Monday, September 22, 2008

The Good Life Part 1 - Shelley Stile

I was listening to the MSNBC on the radio when a feature came on entitled, 'The Good Life'. They proceeded to discuss a $14,000 dessert being offered in Sri Lanka that included, amongst other things, an aquamarine. No kidding. This is how MSNBC characterizes the good life. It struck me how in our culture we define the good life more in terms of the consumption of material goods than in relationship to any other quality.

Simply listen to the vast majority of contemporary music on the airwaves these days for confirmation. I have two teenagers in my house so I know all too well: Cristal champagne, expensive cars, first class jet airline seats, bling; the list goes on and on.

This is what our kids are being taught: the good life is about having things, not about who you are as a human being. Where are these values coming from? I believe it is a trickle down effect from what they see being honored in our society.

So if the good life is about having things, how is it that so many people who have so many things have lives that lack so much satisfaction and meaning?

I am not saying that having money is not a good thing, quite the contrary. We all need financial security. We need to know that we can provide for our families and be free of the pressure of struggling to make ends meet. We all want to live a comfortable life. But where is the point of no return?

Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that
counts can be counted.

~Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955)

What Provides a Satisfying Life?

The Worldwide Institute in its 2004 State of the World report explains:

Societies focused on well being involved more interaction with family, friends, and neighbors, a more direct experience of nature, and more attention to finding fulfillment and creative expression than in accumulating goods. They emphasize lifestyles that avoid abusing your own health, other people, or the natural world. In short, they yield a deeper sense of satisfaction with life than many people report experiencing today.

What provides for a satisfying life? In recent years, psychologists studying measures of life satisfaction have largely confirmed the old adage that 'money can't buy happiness', at least not for people who are already affluent.

The disconnection between money and happiness in wealthy countries is perhaps most clearly illustrated when growth in income in industrial countries is plotted against levels of happiness. In the United States, for example, the average person's income more than doubled between 1957 and 2002, yet the share of people reporting themselves to be 'very happy' over that period remained static.

What Does the Good Life Look Like?

So if growth in income has not made people happier than obviously they are not living the good life. In order to clarify what the good life is, I do an exercise with clients that involves seeing themselves at some distant point in the future where they are finally who they want to be, they have what they want to have and are deeply satisfied and happy. In other words, they have achieved the 'Good Life'.

Nearly one hundred percent of the time, without fail, clients do not have visions of extreme wealth. They really don't talk about wealth at all, at least not in terms of money or possessions. They do not talk about living in a house with every known convenience and luxury. They do talk about a home located in a beautiful setting, perhaps by the ocean or on a lake in the mountains.

There is always talk about a place that gives them a feeling of peace and serenity; a place they were meant to be. They never discuss possessions - ever. No talk of cars, televisions or fancy clothes. It just never comes up. They may mention that they are free to travel but certainly they do not say first class.

They describe themselves as a person who no longer fights feelings of depression, dissatisfaction or dissonance in their lives. They speak of a feeling of acceptance of what is. There is love in their lives although they don't necessarily mention a specific mate. Just love. There is discussion of deep wisdom accumulated over the years. There is also talk of being surrounded by the people who they hold dear.

Often, if they have children, they will say that they are happy that they have been able to help their kids but more often is the description of children who have grown into responsible, loving and fulfilled human beings. They describe with pride children who are contributors to the world.

I hear about pets in the house and perhaps grandchildren. These are folks who have discovered what truly has meaning for them and what they really value.

Happiness is that state of consciousness which proceeds from the achievement of one's values.

~Ayn Rand (1905 - 1982)

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