Have you noticed that when people talk about “the good life”, it’s often based on material goods, such as fancy houses and cars, jewellery, fine foods and alcohol. Money and purchased things are commonly promoted in our culture as being the most important markers of happiness.
Undoubtedly, these objects do not bring lasting happiness. Of course, financial security and comfort in life is valuable; but the pursuit of greater and greater wealth and materials only brings temporary pleasure. Let’s look at what does and does not lead to real happiness.
In 2004, the Worldwide Institute’s State of the World report explained that societies with happier individuals are the ones that focus on family interactions, having close friends and neighbours, increasing wellbeing by encouraging more direct experiences with nature, and concentrating more attention on finding fulfillment and creative expression than in accumulating goods.
These societies endorse lifestyles that avoid abusing the natural world, your own health, or harming others. These societies produce a stronger sense of satisfaction among its people than more materialistic, individualistic societies do.
Psychologists studying life satisfaction have determined that money cannot buy happiness for those who are already affluent. There is a median quality of life that can be attained by material wealth, and the amount of prosperity needed for satisfaction is far less than you may imagine!
The disconnection between prosperity and happiness in wealthy countries is clearly demonstrated when an increase in income in industrial nations is plotted against reported levels of happiness. For example, in America, average incomes more than doubled from 1957 to 2002, but the number of people reporting themselves to be “very happy” has basically remained the same.
If greater income is not tied to greater happiness, it can be concluded that people with more money are not living “the good life”. Picture yourself in the future, when you will feel happy with who you have become, happy with what you have, and are able to feel deeply satisfied and happy in your life. This would be the point when you are living “the good life”. What does this look like for you?
Most of the time, when I ask this question of people, they do not share visions of incredible wealth. Usually, their vision does not include piles of money or possessions, or even a luxurious home. Most people want to live in a beautiful setting, such as near a beach or in the mountains. When they get to the heart of their vision, what they really see is a setting and lifestyle that brings them a sense of serenity and peace.
Interestingly, almost no one mentions having the latest technology, a fancy car, designer clothes, or travelling in first class. Instead, people describe themselves as feeling content, no longer struggling with stress or depression. They talk about feeling accepted and loved, and becoming wiser. If they have children, people often mention how their adult children are responsible, loving, and fulfilled in their visions.
Ayn Rand once said, “Happiness is that state of consciousness which proceeds from the achievement of one’s values.” These are the qualities of life that are usually important to people, when they really take the time to imagine what would make their future life satisfying and happy. This exercise helps to show what is really valued, and what is truly meaningful.
What is important to you? What do you think is valuable in life? If you were to create a list of the top five things you value, what would those things be? Would you choose power, status, authority, money, and possessions? Or would you choose freedom, compassion, love, family and integrity? Perhaps you would choose a combination of these items. This is a question worth deeply investigating.
Consider how you would like to be remembered after you are gone? What would you like to hear people say about you at your funeral or memorial? Would you want your family, friends, and colleagues talking about how much money you made or how much stuff you had? That’s probably not what you would want to be remembered for. Am I right?
Most of us want to be remembered for who we were, how we lived, how we practiced empathy and compassion, how loving we were, what kind of service we gave in our communities, and what the legacy is that we left for our children, and even our grandchildren.
Would you like to be remembered as a person who possessed a deep appreciation in your life? Would you like to be remembered as being grateful?
How will you define “the good life”? Take some time to dream of the life you really want to lead. Ensure it is aligned with your values and your passion, as a strong connection is necessary. Decide what brings you real joy and fulfillment.
Think of the times in your life when you felt the happiest. What do you remember about those times that feels important in informing how you will be happy in the future – or even now! How can you start living “the good life”, one filled with love, comfort, happiness, meaning, and fulfillment?