"Imagine a ladder with steps numbered from 0 at the bottom to 10 at the top. Suppose that the top of the ladder represents the best possible life for you and the bottom of the ladder represents the worst possible life for you. On which step of the ladder would you say you personally feel you stand at this time, assuming that the higher the step the better you feel about your life, and the lower the step the worse you feel about it? Which step comes closest to the way you feel?" (From the Happy Planet Index 2.0, July 2009.)
This question has been asked of people around the world and interestingly researchers are finding that while happiness may be intangible, measures of happiness, also known as subjective well being (SWB), are valid and reliable across time and across cultures. In other words, people know how happy they are.
(We will be using the word happy to mean a sense of well being that one has over time, which is how the word is used in many of the studies and literature. Let's face it, subjective well being and SWB just aren't as fun a term as happy.)
Discussions about the good life are as old as dirt, and have occurred throughout history in both religious and non-religious contexts. (wikipedia.org "The_good_life" and wikipedia.org "Eudaimonia") Aristotle had a lot to say about the relationship between living well and doing good and how this connected to well being, fulfillment, and the deepest sense of happiness. He even discusses the issue of financing the good life and appropriate consumption! A modern interpretation of his thoughts can be found in James O'Toole's book, Creating the Good Life.
Not surprisingly, the findings from recent happiness studies and the ideas about the good life raised over more than two thousand years overlap in many respects. We have compiled the following lists of those elements that are frequently sited as composing a satisfying life:
In order to do these things, we need certain resources including time, energy, opportunity, as well as certain skills and mental frameworks. (You just don't see many overworked psychopaths living the good life, though surely there is a website and support group for them.) It turns out that in the United States much of our time and energy these days goes towards consuming. In fact, according to just about every metric, including one of our favorites, the Ecological Footprint, citizens of the U.S. are the biggest consumers in the world (along with folks from Luxembourg and United Arab Emirates). This is in contrast to Costa Ricans who are the happiest people on earth with about one quarter the consumption. People from the happiest industrialized country, the Netherlands, use one half of what Americans use. In fact, there is evidence to indicate that the high consumption in the U.S. has actually become an impediment to the good life for some people.
The expression "less is more" begs the question - more what? In terms of the good life, here are several things we have found to be true:
The question becomes how do we consume less in a culture that is totally oriented toward more? As we said, these are not new ideas. There are movements that touch upon similar themes including voluntary simplicity, small footprint living, and the slow life among others. Our goal is to identify and create the key frameworks, tools, and support that can help individuals, groups, and small businesses chart a good life path. Over the next few months we will be developing our website and services to reflect that. As part of the process we will be sharing our thinking with you through this newsletter. One of our goals is to offer ways to explore and experiment each time. We welcome your thoughts, stories, and feedback and hope you find this fun and helpful.
On the chart below indicate how happy you are in each area with 10 being VERY happy. You can add four other areas or goals that are important to you. You can connect the dots around the chart to get a picture of your general sense of well being.
Looking at your chart, can you identify a few areas where you would like to be happier? If so, brainstorm a few things you could do that you think would make you happier in those areas and that meet the following criteria:
--It is relatively easy and straightforward.
--You would look forward to doing it.
--It would not cause a decrease in satisfaction in other areas on the chart.
--Extra Credit: It would not involve buying more stuff.
This week experiment with implementing one of these ideas. Note how it impacts your satisfaction. Did it make you as happy as you thought? What were the obstacles? Were there any unintended consequences?
Congratulations on taking a step towards exploring what the good life means for you. We look forward to hearing from you on what you find.
Beth and Eric
This monthly slow blog essay is from Beth Meredith & Eric Storm of Create The Good Life.
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