. And with an expanded sense of self as interdependent rather than isolated, I must consider the consequences not only for myself, but for those around me, for distant others I do not know, and for our environment.
Live Well with INTENT
After much thought, I have honed the lessons I learned into 6 “ways of being” that will help us all live well, each with two main values or goals. Each way of being represents one dimension of wellbeing (according to a model I developed based on interdisciplinary research). To make them easy to remember, I organized them into an acronym: INTENT.
Here are some brief descriptions of each way of being:
Being In-shape (physical/mental wellbeing)
Getting into shape is a popular New Year’s resolution. From a wellbeing perspective, we’re less concerned with a superficially svelte physique. Instead, we aim for improved energy and fitness that results from caring holistically for our health through wholesome food and active lifestyles.
Being Networked (social wellbeing)
Networking isn’t just about career advancement. Positive social networks enable us to feel good and do good, together, instilling a sense of belonging. And when we depend on our network, life is easier and our social bonds, stronger. Ultimately, we aim for mutuality—that sense of shared respect and responsibility on which vibrant communities are built.
Being Thrifty (material wellbeing)
Thrift, or not wasting money and resources, is a long-held American virtue that fosters material wellbeing. By reducing our consumption and approaching our waste with the 3Rs (reuse, repair, and recycle or upcycle), we can create a life that is both sufficient and sustainable—for ourselves and the planet.
Being Engaged (community wellbeing)
“Engaged” comes from “socially engaged Buddhism,” which emphasizes community betterment. As citizens, our two main values are giving and participation, which help community members and our government to be the best they can be. This process of creating a better community in turn enhances our own wellbeing.
Being Nature-loving (environmental wellbeing)
You don’t need to be outdoorsy to care for the environment. We just need to realize that our wellbeing depends on it (and our children’s children will depend on it, too). This care extends beyond sustainability—maintaining the current state. With the global weirding of the climate and widespread degradation of land in particular, consciousness and regeneration should be our focus.
Being Time-savvy (existential wellbeing/ life satisfaction)
Wellbeing is heavily influenced by how we spend our time. First and foremost, we need a balance of engaging work and leisure—activities that use strengths and contribute to wellbeing. On a deeper level, the human existence is fundamentally a quest for meaning. If we live with purpose and strive to connect to something larger than ourselves, we will surely experience it.
Daily Tips & Connections
Wellbeing is a continual work in progress. We may have a destination in mind, but as they say, it’s the journey that counts. Little by little, as we live with INTENT, with purpose and attention to consequences, we will begin to see the sort of life we value take shape. By aiming to be In-shape, Networked, Thrifty, Engaged, Nature-loving, and Time-savvy, we can all live well on this small planet.
The INTENT 365 project aims to bring individuals together on this journey to live well. We’ll publish daily tips with opportunities to connect throughout the year. Join the conversation social media…we’ll see you there!