What makes a good life?

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So, what makes a good life? This excellent question was raised by one of my amazing clients during a session this week. Therapy is all about reflecting, and it’s my job as the therapist to provide a kind of mirror to my clients, which helps them to see their lives and themselves differently. One of the great things about my work is that sometimes this works both ways – this question is an example of how my client made me reflect on my life (and life in general), too.

Turns out that what makes a good life has been a common theme of discussion for thousands of years. Many Western philosophers have contemplated this question – this article takes a quick look at just a few.

Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle

Three of the most famous Greek philosophers came up with detailed theories surrounding this topic:

Socrates was all about contemplation and self-reflection, with an inward focus. He believed that examining oneself, questioning life and thinking about things with an open, expanding mind are the most important aspects of a good life.

For Plato, a special kind of wisdom is what makes a good life. It is a wisdom that brings happiness by considering life as a whole, creating order, and aiming to bring “goodness” into all aspects of that life.

Aristotle argued for a good life is all about practising the higher faculty of logic and reason, mostly by engaging in academic inquiry. For him, it was studying and discussing the arts, especially philosophy, and engaging in scientific research that was the essential components of a good life.

These three incredible thinkers challenged one another’s ideas, but all encouraged original, individual thought.

Kant and Nietzsche

Jump forward a millennium or two and you encounter Immanuel Kant, one of the most influential thinkers who ever lived. He propounded an individual morality (that applied to everyone universally, and which would thus create a societal morality). For Kant, rationality and consciousness within individuals were to be prized. His moral code dictated that all sentient creatures have a kind of fundamental dignity that should always be treated with the utmost respect, whether in the self or others. And this means that every person on the planet should be treated as an end in themselves, and never as the means to an end.

A compatriot of Kant, Nietzsche philosophized a good life centred around creating your values to live authentically and with personal power.  He considered that a free person is someone with enough self-respect to stand for oneself, and have faith in oneself because you are all you have. He considered a good life to be one without fear or the need to bow down to higher powers and false idols.

Their ideas shaped our reality

All these philosophies (amongst others of course) hold far-reaching concepts that have shaped modern thinking, higher education, and the realities of the western world of today.

Self-reflection is key 

Whatever philosophy you subscribe to, the common thread in all these ideas is that taking the time to reflect deeply upon yourself, is important. You make your own decisions about how life should be lived, at least on an individual level. And the personal choices that follow from these decisions are in your hands.

This life is time-limited

Even if you believe that you have many lives, the fact is the one you know about for sure is this one. And it is time-limited. None of us knows exactly when we are going to die, but we know we will die at some point. Until then, we can all decide for ourselves exactly what makes a good life for us.

BFB Success Formula: How to work out what makes a good life

  1. Seriously ask yourself the question: what makes a good life for me?
  2. Consider your own personal values, which should align with your answers to the first question. If you’re not sure what your values are, exactly, then have a look at this exercise.
  3. Think about how you can apply your own personal understanding of what makes a good life for you, to your daily habits and routines.

What makes a good life for you is in the here and now. The past is done and dusted, and the future exists only in your mind. So focus on your life today and do what you can do right here, right now, to live in a way that makes your life “a good life”.

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