Festina Lente
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Festina Lente

How to live a good life?

A brief roadmap

Disclaimer: I wrote this essay for a philosophy class in university, then rewrote it to a shorter version.

I believe a Good Life is a life with meaning, flow, autonomy, competence, relatedness, benevolence, and self mastery. This might sound like a lot of responsibility and even causes for stress so I would add an element of “Do not worry!” in the Good Life. Do your best and hope for a better future, then let the chips fall where they may because it is out of your control at that point.

We are all given life when we are born. This bestows upon us one simple responsibility — to live. Just by being alive we have an experience and with that comes a responsibility to make the most out of that experience — at least to me that seems to be the rational starting point. This optimization of experience is what I call the search for a Good Life — or rather the living of a Good Life. Since I am here and I have experiences that I want to make the most of, I must try to make the most out of them.

Before diving into what I believe are the important aspects of a Good Life, I want to start with the most important coping mechanism I have developed for living: Don’t worry! Life is chaotic and dynamic in unforeseeable ways so worrying about the past, present or future will only take energy from what I could be doing instead. This ties into Daoism, Buddhism and Zen philosophy; following The Way of life, going with the flow so to speak. Things will happen, I will change, my interests are in constant flux and the future is unknown. I can and should do my best to take action and steer the direction of my life towards the good but not worrying about it is essential. Whenever you worry you miss the enjoyment of being in the present and that is ultimately all there is, right now.

Onto the important aspects, first of all, I believe that a good life has to have meaning. The universe is beyond our scope and arguably doesn’t care about a speck of dust like the human race so the only meaning I can rationalize for myself should come from within. Even more so, each human being, myself included, must come up with their own meaning for it to have personal power, energy, and goodness.

Secondly, I believe we have somewhat of a good roadmap of what to do — it has been said by many wise men in history but there is a concise one-liner from the Finnish philosopher Frank Martela that I think illustrates the point: “Do things that are meaningful to you that are also meaningful to others”. Sounds simple enough — but how to find out what that meaning is? [1]

To expand upon this roadmap I think Self-Determination Theory serves a good purpose. [2] To live a meaningful life there are a few components that are a good guide in the search for meaning and the Good Life. These are Autonomy, Competence, Relatedness and additionally according to Frank Martela, Benevolence. I can relate to these four and have seen similar thinking frameworks in different religions, philosophies and ways of thought — that is why I describe them here and add my own interpretations and thoughts to them — because I believe there is truth in them.

  1. Autonomy

Control of your own life — at the very least have the belief that you can affect your experience and actions — is important. It has been shown that when people get to make their own decisions (they are autonomous), the motivation to follow up and execute those decisions is much stronger. Arguably, because they have more personal meaning when the individual has a sense of freedom of action.

2. Competence

The belief that you can achieve your goals and be competent is essential — if you believe you can do and achieve your fantasies and goals the future becomes a brilliant wonderland of opportunities. If the future is bright, then also the present is good. The book Homo Prospectus argues this well in one passage:

“Certainly, it is depressing for people to believe that they are no good, that the world is no good, and that this will always be the case. In contrast, if people think that they are no good and that the world is no good, but that this will change dramatically for the better tomorrow, this is not nearly as disheartening”. [2]

So the message here is, you don’t have to be competent today but rather believe that you can be competent in the future, basically that you can learn things. I believe the only way to achieve this sort of belief is by doing and simultaneously learning by doing.

3. Relatedness

Having real close relationships with other people in your life. Close friends and family are key, people you love to hang out with and you don’t have to put up any mask to be approved.

4. Benevolence

“Give and you shall receive”. It feels good to be of service to other people, to be kind and helpful. The idea being that by helping others you are actually helping yourself to a better life as well. We are social beings and empathy is a strong emotion that allows us to thrive through helping others.

And thats it, a short version of the Good Life. I’ll leave you with a quote from Aristotle:

“We are not studying in order to know what virtue is, but to become good, for otherwise there would be no profit in it” [4]

References:

[1] Frank Martela TedX talk on the meaning of life https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rdKBZbTCVFY

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Self-determination_theory

[3] Seligman, Martin E. P.. Homo Prospectus (p. 282). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.

[4] Aristotle. (NE II.2)

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Maximilian Rehn

Maximilian Rehn

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