Let’s play a game. I call it The Wheel of Happiness.
The background idea of my game is that the wholeness, integrity, and balance we want in our life is about coordinating our intention across four dimensions. This four-fold typology of human wholeness identifies four distinct dimensions or domains of conscious experience which require a balanced investment of our time, attention, and care for us to enjoy equanimity and all its benefits.
Neglecting just one of these domains will put our life out of balance, into an uncentered state that makes us suffer.
Having made the case for a perfect balance across the four dimensions, we need to acknowledge the fact that each of us tends to prefer one dimension over the others, as the domain where we feel most comfortable and in control. This may have to do with our natural temperament, but it could also register a preference based on life experience, reaching all the way back to infancy and early childhood when we were just getting our bearings in life.
Whatever the reason, our normal attraction to one domain carries with it a temptation to undervalue, dismiss, or at the very least neglect our real needs in the other three. The predictable outcome will be pain, frustration, anxiety, depression, a lack of fulfillment, along with a tendency to botch things up in the domains or dimensions of life where our competency is underdeveloped.
A managed balance and wholeness – I was going to say “on the other hand,” but such binary thinking is yet another symptom of imbalance – generates pleasure, flow, confidence, happiness, a sense of fulfillment, along with a knack for making things better for ourselves and others around us.
I’ll briefly define the typology of four dimensions and then explain how to play the game. The mechanics of the game involves spinning a wheel that has an arrow fixed to its rim. The wheel itself is a multi-colored braid of four strands corresponding to the four domains. Each domain is labeled with key terms in a frame of its specific color. Terms inside the frame provide a formal definition of what we seek and can expect to find in that dimension of life. A third term outside the frame summarizes the theme in a more straightforward and practical way, clarifying a characteristic action and its aim.
Starting at the top and making our way around the Wheel in clockwise fashion, the summary term of knowledge identifies the practical aim of Truth and Wisdom. Seeking truth is about clarifying meaning, endeavoring to make our beliefs as transparent as possible to the reality beyond them. Truth is not reality itself but the degree of transparency in our constructions of meaning. Or to invoke the metaphor in the root-word for truth (Greek aletheia), it is seeing through the veil of language to the reality behind it, an effect made possible by the clarity of language itself.
To the degree that our search for truth and quest for knowledge does help us see the way things really are (i.e., reality) and live by this vision, we are said to have wisdom. Being wise is more than merely being knowledgeable, smart, clever, or even intelligent. Wisdom refers to the practical know-how of a life well lived, of understanding how to put our lives in accord with the way things really are.
Moving around to the summary term of achievement, we are in the life domain of Power and Virtue. This dimension in our typology of balance and wholeness is focused on self-actualization, on bringing to expression a deeper human potential in our talents, strengths, and abilities. Power is not about dominating and controlling others, and neither is virtue a matter of moral purity or obedience. As the “ability to act,” power speaks to an inner capacity (or potency) for accomplishing things, while virtue, from the ancient Greek arete, refers to the demonstration of excellence (fluency, grace, eloquence and proficiency) in what we do.
It should be clear that achievement is about much more than just “getting things done.” Finishing a task and reaching a goal can be rewarding, for sure. But as a domain of life, achievement is the process by which our creative potential – we can even say our human spirit – is manifested through the exercise of our skills, intelligence, effort, and efficient action.
A third stop on The Wheel of Intention brings us to the domain of solitude and the life dimension of Peace and Wellbeing. This is a decisive turn inward, not to the self as our object but to the inner life of the soul. Solitude refers to that deep place within ourselves where we are undisturbed by the commotion and distractions of life, where we can be quiet and simply relax into being. Peace is a positive state of stillness and mindful presence, not merely the absence of anxiety or inner conflict.
We don’t have to physically remove ourselves to a secluded place away from the traffic and noise of daily life, but that can help.
Giving quality time and careful attention to the realm of experience waiting for us “below deck” and underneath the exhausting business of managing an identity and living our lives, keeps a clear path of descent to the inner wellspring of genuine peace and authentic joy. This joy is not derived from lucky events or happy circumstances, but rather bubbles up from the depths of our spiritual life.
Coming up a final quarter-turn takes us to the domain of relationships, where connection invites the cultivation of Love and Communion. Connecting with others feeds an essential need of our human spirit, to be with another and give ourselves fully to the bond that unites us and to the common ground we share.
More than any other theme in poetry, sacred literature, and spiritual philosophy, love has been glorified as the mystery behind all things and holding everything together – in the words of Dante, l’amor che move ‘l sole e l’altre stelle (“the love that moves the sun and the other stars”).
According to this inspired vision, the true aim of connection and love is to be united as one. We surrender the individuating principle of our ego for a deeper oneness, where the surface distinctions that normally separate us and make us strangers to one another are released, allowing us to drop into an almost mystical fellowship of being. Not every relationship of ours can reach this level of intimacy and communion, nor should we expect such. But cultivating the ground of our closer connections can give real love a chance to grow.
Now that we have defined the features of The Wheel of Happiness, here’s how to play.
Admitting our tendency to migrate and set up shop in the life domain that feels most natural to us, the rules of play introduce an element of chance. You might roll a die until you get a ‘1’, ‘2’, ‘3’, or ‘4’ (a ‘5’ or ‘6’ means you keep rolling). Number the domains according to the sequence followed above: ‘1’ = knowledge, ‘2’ = achievement, ‘3’ = solitude, and ‘4’ = connection. Or else you can set four random objects at cardinal points on the circumference of an imaginary circle or one drawn on paper. Place an empty soda or beer bottle (or any linear object that can easily spin) on its side at the center, and “spin the bottle.” The point it lands on (or comes closest to) will be the focus of your intention.
Once a life domain on The Wheel of Happiness has been selected – ideally at random, but you can be more systematic about it as long as you are willing to lean away from your favorite domain and work on the others as well – ask yourself the following questions:
- How is my general life balance as it relates to this dimension?
- How can I invest more time, attention, and care into this domain of my life? What are a few specific ways I can do this?
- As I bring more awareness, purpose, and commitment (i.e., intention) into this domain of my life, what are some benefits I can anticipate? (Think beyond the general benefits of balance, integrity, wholeness, and greater fulfillment. Again, be specific.)
That’s it. Have fun!
If you have time, drop a comment so the rest of us can hear how it’s going.