The Four Baskets of Life Needed on the Path to Happiness and Success

true happiness

We are all born with four baskets of life.  We are born with these baskets, and we will die with these baskets.  Our happiness and success will depend on how we fill these baskets and what we fill them with.  It might seem unfair, but no two people are born with the same size baskets.  Some of us have bigger baskets and some of us have smaller baskets.  Ironically, bigger baskets can be more of a burden than smaller baskets.

The four baskets are known as, mental, physical, socio-emotional, and spiritual.  When we are born, our baskets are almost empty.  We have rudimentary materials that are put in each basket at birth.  However, no human can grow to maturity without adding more into each basket.  Given the size limitations of our baskets, our challenge is to fill each basket with the appropriate goods that we need for a happy successful life.

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Mental/Cognitive Basket

Some of us are smarter than others.  However, smartness or intelligence is not merely related to IQ.  Each of us can be smart at different things.  Some people are good cooks.  Some people are good mathematicians and others are good carpenters.  Regardless of what skill sets you may have; your mental basket needs some basic knowledge to help you navigate in life.  Many of the skills needed are gained in schools or by teachers who help fill your basket.  Many of the skills we need are gained by experience.  Regardless of whether you add to your basket by experience or formal learning in a school, the goods you put in your basket need to match your knowledge, skills, and abilities.  Your interests are the motivation for what you desire to find and add to your basket.  One should go through life adding stuff to their basket and occasionally removing stuff.  Knowledge is not static.  It changes with the times as well as with your own needs.  I used to tell my business students, that the only value they had to their company was between their ears.

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Physical Basket

Clearly we are all born with different physical assets and abilities.  Nike says everyone is an athlete.  Unfortunately, too many people do not see any reason to add goods to their physical basket.  They admire people like Michael Jordan, Mikaela Pauline Shiffrin, Usain Bolt,  Michael Phelps, Misty Copeland, Anna Netrebko and Tom Brady.  If you asked most people, they would readily admit that they do not have the physical skill sets that these champions have.  However, too many people grow old with the nearly same basket that they were born with.  I know too many people who stopped exercising or practicing after they left high school or college. “Oh, I used to run but I gave it up.”  “I used to play the clarinet, but I lost interest.”

If any of the people I noted above had not practiced and practiced and never given up, they would not have achieved the greatness that they did.  We all have different size baskets particularly when it comes to physical attributes but without practice and more practice filling up our baskets, we can never know what we are capable of.  At the very least in terms of increasing our physical attributes, we might live to an older age still able to walk, run, hike, play, and sing.  Instead too many people can only dream about the days gone by when they still could do these things.
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Socio-Emotional Basket

Covid 19 devastated many people who depend on emotional connections to help manage their lives.  It is true that some of us are less dependent than others when it comes to emotional attachments.  Some of us are introverts and some are extraverts.  Nevertheless, I know of no one who can go through life without a desire for love and friendship.  The socio-emotional basket may vary in size for many of us but it is still a basket that we must try to fill to meet our needs or we remain isolated and lonely.

A number of years ago, the idea of EQ or Emotional Quotient to measure how well people do at managing their interpersonal relationships entered the mainstream of social science.  “The term first appeared in 1964.  It gained popularity in the 1995 best-selling book ‘Emotional Intelligence’, written by science journalist Daniel Goleman.” — Wikipedia  The basic idea is that we all need to cope with our emotions and learn skills and techniques to help us better deal with the stresses of life.  Everyone has days of being up and down.  We all suffer from mild to strong depression at some time in our lives.  Thoughts of suicide are more prevalent than most people realize.  However, the goods that we put in our socio-emotional basket can determine how well we cope with these stresses.  Even the “greatest” of lives have succumbed to a weak basket and gone to drugs or drink to try to deal with the ups and downs of life.  History is littered with the deaths of good people who just did not have the socio-emotional coping skills to handle what life was throwing at them.  I have had two cousins who committed suicide and a best friend who also took his life.  Most people thought they had a lot to live for but apparently they disagreed.

