What does it mean to live a good life?
Everyone will have their own interpretation and I think everyone is entitled to one.
In this article I’ll share you mine.
As simple as it is, it took me well over 30 years to be able to write it down. For me, living a good life consists out of two main principles:
- Do what makes you happy in the long run, but mix it with a healthy amount of short term pleasure. With one important side note: these short term pleasures should not harm your long term happiness in any serious way.
- While on this pursuit of happiness, allow and enable other living beings to pursue their happiness. Do the least amount of harm possible and help out where you can.
In my opinion, happiness is the highest virtue one can serve.
It is taking life as it is – a precious gift – and making the most of it. There is no better way to express your gratitude towards the life you have been given, than by living it to its fullest.
Happiness vs pleasure.
Principle 1 makes a distinction between happiness and pleasure. It’s an important one.
Happiness is long term, and generally speaking it is steady. Moments might raise or lower your happiness, but unless these moments are defining, most people will return to their base level of happiness shortly thereafter. Happiness flows like a river and it will trend in the direction it was already trending, unless something drastic happens.
The most effective way to divert this long term trend upwards, is by small and seemingly insignificant everyday actions, as their impact add up over the years to come.
Live a life of purpose – as long as serving this purpose is making you happy.
Pleasure is short term, it is a sudden high. It’ll have you feeling like you’re on top of a mountain, but it is quick to fade away.
I believe short term highs have their role to play in long term happiness. Periodical peaks of pleasure can uplift the spirit and make happiness trend upwards. It serves happiness, until it does not. And in this lies its biggest danger.
Pleasure is one of those things that make life worth living, but it is as addictive as it is consuming. If happiness is a river, pleasure is a rapid. It’s fun and exciting when it’s short, followed by normality. It’ll drown you if it keeps accelerating the river, one rapid after the other.
An important part of achieving a healthy mix of long term happiness and short term pleasure is to always seek to experience new things in a responsible manner. To be both brave AND responsible in the face of novelty.
Do no harm, help out where you can.
Principle 1 cannot exist without principle 2.
An important part of the pursuit of long term happiness of the individual, is to live in harmony with the community we live in. As I consider the entire planet as my home, for me this includes all living beings.
Life is a gift. It is not our place to diminish its potential for others, it’s not our place to take it away from others. Whether it be humans or animals.
If you go back in time far enough, you’ll realize we’re all made from the same building blocks. We’re all family. And in this sense hurting someone else equals hurting yourself, lifting someone else up equals lifting yourself up.
But the opposite is true as well: hurting yourself equals hurting someone else, and lifting yourself up equals lifting up someone else.
This is why I believe helping another being should have it’s limits, it shouldn’t come at your own expense. You’ll be able to do more good in the long run, when you don’t sacrifice yourself in the process.
A precious gift called life was handed out to us all. It’s as mysterious as it’s fleeting.
Not only should we express our gratefulness by living life to its fullest, we should allow and enable others to do the same.
For me, adhering to the above mentioned two principles makes a life well lived. I let these principles guide the decisions I make, as much as I can.
Now step back and think about it… What does it mean to live a good life, according to you?