"Imagine a ladder with steps numbered from 0 at the bottom to 10 at the top .... On which step do 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?" (From the Happy Planet Index 2.0, July 2009.)
This question has been asked of people around the world, and researchers are finding that while feelings of happiness are intangible, measurements of happiness are valid and reliable across time and across cultures. In other words, people know how happy they are.
Discussions of the good life are as old as dirt, and have occurred for thousands of years in both religious and non-religious contexts. The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle had a lot to say about the good life. He saw the relationship between living well and doing good and how these connected to our deepest sense of fulfillment. He even discussed the issue of financing the good life and appropriate consumption! (For a modern interpretation of Aristotle, check out James O'Toole's book, Creating the Good Life.)
The findings from recent happiness studies, Aristotle, and other philosophers overlap in many respects. We have compiled a list of those elements identified as part of the good life for more than two thousand years:
To pursue these things, we need certain resources including time, energy, opportunity, along with certain skills and awarenesses. In the U.S. much of our time and energy goes towards working so we can afford to consume. According to the Ecological Footprint, citizens of the U.S. are the biggest consumers in the world, sharing this dubious honor with folks from Luxembourg and United Arab Emirates. This is in contrast to Costa Ricans who are some of the happiest people on earth with about one quarter of our consumption. People from the happiest industrialized country, the Netherlands, use one half of what North Americans use.
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:
How do we consume less in a culture that is totally oriented toward more? There are a number of movements that touch upon these themes including voluntary simplicity, small footprint living, minimalism, and (our personal favorite) the slow life.
Our purpose with Create The Good Life is to find the tools and the ideas that help support individuals, groups, and small businesses chart their path to the good life. As part of that we wanted to share our thinking with you through this newsletter, and offer our readers ways to explore and experiment within their own life each month. We welcome your thoughts, stories, and feedback and hope you find this fun and helpful.
On the Good Life Assessment Flower 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. Then you can connect the dots around the chart to get a picture of your general sense of well being.
Looking at your chart, identify one area where you would like to be happier. Brainstorm a few things you could do that you think would make this area of your life better which 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.
Beth and Eric
This monthly slow essay is from Beth Meredith & Eric Storm of Create The Good Life.
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