How to Live Life on Your "TERMS"

Five simple keys for maximizing health and happiness.

Posted Apr 23, 2019

Here are five simple keys that unlock the door behind which your best life can be found. I know that sounds like quite a bold claim, but after 30 years of clinical practice, and scouring the psychological and medical literature for even longer, these five factors seem to consistently rise to the top of the list. As I put it, these are the TERMS by which you can live your best life.

The acronym “TERMS” refers to:

  • Think well
  • Eat well
  • Relate well
  • Move well
  • Sleep well
Ser Borakovskyy/Shutterstock
Source: Ser Borakovskyy/Shutterstock

Since each of these is a huge topic suitable for an entire book, I’ll provide just the broad brushstrokes here. Nevertheless, if someone consistently does these five things as outlined, it is likely that they will maximize the quality (and maybe even quantity) of their life. For a more detailed discussion, the interested reader might want to peruse some of my other posts that look at all of these subjects under a higher magnification.

Think well

There is an enormous body of evidence that indicates how we think can strongly influence our psychological well-being (Lazarus, 2017a). Obviously, not everyone is a born optimist and no one is born with a complete repertoire of rational beliefs and adaptive cognitive skills. Nevertheless, realizing that thoughts are not facts is a good jumping-off point. Just because we think it doesn’t make it true. Hence, try to be aware of toxic beliefs and irrational ideas (e.g., “One should respond to unkindness with kindness;” “It is important to be liked by everyone;” “Total honesty is always the best policy;” and generic faulty thinking such as overgeneralizing; catastrophizing; all-or-none reasoning; and disqualifying positives, to name only a few).   

Also, practicing mindfulness to cultivate a mindset of nonjudgmental experience has been shown to reduce stress and heighten positivity. In addition, developing and reinforcing thoughts of self-compassion and unconditional self-acceptance has been shown to enhance self-esteem and positive moods.

Eat well

It is incontrovertible that a person’s eating habits have a significant impact on their general health. Simply put, the wisdom of author, journalist, activist and Harvard professor Michael Pollen says it best, “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” So, eat mostly unprocessed foods and not “Frankenfood"—you know, stuff that has an ingredient list that would baffle the editors of Scientific American. Also, try to get all three macronutrients with every meal (i.e., protein, carbohydrates, and fats). And try not to skip meals or overeat, and avoid added sugar and salt. Finally, make an effort to eat at regular times.

Relate well

Few would argue against the idea that loving and being loved is one of the most important parts of a happy and fulfilling life. But while it may be the foundation on which our interpersonal selves rest, love is not enough. In addition, to be content in our social lives, we need to be empathetic, genuine and assertive. Indeed, empathy may be the very pinnacle of emotional evolution and is a psychological capacity that is lacking in narcissists and sociopaths. So while they may be loved (which is a sad situation for the person doing the loving), they are almost always incapable of loving reciprocally. What’s more, they lack the dimension of genuineness and are therefore unable to have honest, non-manipulative relationships. Emotionally intact people, however, can optimize the full range of their relationship success through love, empathy, authenticity, and responsible assertiveness. (Because as I’ve blogged about several times, the skill of assertiveness is vital for fostering healthy relationships. In essence, we need to teach people how we want to be treated. So appropriately expressing our likes and dislikes, and our feelings and thoughts, is essential for establishing and sustaining truly satisfying and salubrious relationships.)

In addition, genuine friendship is very important for life satisfaction. Not virtual “friends,” but rather actual friends that one spends time with in mutually enjoyable activities. Finally, for most people, some degree of spiritual connectedness is beneficial. While this does not necessarily mean formal religious practice or observance, research shows that those who belong to faith-based groups report more general happiness and seem to live longer than those who don’t. 

Move well

Just as the merits of eating well are unequivocal, so are the benefits of regular exercise and general physical activity. In fact, recent research has shown that exercise prevents telomere shrinkage and might be the closest thing we have to a fountain of youth. (Telomeres are the protective end caps of chromosomes and tend to shorten over time due to the countless times cells replicate. Exercise helps prevent telomere deterioration and even seems to lengthen them.) This is because, among other good things, exercise appears to prevent harmful free radicals from damaging cells and DNA, thus allowing our bodies to direct its resources to maintaining health instead of repairing damage.

Beyond exercising regularly, another aspect of moving well is leaving your emotional comfort zones from time to time (Lazarus, 2017b). Just like properly stretching a muscle or joint helps keep it physically flexible, “stretching” our actions helps keep us behaviorally and thus psychologically flexible. So make it a point to do things differently and do different things, and try to move as much as possible.

Sleep well

Basically, this means practicing good sleep hygiene (Lazarus, 2017b). Since research shows we can’t make up for lost sleep, getting good, restorative sleep is essential. So stick to a regular schedule; avoid too much caffeine and alcohol; make sure your bedroom is cool, dark, and quiet; don’t do anything in bed except sleep and/or have sex; don’t eat or exercise too soon before bedtime; and make sure to create a relaxing wind-down routine to begin about an hour before going to bed.         

Obviously, not everyone can maintain or balance all five of these keys at all times. But if you want to come to "TERMS" with your best life as soon as possible, the more boxes you can check on any given day the better.

Remember: Think well, act well, feel well, be well!

Copyright 2019 Clifford N. Lazarus, Ph.D.

Dear reader, this post is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for help from a qualified health professional. The advertisements in this post do not necessarily reflect my opinions nor are they endorsed by me. –Clifford

References

Lazarus, C. N. (2017a). Multimodal Therapy. In A. Wenzel (ED.), The SAGE Encyclopedia of Abnormal and Clinical Psychology (Volume 4, pp. 2163-2166). Los Angeles: CA.

Lazarus, C. N. (2017b). Some Helpful CBT Techniques for Specific Disorders. In D. Carlat (Ed.), The Carlat Report: Psychiatry, (Volume 15. No. 4, pp. 1-8). Newburyport: MA.