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An interview with Jacquelyn Salvador, the author of the book “360 Living: Practical guidance for a balanced life” about creating a happy balanced life.

Burn-outs, depression and having the impression of leading a senseless life, is something very widespread today.

Why do you think so many people feel off-balance today?

I think a lot of this stems from the fact that we are getting so many messages trying to influence us from every direction. All of these messages are building in our minds the sense that we have to be the perfect employee or that we have to accomplish amazing things, that we must be the perfect mother, have the perfect physique, etc. All these messages can create a sort of toxic obsession, and we sometimes forget to actually think about what we want in life and to actually follow our desires, passions and values.

So I think that is when there comes that sense of burnout or cognitive dissonance that causes us to shut down a little bit mentally. We cut off our personal sense of creativity and humanity in favour of listening to whatever society and/or other people have told us to think. That creates a sense of emptiness inside, because we no longer feel that we are creating our life, but that we are just instead following the life that is imposed upon us by society.

How do you define happiness and balance? Do you think that one leads automatically to the other?

Happiness – that’s difficult to say, because in 360 Living we often use the word happiness in conjunction with the word ‘authentic’. So we say authentic happiness and we really try to make this distinction from a more superficial sense of happiness. And sometimes we use the words happiness and balance in similar ways, but they’re not precisely the same things. In fact each individual has their own understanding of what they each mean. Because balance for one person might include a lot more physical health because that’s a point of passion for them. At the end of the day it’s about reaching a state of feeling well overall.

A point where your life is not pulling you away from a sense of well-being. Maybe that means that someone spends a lot of time on social ties, or physical exercise or other things. So it’s important to assess what are your core values, interests and passions and making your life reflect those internal values. What does the best version of my life look like. It’s a super personal thing. So if you start to create those foundations of a balanced life that reflect your values, that’s when you can start to create happiness. I think happiness is more kind of the outward result of that balance.

What is authentic happiness?

It’s about finding that very personal and truthful sense of ‘my life is good,’ when you feel that things are truly well in the different important areas in your life. Not just convincing yourself that it’s good, but feeling that at a deep level. It’s not just an emotion, not just ‘ok I am happy today,’ but rather something sustainable in your life. Something that you’re continually working on, to build foundations, so that when you feel unhappy in an area of your life, you take the time to reflect on it and to make the necessary changes.

Do you think that happiness lies within each of us? Is there in each of us the seed that can grow to happiness?

Yes, the potential to happiness is always there. It is not so much a point of attaining but rather being able to create that sense of fullfilment within yourself. And sometimes coming to a place of acceptance of what’s around us instead of always striving for something more or different. The matter is what we decide to nourish our lives with. Whether we bloom or we stay stagnant, that’s up to us.

On a day-to-day and also in the small and big decisions that we make. To wake up every morning and to do yoga versus lying longer in bed, or sometimes to give yourself that compassion to sleep another 20 minutes if you need it. There’s no set rule to it; it’s a matter of taking into account of what you need in your life. From there, the potential is limitless.

What is in your opinion the difference between contentment and happiness?

I really like this question. I had a discussion with someone recently, with a complete stranger who pointed out that they are very distinct things. Contentment, to him was much more being able to accept and find a sense of goodness whatever the circumstances are around you. Whereas happiness, was for him more something about reaching for something outside of your current circumstances.

Me, on the other hand, I felt contentment had a connotation of “settling” or becoming complacent with things, which can be negative and harmful, whereas happiness (or “authentic happiness”) was about actively creating and experiencing something positive in life. So I really appreciated his differing view and the discussion on it. It underlined the fact that words can be misleading if we don’t take the time to understand and sometimes share what we mean by them.

I appreciate the distinction and in 360 Living we really made an effort to use the words authentic happiness and balance in aligned ways. Because indeed, the word happiness can have that connotation of ‘just put on a happy face,’ but that is not at all a reflection of having a life that is balanced overall. Authentic happiness describes it a little bit better, but it still comes down to really understanding and sharing what we mean when we employ our words.

Do you think that we all should target happiness in our lives?

I guess it depends on your definition of happiness, as we just discussed. But authentic happiness in the way that we talked about it within the Authentic Happiness Project and within 360 Living. It is certainly worthwhile as long as it is pursued with an understanding that happiness is not like a destination but rather the way that we experience our lives.

So to me, it’s very important for everyone to take the time to assess where we are really happy, because otherwise it’s really easy to accept a wrong road or a default, unfulfilling path in life. To follow the road most traveled and to follow what society says, we kind of lose our own way, and almost bury our true selves a little bit. It’s an ongoing journey to actually continue assessing whether we are happy. We need to take the time to slow down, evaluating the different elements of our life. It’s not about feeling “my life is perfect” or “I am officially happy now,” but to continue to be assessing and actively moving toward our best life.

There are already many books about creating a more balanced and happy life available.

What makes your approach more accessible and successful? 

To me the most powerful thing is that 360 Living is not meant for any particular type of person or a particular point in life. It is really meant to address somebody whether they are feeling at their lowest point in their life, or whether they are feeling kind of ‘on top of the world.’ In any case it’s a matter of continuing this journey of reflection. That can literally be done at any time in life.

But also I want to be clear that this book is not about giving answers. It’s about helping people find those answers for themselves, by starting a process of personal inquiry and curiosity that will lead them to their own path. It’s part of an ongoing journey, and within the book we dedicate a lot of time in recommending lots of other resources that can help people. This depends on, where they are in their lives and which elements are most important for them.

