Friday, April 17, 2009

The Good Life, 2009

One of our goals in downsizing and simplifying is that elusive status of “the good life.” A description of that, of course, varies from person to person. In fact, through my life, I have lived many “good lives” and many not so good. Sometimes I was living “the good life” and “the bad life” at the same time. But generally, these days, I consider the good life for Ed and me to include these things: The basics of family, friends, health, reliable transportation, secure employment and income, sustainable food-shelter-clothing. To those necessities of life in America, I would add the extra things that add joy and pleasure to our lives: Internet access, a dog, books, music, a digital camera, quilting and other creative opportunities. I have to include a cozy fire in the wood stove during the winter; one of Ed’s home-cooked meals; the serendipity of seeing a deer, owl, wild turkey, or moose; a neighborhood walk on a sunny spring day; the first snowfall of the season; the gorgeous autumn foliage, going through my “past box” and reminiscing. Then there are the real intangibles: Hearing from old friends, celebrating weddings and births, watching my grandchildren play, learning something new about myself, laughter, enjoying what I do for a living, teaching a skill to someone, doing a good deed, giving to charity, or watching another person discover his/her passion.

My favorite magazine these days is Experience Life. If I could afford it, I would buy a subscription for each person I know. If you are interested in a richer, healthier, more sustainable and happy life, I highly recommend reading it on a regular basis. There is an article in this month’s issue called "The Better Good Life: An Essay on Personal Sustainability," written by Pilar Gerasimo (Editor-in-Chief of the magazine). Here is an excerpt:

So, what exactly is a “good life”?,,,We’d prefer a life that feels good in the moment, but that also lays the ground for a promising future - a life, like the cherry tree’s, that contributes something of value and that benefits and enriches the lives of others, or at least doesn’t cause them anxiety and harm. Unfortunately, historically, our pursuit of the good life has focused on increasing our material wealth and upgrading our socioeconomic status in the short term. And, in the big picture, that approach has not turned out quite the way we might have hoped.

For too many, the current version of “the good life” involves working too-long hours and driving too-long commutes. It has us worrying and running ourselves ragged, overeating to soothe ourselves, watching TV to distract ourselves, binge-shopping to sate our desire for more, and popping prescription pills to keep troubling symptoms at bay. This version of “the good life” has given us only moments a day with the people we love, and virtually no time or inclination to participate as citizens or community members.

It has also given us anxiety attacks; obesity; depression; traffic jams; urban sprawl; crushing daycare bills; a broken healthcare system; record rates of addiction, divorce, and incarceration; an imploding economy; and a planet in peril.

From an economic standpoint, we’re more productive than we’ve ever been. We’ve focused on getting more done in less time. We’ve surrounded ourselves with technologies designed to make our lives easier, more comfortable, and more amusing.

Yet, instead of making us happy and healthy, all this has left a great many of us feeling depleted, lonely, strapped, stressed, and resentful. We don’t have enough time for ourselves, our loved ones, our creative aspirations, or our communities.

The article is way too long to quote here, but Ms. Gerasimo talks about the times (encompassing all areas of our lives) when we choose short-term satisfaction over long-term goals, not considering how our choices will affect our own lives as well as those sharing this planet with us. She reports that as the Gross Domestic Product has tripled over 54 years, our Genuine Progress Indicator (the environmental and social effects, including happiness), has not gained much, and that gap between the two is widening.

She ends the article with 3 questions to ask ourselves:
1. Given the option, would I do or choose this again? Would I do it indefinitely?
2. How long can I keep this up, and at what cost - not just to me, but to the other people and systems I care about?
3. What have I sacrificed to get here; what will it take for me to continue? Are the rewards worth it, even if the other areas of my life suffer?

It all comes down to your interpretation of “the good life.” Considering the impact our life choices have on ourselves and those around us, they are questions I guess we need to continue asking throughout our journey. Happy Earth Day, April 22nd!


MissEllen said...

Very provocative post. I really love your personal description of a good life-those are all good things.

As for answering those 3 questions, that will take some time. Your right on the mark with your observance of sometimes living the good and bad at the same time. I think I'm there right now.

Thanks for the "brain food".

Carol Tiffin James said...

Thanks, Ellen, how sweet. Yes, life reminds me a lot of that classic novel, Tale of Two Cities - It was the best of times; it was the worst of times!

Joy said...

Yeah, and thank the lady who made you read that book, sister! Even if you didn't like her :-)