Good Life

Meaningful engagement in modern life.

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In the opening lines to Anna Karenina, Tolstoy could have written; 'all good lives are alike; each bad life is bad in its own way.'

It doesn't sound nearly as good, but it does speak to the universal condition of humanity.

Good lives share common attributes.

We all want a 'good' life. When near 8 billion people are seeking to achieve the same thing, patterns emerge. Good lives share a common set of attributes. These patterns are driven by physiology, psychology, culture, forces both in and outside our control. Understanding them is a powerful tool to course correct your own life.

The bad life.

On the other hand, no one sets out to lead a 'bad life.' The bad life doesn't have a definition. A deficiency in any one of the 'good life' attributes could lead to a 'bad life,' but it might not. It depends. It's subjective.

Traits of excellence.

The common attributes of the good life are called virtues, or traits of excellence.

Courage, wisdom, justice, humanity, temperance, and transcendence have been found to be pervading virtues in philosophy in the West, South Asia, and China. Though limited by the English language and geographic/cultural coverage, these virtues are a good starting point.

Broadly, a good life is likely to involve taking risks (courage), such as the risks we take for love (humanity), or the integrity required to stand by our beliefs. A good life features meaningful engagement. With ideas (wisdom), with society (justice), with work and health (temperance). The good life features an appreciation of life, with a sense of gratitude and awe, such as spending time in nature (transcendence).

Looking for proxies.

Because the good life is different for everyone, we must look to proxies (things that represent the thing). Our feelings of happiness, adventure, curiosity, fulfillment, belonging are signals we are on the right track.

One proxy we often use to measure the 'good life' is happiness. Indigenous, Western and Eastern cultures have different worldviews on the meanings of happiness and the good life. The Western view has often been confused with material pursuits, if I am famous / have lots of money / powerful / make a forbes list, then I will be happy. These kinds of status games are especially modern problems. The Western intellectual traditional has contemplated the meaning of a good life since at least Ancient Greek times, but status games are amplified in today's hyper connected world.

The good life can mean lots of things. We take it specifically to mean:

  1. How to live well, which covers many aspects of being. Physical, mental, relational, etc.
  2. What it means to be a good citizen in today's world.

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