What is the ideal life?
What way should you live?
Do you want to have a life you can describe as happy? Complete? Fulfilled?
Do you follow on from what came before you or do you forge a new path?
Start a family or not? Put down roots or travel endlessly? Focus on acquiring or simply serving?
What is the ideal life? From one question comes many. A question that we’re all trying to answer, and at times feel under great pressure to answer. As we try to work it out, the foreboding of the future sometimes overshadows the enjoyment of the present.
“Sure, I’m happy now but I’m running out of time to get married/have children/start a business/write a novel/insert life goal. I’m running out of time to have the life I envisioned.”
Our response to these thoughts range from: “You’re overreacting, leave it alone and it’ll sort itself out” to: “If I don’t fix this in a week I’m a failure.” Of course, somewhere between the underreaction and the overreaction lies the rational response.
We can set up camp at that exact location by being clear about what it is we actually want. A problem well defined is a problem partially solved.
Take time to write down all those life goals and milestones you’ve been worrying about. Write down why each one is important to you and what the worst consequence of not achieving it is.
You might realise that some of those life goals you had a vague notion of don’t actually interest you much at all. You might realise they came from looking at other people’s lives too much.
What other people are doing can seem appealing, but we rarely see the whole picture. Visions often don’t turn out as envisioned. The louder and more frequently people need to proclaim their happiness, the more reliant they are on external validation for that happiness – they may not even be happy for the reasons they’re proclaiming. They may not be happy at all.
So, when we sit down to analyse the life we’re choosing to live we might come to the realisation that we’re not really choosing at all. Therein lies the value of the exercise – we can start to choose.
When you’ve written for long enough, it should start to become clear what your main priority is. What you want most. What you would regret not going after. It should also become clear which things require little further consideration.
When you know what your priority is it takes away some of the foreboding of the future. It refreshes you with present purpose. The present purpose of making a plan and getting after it.
There will be risk involved in getting after it and it will take courage to face that risk. If this wasn’t true you would have already completed what it is you’re setting out to do. But that challenge is exactly where the sense of purpose comes from.
The courage to face the short-term risks, to achieve a little at a time and keep going, is what leads to the long-term benefits, to the life you want to live. To the life you have chosen to live.
I can’t say for sure what the ideal life is, but I believe I know what it isn’t — doing nothing at all. The dream often perpetuated of lying in a hammock all day with no responsibilities or challenges to disturb you is a fallacy. It’s not really living. Sooner or later (probably sooner), the lack of purpose catches up. “The existential vacuum,” wrote Viktor Frankl. “Manifests itself mainly in a state of boredom.”
“What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for some goal worthy of him. What he needs is not the discharge of tension at any cost, but the call of a potential meaning waiting to be fulfilled by him.”Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning
Who can say what the ideal life is? You could read 1000 books, study philosophies east to west and still have no definitive answer.
The Stoics gave us great guidelines:
- Practice the four cardinal virtues: wisdom, courage, justice, temperance.
- Live in accordance with nature: be the best version of yourself.
- Remember we all exist for the sake of each other: help your fellow humans.
- Seek the good in everything that happens: Love your fate.
- Make the most of your time: constantly keep in mind that life is short.
It’s hard to argue with those, but so much else is subjective. The only thing that exists for you is your ideal life, you’re the one living it after all. It’s a short one, so why not put aside the time now to work out your priorities?
Get going with your present purpose. Don’t let some negative unforeseen future spoil your enjoyment of today – who knows, that unforeseen future may never make itself seen.
“How long are you going to wait before you demand the best for yourself?”Epictetus, Enchiridion 50