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Spiritual Basket

The spiritual basket is the most difficult to fill and the most problematic.  Unless we fill the spiritual basket we will never find peace and happiness.  It is the basket of fulfillment.  It is the basket of true love.  Without the right ingredients in this basket, we remain lonely and unloved.  It does not matter how much we put in the other baskets, we must put the right stuff and enough of the right stuff in this basket or we will lead a life of “quiet despair.”  There are two paths typically taken to fill this basket.  One path is secular.  The other path is sectarian.  There are problems with each path.

GreedThe secular path is the path of the world.  It is the path that says you need to have more of the things of the world to put in your basket.  Getting more of the world’s stuff is heralded as the secret to filling your basket and achieving success and happiness.  Some of the things people try to get more of include:  Food, drugs, alcohol, fame, fortune, money, medals, accomplishments, status, power, knowledge, youth, health and titles.  While some of these things might be useful in your other baskets, in this basket they simply do not work.  The spiritual basket is immune to the things of the world.  It is a truism that all of the great prophets and philosophers and thinkers have extolled.  Sadly, it is a path that is promoted by too much of the world because it is driven by greed and financial profits.  Buy that new truck and you will be happy.  Buy that giant house and you will be happy.  Read the latest diet book and you will be happy.  How many times do people have to go down this path before they will realize that it only takes them in the wrong direction?

The other path to fill the spiritual basket is the sectarian path.  This is the sacred path or the path of religion and sects.  It is a path of meaning and purpose.  It is a path of prayer and meditation.  It is a path of Gods, prophets, and spiritual leaders.  These leaders tell their followers that the path to happiness and success comes from following their teachings.  Often they include meaning and purpose as tools necessary for your spiritual basket.  Some believe in the power of meditation and prayer for your spiritual basket.

prophetsThe great spiritual leaders like Mohammed, Jesus, Buddha and  Baháʼu’lláh all had followers and tried to teach their followers by various means.  It seems that the goal of enlightenment, samadhi or nirvana was achieved by each of the great leaders and even by some of their followers.  Unfortunately for humanity and for most organized religions, these gurus and religious teachers all missed one important truth.  “You cannot teach enlightenment.”  Enlightenment can only be learned by example.  We learn from our parents by the example they set for us.  We learn by observing how they treat other people.  We learn by what they do rather than what they say.  The followers of the great prophets and gurus were learning their spirituality from what their teachers were doing and now what they were saying.

The words that were left by some religious teachers like Thomas Merton, Mother Teresa, OSHO, Krishnamurti and the writers of the Old Testament and New Testament have no doubt inspired many people to try to reach heaven or nirvana.  For the most part, I doubt that many followers have ever achieved much enlightenment.  If they did, it was not by the reading of words but by the life that they led.

I think having had 39 silent Jesuit Retreats that prayer, mediation, solitude, and contemplation have a role in finding peace and happiness.  I do not think that they will lead anyone to nirvana or enlightenment.  Unless I am an extreme outlier, after 39 years of a three-day silent retreat full of prayer and meditation, I am still pretty much just your normal unsaintly unholy guy.  I am still waiting for most of my prayers to be answered and I am still waiting to sit peacefully in my car full of good will and cheerfulness when some jerk is tailgating me on the freeway.  I am much more likely to wish that I had an invisible ray gun that could make the impatient driver and his/her auto just disappear.

You can not teach how heat feels.  Description is futile.  You must feel it.  You cannot teach fulfillment or enlightenment you must experience it.  Words are useless.  The most important ingredient in a spiritual basket is love.  Love for yourself and love for others.  Love for all others and not just people who are like you.  Not just people who think like you.  If you do not feel love for yourself, you cannot feel love for others.  But there is a paradox here.  It is that love from others can help you feel loved.  Love for others, love for yourself, love for yourself and love for others are the Yin/Yang of a spiritual basket.  Purpose and meaning are good things, but they are transient.  They will come and go and change with the times.  Love never changes.  Jesus said:

“A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.  By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.  By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” – John 13:34-35 (KJV)

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If you want enlightenment, follow a good person, do good deeds, be kind to all people and love yourself.  Being a person of integrity and honor leads to self-love.  Self-love leads to love for others.  We are all born with an empty spiritual basket.  In order to become complete, we must fill this basket with as much love as we can.

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