The other day, my fiancé and I were high on Athletic Greens and on our daily walk. Somehow, we landed on the subject of purpose and our personal reason to live. Even though I don’t necessarily tie purpose and ‘the ideal life’ tightly together, we had a sudden urge to come up with ‘categories’ or ‘themes’ that add value to our lives. Categories which, if we would invest in each of them for the rest of our lives, would contribute to living a fulfilled and meaningful life. These are the categories that we came up with ‘to live a good life’.
Being healthy is the first category because it is an presupposition of anything else in life, or to have a life at all. It is only when you have (a certain level of) your health, that you can think about the quality of your life, and how you want to live it.
Do you remember the Maslow-pyramid? If our basic needs aren’t met, and we worry about our health, we can’t think about or be bothered with any category that follows. So firstly: if you want a fulfilling life, invest in your health.
Relationships (in the broadest way) are second, because we human beings are social creatures. We need each other to survive, to feel part of something bigger, to share with and learn from, and to be happy. Being lonely is literally unhealthy and life-defeating for human beings.
So whether you are an introvert or an extravert, in other to live a good life you need to have (some) meaningful relationships. This can vary from the love of your life, to colleagues or even distant acquaintances. Value what they add to your life, and invest the important relationships in your life.
Another category that stems from the fact that we are social animals, is ethics. In order to live a fulfilling life, we need to have some sense that we are a good person or that we contribute to something bigger than ourselves. This is why altruism feels so good, and why helping others gives us a real sense of purpose.
So unless you are a psychopath (not even kidding), listen to your need to be good, to do good, and to therefore feel good. Get your values straight, and act in alignment with them (=integrity). In other words: invest in being a good person, at least the majority of your time.
4. Intellectual development
Intellectual development is a category that, in contrast to the previous one, does not rule out psychopaths. However, not everyone has a indefinite need for intellectual development in order to feel fulfilled. However, I would argue that development in the broader sense – i.e. forever learning, making progress – is something that is inherent to the human race.
If you don’t learn, you stay the same person forever. And you will rob yourself of many beautiful new insights, experiences, and knowledge life has to offer. So: keep learning, and tickle that brain every now and then. 🙂
I know what you’re thinking: art and aesthetic experience is not essential for everyone. Not many people look at a painting or read a book and think: this just makes my life so much more fulfilling! However, I would argue that for human beings, aesthetics do have an important say in whether we are happy and live a meaningful life or not.
First of all, art is often seen as a way to understand (parts of) life in a different way than we are used to. In this way, art can contribute to category 4, 6 of 7. Secondly, art is a luxury: something many people only have time and energy for when everything else in their life is somewhat amazing. So, your interest for art can be a good indication that you’re on the right track.
Finally, aesthetic experience cannot only be found in art, but also in daily life, other people, or nature. The fact that we find some things way more beautiful than others, is deeply ingrained into the most primal parts of our brain. We are evolved to find things that help us survive (water, sunlight, colorful flowers and animals) literally more pretty than things that would hurt or kill us, because they represent prosperity.
Even though the need for this ability is a little outdated, you can use it to your advantage. Walk in nature more, enjoy a beautiful museum or a sunset, read a good book, and see how this seemingly shallow attraction makes your life more fulfilling.
Ok. This is a hard one. I do want to keep this one on the list, because spirituality adds meaning and fulfillment to many many lives. This can vary from traditional religion like Christianity or Islam, to new age or even merely believing ‘there is more to life’ or karma.
However, I don’t want to argue that you need to be spiritual person (in any way whatsoever) to live a good life. I don’t believe you’ll go to hell, and I don’t think (unless you feel it) that you miss out on a whole lot. Now that I have become more spiritual as a person, I do see how it adds great value to my life, and makes many things more easy, understandable or meaningful.
In that way, I would definitely say that I live a better life now than when I was younger (and more atheist, haha). I would also definitely say that I would miss out on one of the most valuable and important parts of life. But if you don’t feel the need for spirituality at all, and you are completely fulfilled without anything ‘woo woo’, please feel free and skip this category.
Joy is really the icing on the cake here – except for this cake, icing is quite essential because otherwise the taste will be quite bitter. You see, you can be super fit, have amazing relationships, be a good person, keep learning, have aesthetic experiences, and pray or meditate everyday. But if you’re not enjoying life, none of this really really feel as meaningful or fulfilling to you.
Even though I’m not a hedonist, and I definitely wouldn’t say that joy is the ultimate goal and purpose, I do think hedonist have a (small) point. None of the other categories will fulfill you if you don’t enjoy investing in them, or investing in them doesn’t bring you joy. A little fun (or better: a lot of it) is important to be able to keep up with these categories, and to feel fulfilled in the process.
Do you, like my fiancé feel a need to have certain categories in your life that you can work on? I think they can be very helpful to reflect on your life now and then, and see which categories you want or need more of. Let me know if this theory of life helps you out!