Everyone wants to live a good life. The problem is no one appreciates why living life well matters. Most writers on this subject begin by telling you what a good life is (i.e. living a healthy life, having money, developing a spiritual life, etc.), but I think we need to ask ourselves a more basic question. That basic question is why should we live life well, particularly if it means not satisfying our need for pleasure? Instead of defining what living life well is, we’re going to start our discussion by thinking about why living life well matters at all. Let’s remember, there really is no mandate stating you have to live life well. In fact, if you follow your heart, living life well might even keep you from living a pleasure filled life. If living life well means living in a way that promotes physical health, you may not be happy with that plate of vegetables and prefer to just have ice cream for dinner. Sure, eating those vegetables is living life well, but it certainly isn’t living life happily, at least not in the immediate sense (Unless you prefer vegetables over ice cream, and in that case, we need to have a serious conversation about savoring life’s treats). So why should we live life well?
First, it provides us with a sense of meaning and purpose and allows us to function as we were intended. Human beings are meant to live life well because living in a way that’s more than just surviving is what humans do. We’re living creatures and therefore living creatures should live well. We’re not merely like the other creatures in the world, we’re human creatures. A human life is one lived in such a way that it has meaning and purpose and transcends the mere natural laws and instincts of our bodies. My first suggestion is you spend time thinking about the meaning and purpose of your life. Too often we just float through existence without ever paying attention to the fact we indeed have a life mission. For me, its teaching and sharing psychological and spiritual wisdom to help people live balanced, resiliant, and passionate lives. That’s my life mission and it drives everything I do. Spend some time reflecting on what yours is. You have talents, the question is what is your personal vision statement that focuses those talents to make the world a better place?
Secondly, we live life well so we can be resilient people. We know living in this world is going to bring trouble, sorrow, setbacks, and disappointments. Just look over the span of human history, there’s never a period in time that human beings don’t suffer. We’re vulnerable creatures and natural disasters, human ignorance, hateful people, and a myriad of other causes of suffering find their way into our lives. Yet, amidst this suffering we have two choices. First, we can just take it and allow life to beat us down to be victims of our circumstances. By surrendering we have in a sense elected to die and sometimes that death is nothing more than a slow soul killing experience in which the body continues but the rest of who we are has been buried in a deep cold grave. Our second option is to meet our challenges head on and find creative ways to shift our perspective from being a victim to being a survivor. Resilience allows us to adapt to the situation, be creative, muster our courage, and do something other than just allow life’s difficulties to destroy us. Living life well helps us be resilient people.
The third and final reason why living life well is important is it creates balance and harmony in our life. We are holistic creatures consisting of a body, mind, emotions, relationships, and spirits. Each aspect of our life impacts the other. If we don’t care for our bodies we can’t think well with our minds. Poor physical health can limit the amount of blood flowing to parts of our brain thus impacting our ability to create and recall memories, process information, and perform a number of cognitive functions. Also, our emotional life can impact our physical well being. If we’re highly anxious we create a cortisol excess in our blood stream negatively impacting our bodies and leading us to suffer from disorders like PTSD. Living life well provides us with a balanced approach to cultivating health in all five of the previous mentioned dimensions of being human.
A life is lived well so we can live with meaning and purpose, balance, and resilience as holistic creatures. Creatures provided with a body, mind, emotions, relationships, and a soul. The greatest lie most people believe is that human life is only different in degree from other forms of life. Don’t buy into that argument. We’re capable of so much more than the rest of the natural world because we’re different than any other living creature on the planet. Some might call this a type of arrogance, but perhaps it’s a type of healthy arrogance that’s good for us in the end (if there can be such a thing)? If we see the value and uniqueness of human life, and I mean “ALL” human life, perhaps we’ll be less inclined to view other people as objects and be more willing to treat them with respect and dignity. If having some level of arrogance about who we are facilitates the humility required to love other people, maybe, just maybe we can say that’s okay. Slavery might be less attractive if we view people as something different than domestic animals, prostitution might not be as attractive because other people are seen as something more than an object to be used.
People will have a unique dignity that animals don’t because people are unique. In the end people don’t want to simply live life well, they want to live a “Human” life well; a life transcending natural drives and laws; lives filled with virtue, truth, goodness, and beauty. This is what the great thinkers of the ancient world believed and I think one we need to recapture. Ask yourself this, are you comfortable believing your life is nothing more than one reflective of an advanced animal ? If so, why do you live your life so differently than other animals and why do you want other people to treat you as if you have some higher dignity? Live a human life of virtue because in the end it creates a better world for you, others, and yes, even the rest of the planet. Let me close this reflection with the words of one of litterature’s greatest poets, John Milton who wrote the following about human beings in “Paradise Lost”
“A creature whom not prone and brute as other creatures, but enbued with sanctity of reason might erect his stature and upright with front serene govern the rest, self-knowing and from thence magnanimous to correspond with heaven.”
Are you merely an evolved ape grasping at fruit in a tree or are you “magnanimous to correspond with heaven?” I believe we need to live life well because we were created for so much more than we think ourselves capable.