What is the Good Life?

Kevin wanted to provide the best for his family. He worked long, hard hours at his desk job, often missing family dinners, vacations, and his children’s events. Still, he was able to provide them with the very best money could buy. Until one day, he started having severe and inexplicable health problems.  “Surely the American Dream, with its emphasis on materialism, is a potent motivator. It kept Kevin chained to his desk for 20 years. And it allowed his children to keep up with the changing fashion in athletic shoes. But it cost Kevin and his family dearly in terms of personal satisfaction.”

More than two millennia ago, Aristotle defined what modern researchers now call the good life. Aristotle’s concept of eudaimonia, or the “well-lived life,” is far removed from the images portrayed by modern advertisers. Instead of emphasizing material acquisition, power, fame, beauty, or wealth, the good life is based on the pursuit of virtue, right choice, and right conduct. Ancient Greeks named leisure—the freedom to pursue knowledge, virtue, pleasure, and happiness—as a contributor to the good life.

Material acquisition, power, fame, beauty, or wealth are all pleasurable things, and pleasure is not inherently bad. Making the pursuit of pleasure your highest priority, however, is. Anciently, the pursuit of pleasure was known as hedonism. Hedonistic lifestyles focus on a life of comfort by avoiding pain, challenge and adversity. And while a pain-, adversity-, and challenge-free existence sounds enticing, it may not be the most fulfilling or meaningful, for “the true meaning of being alive is not just to feel happy, but to experience the full range of human emotions.”

Perhaps nowhere is this truer than in the family. Family life has the potential to provide the happiest and the most heartbreaking experiences. Though it may seem to contradict common sense, going through challenging or adverse experiences with your family can actually create stronger bonds, improved communication, and greater satisfaction with individual and family life. The key is to create meaningful and growing experiences rather than simply pleasurable ones.

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