Living with intent, social engagement, learning, growing, giving
I’m taking a different approach here because rather than review the book The Good Life by Hugh Mackay I’m going to share some of its pertinent points. I’m sure that social researcher and psychologist Hugh Mackay is well placed to write such a book after spending 40 years asking Australians about their lives, loves, hopes, ambitions, fears and passions. I agree with most of what Hugh has to say however, I didn’t love the book and I didn’t think that it was particularly well written or researched. In fact it seems that Hugh may have written it over a long weekend because it lacks citations to relevant supporting research and I’m not even really clear on his purpose in writing it because it doesn’t seem to offer much advice on how to live the good life, rather it focuses on what not to do. What I loved about the book are the excellent quotations from prominent personalities that pepper the text throughout.
A good life is not measured by security, wealth, status, achievement or levels of happiness. A good life is determined by our capacity for selflessness and our willingness to connect with those around us in a meaningful and useful way.
If you wish to end your life knowing you are loved, the only way to make that possible is to love, generously and selflessly. No one can promise you that a life lived for others will bring you a deep sense of satisfaction, but it’s certain that nothing else will.
Here are the points that I’d like to share:
1) Pursuit of happiness can make you miserable so it’s better to live in a way that is connected with your community and from that happiness will follow;
Aristotle’s happiness involved living in accordance with reason, fulfilling one’s sense of purpose, doing one’s civic duty, living virtuously, being fully engaged with the world and, in particular, experiencing the richness of human love and friendship.
2) Be open minded;
When Richard Dawkins criticises religion for the fanaticism or cruelty of some of its followers … [it is in essence] an attack on fundamentalism. Ironically, Dawkins is himself something of a fundamentalist, with his relentless one-note samba, his rigid dogma, his deification of science, his unshakable resistance to mystery or ambiguity and his unwillingness to acknowledge the value of religious faith for millions of people.
If you adopt a rigid world view you tend to see everything through the filter of your convictions.
From a rational point of view the only way to respond to the idea of God is by remaining agnostic. All agnostics are willing to say about the existence of God etc. is that such things are incapable of scientific proof and therefore unknowable.
Oliver Sacks ‘To live on a day to day basis is insufficient for human beings. We need to transcend, transport, escape. We need meaning, understanding, and explanation. We need to see overall patterns in our lives.’
3) Live in the present;
4) Be part of the whole;
Aristotle ‘He who is unable to live in society or who has no need, because he is sufficient for himself, must be either a beast or a god’.
5) Intelligence is inherited not earned. Goodness is more important;
A good education can help sharpen the faculties we were born with, and indolence, neglect and cultural deprivation (e.g. no inspirational music or reading at home) can mask our potential and make us seem less intelligent than we are.
6) Power, wealth, status and fame lead to corruption;
Samuel Johnson ‘power is always gradually stealing away from the many to the few, because the few are more vigilant and consistent.’
Edmund Burke ‘power gradually extirpates from the mind every humane and gentle virtue.’
Lord Acton ‘Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely’ ‘Great mean are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority’
Albert Einstein ‘Try not to become a man of success but rather a man of value.’
7) Blind devotion to simplicity can cut us off from our social responsibilities;
The extent to which the simple life is good depends partly on our motivations, and they may range from helping to save the planet to feeling better about ourselves or getting away from it all. Some undermine their position by developing a supercillious attitude towards those who don’t follow the prescribed path of simplicity – almost as if they see themselves as having evolved into a higher life form.
Asceticism, in the name of religion or the environment, can easily lead to a withdrawal from social networks.
8) The meaning of life is a silly question;
Words are themselves meaningless. We invest them with meaning, and over time, come to feel that certain words mean certain things. We construct dictionaries and then think they tell us what words mean but dictionaries are mere historical documents, museums of meaning.
9) A good life or a good time?
Roy Baumeister ‘Partly what we do as humans is to take care of others and contribute to others. This makes life more meaningful but it does not necessarily make us happy’