The Good Life
Colin, how do I live a good life?
Everyone is telling me something different, and I feel like you might have some good perspective on this.
Part of why you’re receiving so many different types of advice on this subject, I suspect, is that there are so many different ways to define “good life.”
There are also as many valid answers to that question as there are people on the planet, and that’s true for every possible definition of the term.
But in my estimation, many of these Good Life-definition categories can be bundled into just two, broad, mega-categories.
There’s a flavor of the Good Life that refers to aesthetic and sensual experiences, and there’s another that’s defined more by the degree to which our actions align with our values.
In the former case, the Good Life might involved lounging beside a crystal-clean pool on the balcony of a modernist home, sipping on expensive alcohol, wearing clothing bought right off the runway as you real the latest issue of Monocle.
It also might mean living in a kitted-out van, gazing out the wide-open back doors at the vast expanse of a National Park, slumming it in comfy clothing while sipping coffee with your favorite rescue pup, enjoying the birdsong and murmur of a nearby stream as you spend your time reading books, preparing your own food on a portable stove, and hiking with the aforementioned pup.
This version of the Good Life reflects our aspirations, to some degree, but particularly in terms of how we spend our time, energy, and resources.
In an ideal world, are you able to afford the most expensive of everything, curating a life of magazine-cover luxury? Or are you spending your days exploring the world, getting out into nature, abundant free-time your most vital resource?
Time, energy, and money are all valuable assets we can wrangle and direct in different ways. How we spend them when we have them speaks volumes about what we consider to be vital and important; as does what we choose not to spend them on.
One definition of living a Good Life, then, is defined by what we choose to do with each of these resources and how we free up and/or acquire them.
The other main definition of the Good Life is characterized less by our resources and more explicitly by our values.
If you care deeply about people and believe that helping others is a matter of vital philosophical importance, the quantity of resources to which you have access may matter a bit. But that you are working toward improving other people’s lives in some way, shape, or form may be more important to your overall well-being than the specifics of how much leverage you can bring to bear, and where, specifically, you choose to apply it.
That you’re doing things that align with your values, in other words, may be more likely to make you feel that you’re living a Good Life than spending some specific amount of your time, energy, and resources.
This is true of any ideological belief, whether you want to share books and other educational resources with the world, are keen to teach as many people as possible how to code, or want to share a particular way of thinking, believing, or living with other human beings—these are all opportunities to better the world, according to your personal definition of “better.”
Importantly, there’s no absolute, always applicable gauge for how successful we are in our attempts to live a better life, and there is an inherent impermanence to anything we might do. No possible definition for the Good Life is perfect, permanent, or satisfyingly accurate.
The main value of such a concept, I think, is not that it gives us a concrete, achievable outcome to aim for, but rather that it can provide us with direction and an excuse to think through what we believe, what we think is important, how we impact others, and what we might do to bring our actions into better alignment with our values.
None of which guarantees that we’ll always do the right thing or be happy all the time.
It does, however, does make it more likely that we’ll help more than we harm, and that we’ll appreciate the happiness we experience alongside life’s inevitable downswings.