In search of the good life

  • Letters
  • Tuesday, 13 Mar 2018

EVERYONE wants to have the good life, and everyone has his or her own idea of what it is and would try to live it accordingly.

Nevertheless, discerning, distilling and even incorporating into our own life some of the ingredients deemed as “the good life” by others might help improve the quality of our own good life.

It was with this in mind that I read The Good Life, a recent publication by Hugh Mackay, an Australian social researcher who is also a prolific and insightful author.

Mackay propounds that the good life is “one defined by our capacity for selflessness and our willingness to connect with others in a useful way.” Mackay is referring to a life characterised by goodness, morally praiseworthy, valuable in its impact on others and devoted to the common good.

It is my understanding that he constructs his version of the good life on the following premises: “We must learn to treat other people the way we ourselves would wish to be treated.” Mackay refers to this as “The Golden Rule” and recognises that virtually every philosophical and religious tradition ascribes to it.

Despite real life experiences that would make us think it may be more idealistic than practical, we nevertheless hold fast to and act on this golden rule consistently. When our efforts bear fruit, we will experience the true meaning of the good life.

The good life cannot be achieved by a quick-fix approach. Seeking the good life is not about acquiring material things that make us feel good temporarily. It is not about finding fleeting moments of happiness or manoeuvring and manipulating to reap some reward out of our goodness. We should pursue goodness for its own sake. Virtue is its own reward. The good life is an end in itself.

The key to a good life is to acknowledge that our essential nature is social, not individual. We are meant to live life in a community. We are members of one body. We can best realise our fullest potential not by working alone or individually but working with others.

In a social setting or community, our weakness is compensated by the strengths of others. Our strength in turn contributes to the vitality of our community.

In addition, we do well to live the good life if we respect others’ rights, respond to others’ needs and show concern for others’ wellbeing. We discover life’s deepest meaning through the experience of forming and nurturing personal relationships. This is what Mackay meant by “our willingness to connect with others in a useful way.”

The goodness of a life is about moral sensitivity and integrity rather than emotional wellbeing. This means the good life is not based on some assessment of how happy we are but depends primarily on how well we treat others regardless of how that makes us feel.

Mackay quotes Samuel Johnson: “Happiness is not found in self-contemplation. It is perceived only when it is reflected from another.”

Living the good life, we can be genuinely happy when we see others are happy because of what we have done for them. It is about our acts of love and kindness to others. Happiness is at best a by-product and not the goal of a well-lived life.

We should always be kind and loving to others. Let the spirit of loving kindness drive us in all our acts of humanity. We will reap the good life – rich, bountiful, benevolent, committed and fulfilling.

Of relevance and worth mentioning here is the on-going #StandTogether National Kindness Week campaign initiated by property developer SP Setia and R.AGE-Star in response to the spate of horrific bullying cases last year, “Schoolkids make a stand for kindness” (The Star, March 5). “The message is not to go up against the bullies – we are only against the act of bullying,” actress Lisa Surihani told students at SK Kota Dalam in Ayer Hitam, Johor which hosted the campaign recently.

Initiatives and messages like these will help to prepare and guide our youths to live the good life.



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