What is a Good Life? #17
Good day to you all,
Thanks again for your interest in this newsletter.
If this is your first time reading this newsletter, please click here for background information on the project and how it is structured (4 separate sections). Through following this weekly newsletter, I hope it gets easier to navigate one of life’s biggest questions.
The key theme this week is Flow. The interviewee speaks of the significance of accepting life as it is, while I reflect on some of the pitfalls of adopting a fixed/rigid approach to life.
1. This week’s interview – Flow and perception
Each week I share direct excerpts from an individual interview
This week’s interview is with David*. David is in the midst of a year-long sabbatical having previously worked in a senior role at a design agency. He discusses re-evaluating his approach to life and seeking more flow.
*Not the participants real name
What is a good life for you?
The first thing that comes to mind is being at ease with yourself, being at ease in your own body - working with yourself and not necessarily against yourself.
The second is having a sense that your life is meaningful, and that you are doing something meaningful. Something that fully engages me and my skills, that helps others, that gives me joy, that I do with passion, and it allows me to be creative in that endeavour. Number three is having the opportunity to share the experience of life with loved ones.
It's definitely not about success, money and what you’re achieving. It's reaching a state of contentment and flow with whatever is happening. You're not afraid of living, you are accepting whatever comes, sharing it fully with others, and enjoying both the ups and downs.
I've heard that line so many times, it’s not about success, etc., and yet there always seems to be a catch?
Absolutely, because it goes against everything that we're taught. It goes against how society is functioning at the moment. Most of the issues that we have come from continuously being caught between what you have to achieve and that you have to make something of yourself. We're continuously chasing something that is unattainable, because even if you have success, success is fleeting.
There’s a deeper wisdom that we're all aware of, but we don't allow ourselves to listen to the little voice that tells you, “no, that's not going to make you happy.” If we manage to listen to that voice and understand it, it unlocks a more authentic and genuine way of living. I'm nowhere near that state, but it's something that I aspire to - it's going to be a lifelong journey.
How has your idea of a good life evolved?
Two years ago, it would have been something like you are the master of your own perceptions, and you can conquer challenges in life by not letting yourself to be shaken by those challenges. It led to me consistently feeling burnt out, but I kept going, repeatedly putting myself through stressful experiences, as I thought I just need to move through them.
It was a very stoic outlook on life, where it's more about this idea that life is difficult, there are challenges, and you have to find a way to not let those challenges bother you so that you can move forward.
I now find that a very limiting or grim outlook on life, because I have this belief that you can reach a state where life simply flows. I'm not saying that it's going to be easy, but there’s a life in which you're not trying to climb the mountain at all times.
So instead of conquering life, your fears or situations, you’re flowing with life?
Exactly. The biggest difference is that the acceptance lies deeper, it doesn't need to be seen as an obstacle. You don't necessarily need to use force, or it doesn't need to be that hard.
You can shift your perception even more to see the beauty in what's happening. That gives you the means to deal with it in a more graceful way without perceiving life as a daunting experience. It's not necessarily what is happening, it's more about your internal experience.
There will be challenges, your demons will pop up time and again. But for me, a good life means that you have a sense that you're on the right path, you have a sense that your life in this moment, although you might be dealing with demons, is meaningful.
What else helps you to handle those difficult moments?
Having the tools and practices (meditation, journaling, reading) that allow you to slowly get out of that period are helpful. The most important thing when you’re in a period where you're lost, or in a state of confusion, is to not give into despair, to realise that also this period will pass, that's the most challenging part.
My very stoic view on life was that you're alone in your challenges, and you have to conquer them alone. But I now believe you definitely need people to help you, people that you care so deeply about, that you want to be there for them, this gives me strength. But also having people who you can share your struggles with in a very vulnerable way, this gives me strength too.
“Those who flow as life flows know they need no other force” - Lao Tzu
2. This week’s insight
Each week I share an overall insight from reviewing 100+ interviews collectively
Flow was mentioned by approximately 16% of the participants in this project as an important part of a good life. Flow was cited in numerous contexts: as an optimal work state, a means of experiencing greater creativity, and aligning with your true self or nature.
Numerous participants alluded to an inefficiency in terms of energy when resisting what life was bringing, and the benefits of adapting to what is unfolding. Many participants also noted a correlation between flow states and their perception and experience of time.
“Everything flows and nothing abides. Everything gives way and nothing stays fixed” - Heraclitus
3. This week’s reflection
Each week I share a personal reflection on the weekly theme
In recent years, I’ve experimented a lot with seeking my natural flow. I’ve had fixed routines in place for long periods, which bring my life many benefits. However, I’ve observed I can reach a point of joylessly maintaining these routines, heavily relying on willpower.
At other times, I’ve played with the complete opposite, applying no structure or routine and deciding on a daily basis what my day would consist of. Forcing very little (other than doing what I desired to do in the moment), could be liberating but also rather boundless and chaotic.
We live in a world that seeks to protect us from chaos by creating structure and order. However, our demonisation of low productivity or procrastination appears to be at odds with the continuous ebbs and flows of nature, and suggests a failure to recognise that we are part of the same cycle.
While I appreciate the many benefits that come from structure, it has become important for me to vary my approach to accommodate my natural internal flows and rhythms. It can be difficult to do, as it may seem at odds with prevailing wisdom, but we risk stifling much of our potential and energy if we continually try to impose a linear pattern on life.
“Dwell as near as possible to the channel in which your life flows” - Henry David Thoreau
4. This week’s questions for personal reflection
Each week I pose questions to support your own inquiry into what a good life is for you
To what extent do you feel flow in your life? What helps or hinders you in experiencing more flow?
Think of moments in your life where you completely lose track of time and become immersed in something you enjoy. What occurs in those moments?
That’s all for this week. I’d greatly appreciate you sharing this newsletter with your friends. I’d also really like to receive any feedback with suggestions for what you would like to see from these weekly updates. If you want to contact me directly, here’s my email and LinkedIn.
I’m a coach, based in Berlin (via Dublin, Ireland). I formerly had a 15-year career in Capital Markets, and for better or worse, I’ve convinced myself that I’m going to make a discovery around human thought / behaviour.
Waiting for my company to go public can be a daunting and sometimes demotivating process. It's in the down times where I can rely on my meditation, visualization techniques and listening to positive podcasts that get me back into flow.