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What Is the Good Life? Or How to Find Happiness, Spiritual Growth & Meaning By Living A Good and Simple Life!
Creating Happiness, Spiritual Growth and Meaning By Living A Good and Simple Life!
Where people fail is that they wish to elect a state and remain in it. This is a kind of death. Life is a process of becoming, a combination of states we have to go through. — Anaïs Nin
The “good life”—isn’t that what we all want?
Isn’t that what TV ads and self-help books try to sell? Isn’t it what the Great Traditions urge us to live? Isn’t it what we mean when we say that quality of life is critical?
But what is this good life we long for?
Aristotle said, "Eudemonia (human flourishing) is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.” But people have argued about what he meant ever since.
Some say a good life is rich in material pleasures, and good feelings—a life of getting, and having. Others say it is a fully engaged life. A life of doing, creating, and enjoying the gratification of mastery in life, work, and relationships. For others, it is a meaningful life, a giving life, lived in service to a purpose or cause; a spiritual life. But, perhaps, it is not one or another of these options.
Could the good life be the harmonious whole that comes from integrating the three lives into one?
Could each life be a clear note that can ring alone, and the good life a coherent chord that emerges when all three are played in harmony?
By combining just enough material with mastery and meaning, could we create happiness, spiritual growth, and enjoy living a simple and truly good life?
The Notes: Living the Basics of A Good, Rich and Simple Life
The first life is one most of us know well; a rich, materially pleasant life. It includes the basics of food, rest, shelter, and a sense of control over our lives. It is rich in things, comforts, and conveniences that make life pleasant.
If we are not aware of the other lives, it is easy to get attached to the material life. If we only focus on accumulating money and stuff, we can end up on what positive psychologists call "the hedonic treadmill"—working and spending in a never-ending loop, wondering why our life feels empty, and joyless .
The second life emerges when we realize that we have enough of the material basics to make life pleasant, and livable. Then, we are free to engage life, and develop mastery that leads to competence, and confidence.
A masterful life enables us to challenge ourselves, and grow by stretching physically, mentally, emotionally, and socially. It enables us to discover our strengths, and use them in ways that lead to mastery, flow, and deep gratification.
We all find different areas to exercise our strengths and develop master. Some do so in their work and careers. Some become masterful parents. Some master rockclimbing, or yoga, or a second language. There is not end to the things we can master, so long as we focus on one area at a time. But if we do, mastery brings us true competence, and authentic confidence.
Materially secure and masterful, we are free to explore a meaningful life. We stretch our consciousness, expand our compassion, and search for our spiritual moorings. We draw on strengths developed earlier to undertake challenges that expand our sense of self. We look for opportunties to give of ourselves in service of a greater good. Expansion of consciousness diminishes ego. It increases our connection to the world, and to the systems of life on which all of our health, wealth, and well being depend. Caring for and acting on thing we care deeply about produces a profound sense of meaning.
All three lives are important. But, too often, as Nin cautions, we become attached to one, at the expense of the others. When we over-simplify, and think there is just one life, we lose the richness of living that could come from integrating all three into Aristotle's flourishing life.
It's best to see these lives as levels of personal evolution in a rising spiral of development. Crafting a materially pleasant life is an essential step in an evolving process of life-creation. Engaging life by matching strengths to challenges creates mastery, flow. and gratification. Widening our circle of compassion allows us to transcend our small selves, to honour the Earth, and to honour the Spirit that dwells in each of us, as us.
Each level is a step toward the whole. Each complements the others. As we pass through them we “glimpse,” as Maslow put it, “in our most perfect moments.” By weaving them together we create an integrated, flourishing life.
But, we don't just pass through them and are done with them. We are in all of these different life levels at the same time, to differing degrees. We may be mainly focused on a material life, but still stretching for mastery in small areas, and still exploring our spirit. We may be devoting ourselves to mastery, yet still have to pay the bills and fix the roof when it leaks. And, as to a spirtual life, I've always liked the phrase, "Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water; after enlightenment, chop wood, carry water."
The Chord: Integrating the Three Lives Into A Coherent Whole
So try not to see these levels as independent, nor attach to one.Even as we move through a level in favor of a higher one, the previous level and its benefits are still available to us.
A pleasant, material life provides a base for a life of mastery, engagement, and flow. A masterful life gives us the competence and authentic confidence to stretch toward meaning, purpose, and expanded compassion for all life. Each life level is integrated with the others, and they with it.
It helps to think of theses levels as notes in a powerful, resonating chord. We can play each note separately, but to create the most harmony, power, and coherence in our lives, we need to play all three together.
The chord that results from integrating the three notes resonates throughout our being, and beyond. When we play these notes as one flowing chord, we experience our life as all of a piece, in harmony with Life itself.
“This is the true joy in life,” said Shaw, “the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one . . . the being a force of nature.”
This, then, is the flourishing life, the good we life all seek. Is anything less truly worthwhile? Could anything else create such real and lasting freedom, purpose, and happiness?
We are all living aspects of a flourishing life, now. With greater awareness, commitment, and practice, we can expand our selves and our lives to encompass more of it. While the end is important, so is the process. Indeed, much of the good life is achieved in the trying, the stretching, the seeking.
We may never achieve Sainthood or nirvana, but it's the the trying that counts. Or, as the poet Robert Browning said, "What's a heaven for?"
Bruce Elkin is author of Simplicity and Success, THRIVE! and The ABCs of Emotional Mastery. For more of his writing, please visit his HubPages Profile.