Apparently if you ask millennials what they believe makes for a good life, a frighteningly large percentage of them will say one or more of the following three answers: money, fame, high achievement. The association here is that notoriety equates somehow to a sense of happiness or fulfilling your life properly. This doesn’t feel right.
I hear my own children become animated about the ridiculous earnings of YouTubers. I suspect they too day-dream about wowing audiences, Pop-Idol style, or strutting red carpets dripping in designer labels and being signed for football clubs and fragrance houses. I watch aghast at demented ‘Housewives’ from all corners of the world getting drunk and swearing out their ‘friends’ in the franchised ‘reality’ shows from Orange County to Melbourne. Is this really what people think is a good life?
Aristotle’s concept of a Good Life is known as eudaemonia meaning human flourishing. That kind of good life is about people who hope for a better life through a shared vision that can flex around the innumerable individual needs on the planet. It is a uniting, optimistic and progressively transforming vision. Maybe the idolatry of Housewives and Pop Idols is what the media would have us believe is a good life, but they probably have got a Good Life mixed up with monetising low self esteem. It may also be a symptom of our limited language. In many European languages the term happiness is synonymous with luck.
I have heard myself say, “I’m lucky” when I relay stories of my good fortune. And I sometimes think it’s unlucky when ‘bad’ things happen. This might just be lazy thinking. Good health, quality relationships and personal safety could be connected with a worldview that is about gods randomly throwing the dice that determine our fate, but it may also be about choices.
If I find myself trapped in poor health, swimming in the toxic seas of isolation with no protection from the waves of misfortune might I not choose to change my situation? And even more importantly if I am enjoying a Good Life but I can see that another person is without that salvation couldn’t I throw out a life line of connection?
Someone sent me the Robert Waldinger TED talk on What Makes a Good Life? I was enraptured from the moment this gentle psychologist spoke about the 75 years worth of Harvard research on what makes life good. This amazing body of research has found that living a good life, where we flourish, is simpler than we might think. We don’t really need to deploy clever tricks to get on top of life.
Life hacking is about the shortcuts and novel methods we design to increase our efficiency in life. It is usually associated with by-passing the information overload that burdens a 21st century life using some sort of playful curiosity that results in an ingenious way to get what you want in a better, cheaper or quicker way. How might we hack into the messy enigma of living and seek out the rich vein of happiness that will bring us succour when the emergency alarm sounds that we are drifting off course into the dark waters of sadness, despair or isolation?
Waldinger’s research shows that living a good life is about leaning in towards relationships. If you want to life-hack a good life you’re going to have to find the skills and techniques that allow you to connect with others. It’s about being curious, about considering others, about avoiding the need for a right and wrong answer to things. It’s about seeing how we are all connected.
I love the myth of Indra’s net of gems. The Hindu god is said to have enshrouded all of life in a magnificent net. A multi-faceted gem rests at each crossing within the net. All the other gems are reflected in each gem. What I like about this image is the infinite possibilities it represents and the inter-connectedness of life. If I am reflected in you and you are reflected in me the only reason I can’t see that is because I’m seeing my life as something that belongs only to me. The beautiful paradox is that my happiness is primarily dependant on sharing my life and sharing in the lives of others.
Probably none of us has lived the life we intended. But, we have hopefully lived the life that was meant to be lived and played the game to the best of our skills and knowledge. If we can look back on our lives and say, “I lived a good life”, I seriously doubt it will be based on Louboutin shoes, six figure salaries, job titles and the level you reached on a rewards program. I think it may have something to do with the lives you have changed for the better and the lives that have changed you for the better.
I imagine the Good Life is when Indra’s jewelled net has each of us shedding our light on each other in an inter-connected light festival of blinding happiness.