We all want to live a good life. It is what lies behind our desire for a good job, career, partner, family, home, a place in the world that is our own. We want to be healthy. The things we desire in life are the things we believe will give us a good life. We want the good life.
But once we start thinking about that, that thing that lies behind what we say we want, it brings up a lot of questions. What does it mean to live the good life? What do we actually need in order to build the good life?
What is health?
The idea of living the good life is also embedded in ideas about health. While we first think of physical health, and illness, health is a bigger topic than we sometimes give it credit for.
There are many aspects of health. Each dimension of health either adds to or takes away from our sense of general wellbeing. It’s possible to be extremely fit, but not feel well. If you’re feeling like your life lacks direction, or you feel isolated from other people, or you feel numb emotionally… Those are just as much a part of health as having a cold, or broken bone, or another physical ailment.
Looking around at the different ways health is described, there are 7 most common dimensions of health:
And that fits very nicely with my ideas about the good life.
What is the Good Life?
Given that health has many dimensions, it is only natural that that good life would have many dimensions as well. In fact, if we take those 7 dimensions of health, we can expand them into 7 descriptions of the good life.
The good life includes:
- Having enough energy and strength to be part of this world (physical health)
- Experiencing the breadth of human emotions and also feeling grounded at your core (emotional health)
- Learning, expanding your understanding of the world around you, practicing new skills and building mastery in the skills you already have (intellectual health)
- Feeling a sense of meaning and purpose and working towards a larger goal (occupational health) 1
- Being a part of a community and feeling connected to those around you (social health)
- Having clean drinking water and air to breathe and a safe environment (environmental health)
- Feeling a part of something greater than yourself and knowing that you are intimately connected to other beings and the planet (spiritual health)2
I believe the good life is characterized by a sense of curiosity and compassion, and a desire to make a difference in some way. The good life is grounded in our connection to other people and a deep understanding of ourselves as individuals.
What are the Foundations?
The foundations, as mentioned in the name of this site, are the basic foundational habits that allow us the opportunity to live the good life. They are the foundations upon which we build the good life.
We need food to survive. It is a simple fact. The “better” a person eats the more likely they are to have good physical and mental health.
I say “better,” in quotation marks, because there is not just one way to eat well. If you ever hear someone saying that their way is the only right way, chances are good that they are wrong.
We are omnivores. We can survive and thrive eating in many different ways. Add to that individual differences in how our bodies work – due to genetics, environment, health, or other factors… It is just not possible that there is only one right way for a human to eat.
What works for one of us may not work for all of us
Let’s look at a single example – breakfast.
We could have two people eat 2 eggs for breakfast. One person could be satisfied with that until lunch. The other person could be ravenous by midmorning.
The same thing could happen if you give two people oatmeal. Or only allow them to have coffee…
Sure, it’s possible that they would both react the same way. But they could also react in completely opposite ways. That doesn’t mean that one person is wrong. It just means that their bodies respond differently.
And that’s just looking at a single meal. When you scale that up to consider everything a person eats and drinks in a single day or year or life? It’s ridiculous to think that there is one diet to rule them all.
What does eating well look like?
That being we do know that “better” ways of eating have several things in common.
- Fewer processed foods.
- More plants – fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and beans
- They are full of flavour from the food itself, spices, and herbs
- If meat is included, it is in smaller portions, as more of a flavour, garnish or side dish than the main star
- Often includes fish
- Usually 3 meals and sometimes 1-2 snacks between
- Families cook and eat together
- Food is savoured and enjoyed
- People are not concerned about nutrition per se, but do aim for quality, tasty foods and balanced meals.
- Traditions are important
If you want to improve how you eat, these are intentions I encourage you to hold, directions to move towards.
Similar to the discussion about how to eat well, there is no one right way to be active. The best activity is the one that you will do. And the best predictor of whether you will be active is that you enjoy what you do.
Find what you enjoy. What makes you feel energized or strong? What allows your mind to settle when you are frustrated, upset or agitated? What feels good in your body?
There are a few basic types of activity and they all have slightly different benefits to our body.
3 Kinds of Movement
- Heart rate increasing (aka cardio)
- Flexibility or stretching
Many types of movement include more than one of these. Yoga is both strengthening and stretching. Swimming is both strengthening and increases your heart rate.
If you are active, and are doing all 3 types of movement, and you enjoy it, then you are doing great!
If you are not doing all three types of movement, or you don’t like the exercise you do, then you may have room for improvement. Is there something you might enjoy more? Is there something you could try that would include different types of movement?
And if you are not in a place where you can increase or change what activity you are doing, then do what you can, when you can.
Just like there is no one right way to eat, there is no one right way to move. Whatever way you move your body, in whatever amount and intensity that you can do repeatedly, that is a good way to be active.
Our society downplays the importance of rest. We often feel like we need to do more and more. We can’t forget though, that we aren’t machines.
We need to rest, sleep, play, get bored, and reflect. These aren’t just “nice to have”, they are, in fact, needs.