We’re not by any means saying we have the recipe to success, but rather offering a starting point of ongoing inner dialogue with our personal happiness and our personal life balance. It can be just the first gateway which leads people to another book that changes their life. That in itself is a total win for me, just being able to support a part of someone’s journey toward something better for themselves and for the world around them. It is just a matter of starting that ripple and getting people thinking about things that they might not even notice on a day-to-day basis. 

How does a day look like that fulfills you?

I definitely like starting the day with meditation and/or doing yoga in the morning. This helps me to set the mood, and feel that I have already done something good. This is also the only time of the day that I am still, as I have a very busy working day with many different projects. Then, I really like my day consisting of connection and collaboration, whether it is colleagues, friend or clients. I am fortunate to be involved in many projects that allow that kind of connection, for example organising language exchanges, teaching yoga classes, collaborating with colleagues. With all of them I’m somehow getting the chance having that key element of contact and connection.

Another important part of a fulfilling day is that I progress in my projects that make a difference; that is for me the sign of a day well done. So that when I go to sleep, I can feel that I contributed to something meaningful. Finally, I place a real value on nurturing my own personal relationships, so whether it is calling my family who lives across the ocean, or connecting with my friends, or with my other half, that is a very important element of a fulfilling day.

Have you ever been unhappy? And if yes, how did you change that?

Yes. I cannot think of any person in my life that has not been unhappy at any point of their life. Absolutely, there have been moments where I have been unhappy and I think those moments were the most important ones in my life, actually. They’re the moments that make you realise something needs to change. So for example the moment when I realised that I was feeling unhappy and worn out in my position in Michigan. That was what inspired me to go on a one-way flight and to spend some time in Europe. From there, all this entire alternative life unfolded for me, the one that I’m living now, across the ocean with a totally different trajectory.

So I think these unhappy moments are not something to hide from. It is a sign we need to make a change to some elements of our life. Actually to dig into these moments, to examine them, why am I feeling unhappiness, whether it’s in relationships, work, home or other elements that can be affected by that. For me that is the starting point, taking that time to just notice if I am unhappy, to sit with that maybe for a while. That is uncomfortable, but it’s so valuable to actually take that time and do that. From there we can start to make active, positive change. The unhappiness itself can then be a catalyst for maybe something wonderful.

At what time in your recent past have you felt most passionate and alive?

I spent a week recently in Spain, and of course the sun already felt wonderful, and it was also a moment of spaciousness and connection which I think for me was very needed at that time. Travel in itself is also a very liberating and fulfilling experience. It allows you to kind of explore a side of yourself that is different from your day-to-day and just to see new things, connect with new people and have new experiences. It very much felt like I was reconnected to my deeper self. Whereas in a day-to-day it is very easy to get caught up in the roles that you play, the things that you are doing instead of taking time of just be still.

We were near Madrid in a gorgeous setting surrounded by nature, animals and then we went to a little town where we explored the little streets and the open spaces we found there. And the open spaces I think were also a key element for me. As I come from Michigan I really appreciate big open spaces and living in Paris is a very different experience. It is very important to set yourself once in a while into an environment that inspires you. It resets you mentally and internally. So that was a wonderful time for me.

When and why did you decide to bring more good things to peoples’ lives?

Even when I was really young, I kind of always had this deep-seated desire to do good things. I remember an exercise in my catholic elementary school, drawing what we wanted to be when we grew up. At that time the best thing I could think was me as a nun, because that was the context I’d learned for doing good in the world. That is funny how this desire to do something good really just continued to hold this thread throughout my life. And it evolved over time and whatever kind of mission I was on at that time, I was always driven to do something I knew would impact other peoples’ lives.

I was fortunate to work for the State Parks in Michigan and to impact peoples’ lives through this experience in parks and nature. Later on I had the chance to work on 360 Living and try to help people to examine their life, to take action and to improve their lives. I also got into yoga as a way to help people to take care of their physical and mental health.

Throughout it all I just had this really deep desire to pursue and to stick with the things that I felt really made a difference. I really had a hard time accepting any alternative road which did not seem really meaningful. I guess that desire to help and do good was kind of just always there, sizzling in the back of my mind. There are so much opportunities and problems that need to be solved. Meaningful problems in peoples’ lives and I think it’s just a matter of having seen so many things that could be made better. That has always been a driving force for me.

Are there any persons who inspire you?

There are many! But one from whom I have recently learned a lot is Richard Branson, who created Virgin Records. I read his autobiography “Losing my Virginity” and I was really inspired by his business and his ideas. He always just focused around doing something good. He kept in his heart and mind to help people, and to do what is right, and turned mainstream businesses into meaningful companies. Things that really impact lives in simple ways. This encouraged me to always remind myself while working, to do something meaningful, impactful and good for other people and the world. I really enjoyed reading about his story and how he has done that.

Is there any phrase or manifesto that you would like to share with us? 

I do have one, but I’ll warn you it’s a bit corny. It’s from Walt Disney: “Keep moving forward”. To me, that is something that can apply at any point in your life. That sense of being able to create momentum from where you are. That you can always take action in some way. That’s a very powerful seed to be able to ignite positive action in your life, just by keeping that in mind. Wherever you are, there is a path forward, ahead of you.

About the Author Jacquelyn Salvador 

Jacquelyn is passionate about discovering and sharing ways to live happier and healthier. She authored and co-founded 360 Living, an interactive book and toolkit that helps people create their personal version of the good life through reflection, learning, and intentional personal action. Jacquelyn also hosts language exchange events, teaches yoga classes, and co-organizes special events like the Paris Talks Ideas Festival in addition to her work supporting the wellbeing of social change leaders.