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Thursday, December 1, 2011

Are You Living the Good Life?

The good life -- affluence, luxury, prosperity. As we acquire material possessions, we associate our worldly worth with accumulating real estate, dollar bills, expensive amusements, and all the trimmings that enhance our social status and our personal standing. We work diligently to "rise above" mediocre standards and to enjoy the quality fruits of our hard labor.

In our eyes, these valuable things make life "special," both satisfying and increasingly enjoyable. Of course, we generously share our good fortune with family and friends as we live our time on earth, and we hope that our loved ones will greatly benefit after we die from those chattels we have accumulated.

We live while pondering the cliche "He/She who dies with the most toys wins." Never has this philosophy been embraced more than now. In the United States, good jobs and money are scarce, and competition for advancement is keen. We toil to get "a leg up" so they can afford expensive homes, automobiles, and other costly components of the American Dream. And, in order to maintain high standards while ornamenting a simple life, we must often use whatever means necessary (within law and reason) to get distance from the pack. We all know this as "the way of the world."

In addition to a strong will to acquire our own share of material goods, most of us Americans have a high tolerance for income inequality. Our attitudes focus on equality of opportunity instead of fairness in equal outcomes. Among Americans, differences of opinion about inequality usually center on whether poor people deserve help and sympathy or whether they should instead pull themselves up by their own bootstraps.

Income inequality has been rising since the late 1970s, and now rests at a level not seen since the Gilded Age—roughly 1870 to 1900. In reality, now the gap between America's rich and poor is so extreme that levels of inequality are worse in the land of the free than they are in many developing countries. Figures show the U.S. ranks way behind the European Union and the United Kingdom in terms of inequality of pay.

According to Elizabeth Gudrais...

"Research indicates that high inequality reverberates 
through societies on multiple levels, 
correlating with, if not causing, more crime, less happiness, 
poorer mental and physical health, 
less racial harmony, and less civic and political participation. 
Tax policy and social-welfare programs, 
then, take on importance far beyond determining 
how much income people hold onto. 
The level of inequality we allow represents our answer
to 'a very important question,'says Nancy Krieger, 
professor of society, human development, and health at Harvard School of Public Health 
'What kind of society do we want to live in?'"

(Elizabeth Gudrais, "Unequal America," Harvard Magazine, July-August 2008)

I think the question should be "What kind of society do we want everyone to live in?" I think we all know the answer. In risk of sounding like a preacher or a soapbox orator, I believe the best rewards in life are "the little things."  Yes, most of us are well-meaning capitalists chasing after stacks of legal tender; however, we understand, deep down, that "the good life" is something money cannot buy.

Despite our good intentions (especially evident in token giving around the Christmas season), most of us are perfectly content to let the Scrooge side of our nature dominate our daily lives. As long as we live on the high ground, above the gap and above the poor, we continue to invest in our kingdoms of real property. We may feel it necessary to drop a crumb every now and then to those we don't know, but we tend to file these people in the back of our minds under tabs like scumbags, dumb-ass hillbillies, and welfare queens.

It astounds me to see the trappings of those who place so much value in materialism. When is "enough, enough?" I believe everyone needs some extras -- those things that make life more comfortable and complete. But, am I the only one who sees overindulgence in material accumulation as outright wasteful gluttony? And, does money really produce any joy and pleasure beyond its ability to allow the person who possesses it to engage in personal and selfish indulgence?

I realize nothing about our quest for "the good life" is going to change dramatically because we are basically people programmed to "take care of our own." I'm sure this behavior is likely Darwinian in nature and somehow good for the survival of the species. Yet, I am interesting in inviting those living in luxury to consider the importance of their non-monetary expenditures and investments.

Maybe I am not the right person to render advice. After all, I know the mansion, the BMW, and the world vacation are well beyond my budget. I do not wish to acquire many luxuries, and I do not feel shorted  by living my life without them. In truth, I think I live pretty well on a meager income. I admit I desire certain nice possessions (within limits) and I do already have most of these extras I desire. I realize that I, too, could live with less. Maybe my life would be just as rewarding with fewer possessions.

I just don't understand the desire to get to the top of life by spending and acquiring. Does it really make sense to think that money secures happiness? A person with a seemingly unlimited supply of money to spend does not impress me with his rich station. And, a person who acquires expensive worldly goods to make his/her estate lavish does not impress me either. Status, in my mind, is acquired through kindness, love, and simple virtues. Good life can be independent of monetary prosperity. 

I want to consider the best feelings that anyone can experience. Volumes have been written about subjects such as family, religion, and friends. Without spending words in familiar phrases by lifting the value of these things, I want to write about the worth of simple, often spontaneous and fleeting feelings of joy and meaning. In my memory none of these experiences required that I spend money or live in great fortune. I have received these gifts from and given these gifts to those of all economic standards, creeds, and colors.

These things always make "the good life" come alive to me. I hope I am able to experience them until my last breath. I guess you could say I am greedy about them. And, I hope everyone in society can have the opportunity to let all of them enrich their lives. See what you think.

The Great 28 For "The Good Life"

1. A needed touch,
2. A thankful word,
3. A note of sincerity,
4. A special kiss,
5. A heartfelt smile,
6. A kind expression,
7. A view of understanding eyes,
8. An unconstrained laugh,
9. A meaningful song,
10. A sharing of food or drink,
11. A happy anticipation,
12. An unexpected surprise,
13. A ray of sunshine, a drop of rain, a cold chill -- a natural connection,
14. A moment of pride,
15. A restful sleep,
16. A new understanding,
17. A simple accomplishment,
18. A deep recollection,
19. A forgotten memory,
20. A given favor,
21. A promise of forgiveness,
22. A gathering of friends,
23. A moment alone,
24. A flame of desire,
25. A carefree moment,
26. A rush of freedom,
27. A touch of healing,
28. An answered prayer.

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