What does it mean to live the good life?

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The mission of this blog (both you reading this, and myself in writing it) to create a foundation of healthy habits upon which to live the good life. I’ve started with a series of posts (Foundation 101) to introduce the 7 basic foundational practices of the good life. Today, I’d like to pause and explore what I mean when I talk about the good life.

First some history: Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

No discussion of the good life is complete without first acknowledging Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. 1 Abraham Maslow summarized his research on the physical and psychological needs of humans in a pyramid. He published his ideas in research journals and in books, starting in 19432.

Physiological needs form the base of the pyramid which each level building upon the next. Physiological, safety, love/belonging, esteem, and self-actualization

By J. Finkelstein (I created this work using Inkscape.) CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons

At the bottom, there are the things we need to simply survive – air, food, water, sleep, shelter. Maslow’s theory states that for those among us who are focused on survival, long-term thinking about “the good life” is more difficult. Immediate survival could take up all their thoughts and energy. We can see that our needs don’t stop after we meet our survival needs. We then shift our focus to our need to thrive. While the pyramid makes it look like a clear step-wise approach to our needs, Maslow himself stated that the order of needs is flexible depending on the person and situation 3. In general, though, once we know we are safe, both physically and mentally, we start thinking about the good life, even if that is not the language we use.

The Foundations for the Good Life Mindmap

Another way to think about this is with a mindmap.

Foundations for the Good Life: Eat, Move, Sleep, Savor, Connect, Grow, Care

That’s my handwriting, when I’m trying to be careful. 🙂

The 7 Foundations are roughly equal. They all work together to set us up for the good life. We might think of move, eat, and sleep as more physical actions. While savour, connect, grow, and care are more mental actions. But all 7 have both physical and mental effects. 4

But what exactly is the good life?

Every culture has its own specific rules or descriptions on what makes a good life. Sometimes these are written down, usually, they are unspoken cultural norms.

In our North American culture, it often seems like “the good life” is full of money, fame/infamy, influence, consumerism, a narrow definition of beauty, and a focus on short-term pleasure. Yet the life of a celebrity is no guarantee of living the good life.

One way to find “the good life” is to aim for actions and situations that bring true fulfillment and joy. Though some people avoid thinking about fulfillment and joy because they believe it is selfish, it really is not. The way we achieve fulfillment and joy is to do things for other people. When we act altruistically5, it makes us feel better about ourselves and the world. When we treat ourselves and others with compassion, it gives us a warmth that will bring us through the darkest of times. When we see joy, love, and accomplishment in another human being, we mirror those same emotions and feel better about our corner of the world.

It is difficult to define “the good life” because there are so many ways that a person can live the good life. They might be working long hours to provide financially for their family, or staying at home to take care of their family. They could have lots of children, few children, or no children. They could live a long, happy, charmed life, or a life filled with difficult challenges to overcome. They could live in a condo in the middle of a huge, bustling city, or in a home in the country.

These outer trappings do not define the good life, though they may describe it. The good life is defined by what drives people to make the decisions that they make. As I consider what values drive the good life, two things keep coming to mind: Compassion and Curiosity. These two principles are at the core of the common values: family, love, creativity, mindfulness, knowledge, balance, connection, wonder, self-improvement, altruism, integrity.


Keeping compassion and curiosity in mind when making decisions, confronting a challenge, or in the midst of a difficult situation, will lead us to the good life. Simple, but not easy6. I say this to remind myself, as much as to share with you; Compassion and curiosity are the keys to the good life.

Let me know:

How do you think about The Good Life? How do curiosity and compassion fit into your life?

  1. To refresh my memory, I used this article from Pursuit of Happiness .org and this article from Psychology today.
  2. Van Vliet, V. (2012). Abraham Maslow. Retrieved Sept 9, 2018 from ToolsHero: https://www.toolshero.com/toolsheroes/abraham-maslow/
  3. Via the Pursuit of Happiness article
  4. As we continue to go deeper into each of the 7 foundations, this idea will come up again.
  5. doing something purely for the benefit of another human being
  6. This phrase comes up so much in my reading. It is nearly a mantra. I’ve read it in Jon Kabat-Zinn’s work, specifically Mindfulness for Beginners. I’ve read in Leo Baubata’s work on zenhabits.net. I even read it in the current book I’m reading – The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown.

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