Of course, we’re going to go through periods of life when we sleep less. We’re going to have times when we need to get things done and we have less time to play.
But when that time has passed, we need to remember to pause. We’ll need a little extra time to rest after we get through those busy seasons of life.
To grow is about learning. It’s about learning from mistakes. About learning more of who you are. It is about developing new skills and growing in mastery of the skills you already have.
I remember my dad saying more than a few times that the meaning of life is learning and love. He was talking about how to grow as a person. The state of being alive means that you are learning in some way. We just need to be aware and open to it.
We are constantly growing
We grow when we figure out what has been keeping us from following a habit or reaching a goal and we resolve that problem.
When we change our behaviours and develop new habits, we are growing.
We can evolve and grow as a human being. We can realize where we’ve hurt others (or ourselves) in the past and show more compassion in the future. We can become more connected to those around us.
Developing new skills or getting better at skills we already have are a great way to grow. It builds a sense of mastery and competence. It’s that sense that we know what we are doing and that we are good at it.
Being connected to other people. Belonging to a group. Being there when other people need you. And having people to turn to when you need support. This is a crucial part of the good life.
Connecting deeply to the people in your life whom you trust.
Taking a moment to connect and really see the person in front of you.
Showing compassion for people – knowing they are in pain and trying to do something to help. Even if that something is as simple as looking them in the eyes, taking a deep breath, and letting them know, “I see you. I know that this is hard.”
This is also closely related to mindset.
Mindset. It is such a big, vague word. And yet it is perhaps the most important piece of all.
You could eat a so-called “perfect” diet. But if you are doing it out of a misguided belief that it is the only way that you could be worthy of acceptance, then it is not healthy.
You could be connected with other people, but if those people negatively affect your state of mind, that’s not healthy either.
Perfectionism. Procrastination. Anxiety. Depression. These are all based on an unhelpful mindset.4 And of course, the self-blame that you might feel after reading that sentence is also unhelpful. And so is blaming yourself for blaming yourself.
We all have some sort of tendency in our minds that is unhelpful. But we can grow beyond those self-limiting beliefs. We can learn our tendencies and see the thought patterns as they arise – or at least a lot quicker than we once could.
We can change our mindset
We can continue to shift towards more helpful mindsets, like compassion, curiosity, gratitude, mindfulness, intuition… Mindset is the way that we look at the world. It how we understand and interpret what is happening. Mindset is how we approach everything.
This is the master habit. Understanding our own minds; the ways we instinctively react to particular situations, states, or ideas. If we know how to best approach any other habit or any situation – based on our own particular tendencies and background – we have a distinct advantage compared to how we used to move through life.
There are several dimensions of health, which correspond to several aspects of the Good Life. It’s more than just having the “right” job, or being in good physical shape, or having a perfect home. It’s all about the bigger picture – how all aspects of our lives affect one another. It’s about a sense of balance, curiosity, energy, and compassion. It’s about having a purpose to what we do. It about having people that we care about.
By improving, expanding, and understanding these basics, we give ourselves a better shot at living the life we know we want. We have a better chance at the satisfaction and joy that comes from living the Good Life.
This is my philosophy. It is ever evolving. And it has evolved and refined more over the past year of blogging than ever before.
I invite you to join me on this journey. To explore those habits and mindsets. And to help me test out tools and ideas to help you with your Foundations for the Good Life.
Let me know in the comments below: What thoughts does this provoke for you? What do you believe you most need right now to bring you closer to the Good Life?
Until next time, be good.5
You are reading this because you are interested in improving your life. That means we have something in common. I’m still working on what the Foundations for the Good Life is all about, and I’d love for you to join me in this journey. I’d love to build a community with you. With people who are trying to figure out what “the good life” means, and how to set up their life to make it possible for them.
If this interests you, join the newsletter to be the first to know about updates, new articles, and to try out tools as they are developed and improved. I hope to connect with you soon.
- This could be a job, a career, or a role that you play in your family or community, perhaps through volunteering
- Your spiritual health needs might be met through religion, philosophy, experiencing nature or beauty, scientific exploration and knowledge, or any number of ways that you can experience moments of awe and connection.
- For the purposes of navigation around this site, I have ‘connect’ combined with mindset.
- If you are struggling with these mindsets, there are ways to get help – a mental health worker will be your best source of help. They might be called a counsellor, a therapist, or a psychologist. If you are feeling stuck, reach out to your health care team or primary care provider and ask where you can get help.
- I was a teenager when I first remember my mom saying, “Be good,” when I left the house. When I left for university, and to this day, she ends most of our conversations in the same way.
Yes, she meant, ‘I love you’ and ‘stay out of trouble.’ But she also meant, ‘do what’s right.’ Follow what you know to be true for you. Learn from life and how to do things better.
Now that I’m trying to understand and evolve my philosophy of life; Now that I’m trying to help other people strive toward living the good life; I want to share that phrase, “Be good,” with you. Be good. Live the good life in whatever way you define that for yourself.