An inherent human desire is to live a good life. The pursuit of a good life is an art because it demands creative interaction with experience and therefore uncertainty. It is an art that always begins exactly where you are. The raw materials of a good life are the unique situations and circumstances that comprise your life. A good life is not about analyzing the past, nor is it about planning for a future that may never arrive. The art of living a good life is always grounded in the here and now.
The idea of a good life is a universal theme within the human struggle that plays itself out in a remarkable array of variations. In other words, a good life isn’t one thing. The reason for this is that living is a creative and dynamic process. There is no ideal state we can preserve, and any attempt to do so is certain to conjure various forms of neurosis. The situations and circumstances that comprise everyday life are in a constant state of flux. We have far less control over our course in life than we imagine. A good life resides in the conversation between our inner life and the dynamics of the external world. A good life is, by default, a state of constant interaction. As much as we move through life, life also moves through us.
A good life might be described as a life that matters. In this sense, a good life is contingent upon our ability to live through a core set of values that contribute to individual and collective wellbeing. A life that matters is connected to a valued sense of participation and contribution to the greater good by helping to improve the quality of life for others. What matters most in life is that the decisions and choices we make are congruent with the underlying values that facilitate the wellbeing of self and others at the same time.
Another way to describe a good life focuses on a lifelong quest for meaning. We value meaning because it permeates our brief and fleeting presence here with a sense of significance. Meaningful activities are those that provide an innate sense of purpose and fulfillment. The end product of our work is far less important than the quality of feeling inspired and satisfied by being fully immersed in the work itself; that is, the work is its own reward because it is an innate source of meaning. This state of flow also offers the feeling of being connected to something greater than ourselves because we lose our “self” inside the entrancement of our work.
The idea of aligning our efforts in life with a vocation is another path toward the ideal of living a good life. A vocation refers to our “calling” in life. It assumes that every human life has a unique purpose and that our fundamental task in life is to dedicate ourselves to the expression of our vocation. It is important to note that a vocation is both a personal and practical source of motivation. Our vocation is always achievable and livable; that is, it does not cause us to pursue unrealistic ideals that exceed our innate talent and ability. It may, however, call us to the outside edges of society and provide relief from the status quo.
Living a life worth living implies that there are good as well as less than good ways of moving through our life course. A life worth living offers a sense of satisfaction that our journey through a finite amount of time was worth it after all. We are not haunted by a sense of irrevocable regret, which is the defining feature of an unlived life. In this sense, a life worth living retrieves Aristotle’s idea of eudaimonia, or human flourishing, in which we live up to our potential and have led a life of active participation and contribution.
There isn’t one way to live a good life. There are as many ways as there are people. However, we can identify some qualities essential to the art of living a good life. The qualities of a good life are both innate and inherent. An innate quality is an integral part of our being. An inherent quality is a enduring part of our nature. In other words, the felt sense of a good life arises as a response to the positive energy we generate in our interaction, relationship, and participation inside the reality of our everyday lives. The art of living a good life manifests positive energy for self and others at the same time.
The primary qualities of a good life include meaning, purpose, fulfillment, relationship, participation, and contribution. When we live in congruence with the greater good, we become creators of positive energy. This is a vital and deep approach to creativity that expresses energy in the form of compassion, gratitude, and ultimately love. In other words, the primary purpose of a good life is to manifest positive energy and, in doing so, contribute to the wellbeing of self and others at the same time.
If we were to distill a good life into its essence, we begin with the establishment of an exalted value system. In other words, our ability to live a good life is contingent upon our ability to become living examples of the values we cherish and love. This, as we all know, is a much more profound undertaking than merely reading or writing about values. If values are not lived, they are meaningless and ineffectual, which in turn means that the feeling of being alive loses its vitality. It is entirely possible that none of us can feel fully alive or fully human unless we pursue the art of living a good life and live in accordance with an exalted value system.
At the heart of the art of living a good life is the belief that the world and universe are fundamentally good and that our primary task is to cultivate the good in life. This doesn’t mean, of course, that we can expect life to be easy and free from suffering. The idea of a good life is inclusive of the full force of life and does not shy away from the harsher realties of life. It may be that it is through life’s difficulties that we have an important opportunity to cultivate good. This helps to reframe hardship as having the potential for personal growth rather than focusing on it as a threat or source of destruction. We may be powerless to extract ourselves from a problem, but we always retain the ability to choose how to orient ourselves to it.
The genesis of a good life begins close in; that is, a good life happens exactly where we are amid all of our problems, challenges, and hardships. The art of living a good life is sensitive to our current condition, always practical and useful, and resists the delusions of hopelessly idealized and impractical approaches to life. The outer reaches of our imagination are only useful when they offer meaningful insight into living a good life while fully inhabiting the situations and circumstances that define the here and now. The pursuit of a good life never sets us up for disappointment nor does it invite unrealistic expectations about the future. The end effect of the art of living a good life is always a greater sense of wellbeing.
- The Art of Living a Good Life is a important topic and underlying theme throughout this website. The intention in this article is to focus on the essence of a good life, not provide a comprehensive overview.