I recently came across an essay on The Good Life by Jim Rohn, who calls himself “the world’s leading motivational speaker, philosopher and entrepreneur.” I watched some of his videos on YouTube, including one in which he exhorts an audience not to be “broke, stupid and ugly”. Talk about the power of positive thinking! I was so motivated by this entreprenurial philosopher’s message, that I decided to dedicate this post to my own very different version of what constitutes “the good life”.
Jim Rohn’s shortlist of what constitutes the good life is full of things you must do. You must be productive. You must get out and experience as much as possible. You must celebrate your traditions. You must study, practice and teach your spirituality. You must have real friends and casual friends.
Here’s mine: there’s nothing you must do.
Let’s begin with a radically different premise to what constitutes the good life. First of all, it is defined by you and you alone. This may be tough to buy into at first, because of the urge to compare; to compare yourself to your siblings, your parents, your friends, your colleagues, other people your age, and most of all with the tens of thousands of images of “the good life” that are embedded in your consciousness as part of the marketing for nearly every product you have ever bought. If you can free yourself of the urge to compare, you have a blank slate with which to begin and from here, anything is possible.
Second, I don’t believe in ‘the‘ good life, there is only your life. So there is no standard, no prescription, no formula to achieve this good life. There is only who you say you are, how you feel about what you do and how you respond to the results you get. Anyone who tells you there are things you have to check off a list or be able to demonstrate in order to meet some arbitrary requirements of the good life are just trying to sell you something. It’s the same old game; whiter teeth, six-pack abs, Disneyland with the kids, a new car or whatever – it’s still a sales pitch for something that someone wants you believe is the good life. But that’s the problem: it’s someone else’s definition. As long as someone else owns it, you can never be free, because your happiness will always be dependent upon your measuring up to something outside of your control.
Which brings us to my next point: fulfillment. The good life is all about fulfillment. It’s what makes you happy, what has meaning for you, that satisfies your self-owned purpose. When you are fulfilled in this way, you bring fulfillment to others. It can’t work the other way around. To deny yourself fulfillment is selfish, because it excludes others from participating in your joy. If you’re chasing someone else’s dream, measuring yourself by subjective external standards, you are forever trapped in the matrix. To be fulfilled, it’s completely up to you to define fulfillment on your own terms.
One of Rohn’s requirements for the good life is keeping alive traditions and ceremonies. At this point I’d like to bring up the concept of evolution. I’m speaking of the evolution of civilization; how humanity moves toward a more enlightened state of consciousness, where we become more compassionate, tolerant and mindful of our connnectedness to one another. In order to evolve, we reinvent ourselves; we give up those traditions and ceremonies (burning people at the stake, sacrificing virgins, stoning heretics) that do not contribute to this evolution. Traditions are fixed ways of being that celebrate exclusion (we are special and different), caste (we are better), and ceremony is a nicer sounding word than superstitious ritual. To do something simply because that’s how it’s always been done is mindless.
I realize that this might not sit well with some people.
Am I saying that to have a good life we have to do away with such beautiful things as the sacred vows of marriage? No, but remember the premise: you don’t have to do anything. Some may ask, if we cease to define ourselves by our ceremonies and traditions, who would we be then? My answer: whoever you say you are. We’re all genetically a little different, but why must we make a pageant out of it?
Rohn talks a lot about the need for friends and family as a circle of support in order to live the good life. My response to this is: family and friends are nice to have, but is it possible to live a good life without them? Can you imagine yourself without these people and also living a good life? For many, the answer is no, because without constant emotional support, they would crumble. I think about orphans and the displaced who, if they accepted Rohn’s assertion, would be doomed to something less than a good life, unless they could find themselves some friends and family. In the tragic case that I lose my friends and family (some of whom I have lost already), I will continue to live a wonderful life.
I believe that most people want more than a good life – they want an abundant, joyful life, and they want to choose it for themselves. Why should we settle for merely the good, especially if it is we who create this life and relate to it on our own terms? When we dream, we do not dream of the good, we dream of the enchanted. For the majority of people in the world, life is hard. There is scarcity and danger. People struggle to live and believe that the best they can hope for is to get by, which becomes their reality. I believe each of us makes a good life wonderful when we have the courage to take ownership and responsibility for it, and live into a vision that we alone define.