Towards the end of the year, it’s natural for many folks to become a little more reflective than they are the rest of the year. I’m no exception. I was thinking about how amazing this year has been and how I want to see 2011 develop. I’m one of those people who have a “busy mind”. I’m nearly always thinking and flitting from one idea to the next. As I was considering past and future, I thought, “Why is all of this important to me?” If it’s possible to be blind-sided by your own thinking, I did it.

After much thought and reflection I came up with one answer. I want to live well, in all aspects. I want to be healthy. I want to have quality relationships. I want to consistently feel love in my life. I want to be able to give to others less fortunate than me. I want to have the financial means to live out the more altruistic dreams I have. I want to be successful in my profession. This is living well for me.

Everyone has a similar list, and exactly how we will all achieve these things will be different for everyone…mostly. According to an ongoing 70-plus year study that has followed 268 Harvard graduates, there are 7 major contributing factors to living well (labeled “healthy aging” in the study).

  1. Stable Marriage
  2. Education
  3. Healthy Weight
  4. Exercise
  5. No Smoking
  6. No Abuse of Alcohol
  7. Mature, Positive Coping Mechanisms and Attitude

According to the head of the study, Dr. George Vaillant, there is one factor that is the most important. One that he deems as “the only thing that really matters in life”.

The only thing that really matters in life are your relationship with other people. – parents, siblings, spouses, children, friends and neighbors, he concludes.

All of this centers around how you choose to lead yourself. How we lead ourselves dictates the quality of our relationships, the quality of our education, how we manage our weight, whether or not we exercise, chosen habits like smoking or excessive alcohol, and how we choose to cope with challenges and conflict.

Self leadership is the beginning of all things good and the beginning of all things bad in our lives. We are victims to events, but have choice and authority over how we respond to them. Living well is more about leading yourself and making purposeful choices more than it is about luck and social status.

What are you going to do to ensure that you are living well as you step into 2011?