What is a Good Life? #23
Good day to you all,
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).
The key theme this week is Family. The interviewee speaks about the importance and priority of family in his life, while I reflect on the complexity of family life.
1. This week’s interview
Each week I share direct excerpts from an individual interview
This week’s interview is with Tom. Tom is a Director at a global professional services company. He speaks about the importance of family.
*Not the participant’s real name
What is a good life for you?
For me, the first thing is, I don't know what a good life is. But I know for myself what a happy life is, and that happiness can come through so many different things. First and foremost is my family, my immediate family, and then extended family. That's what gives me so much fulfilment and happiness. And then from that you've got health and other things.
I know sometimes people hold themselves up, and it's such a competitive world we live in, but I'm not going to say it's having a nice house, car, or anything like that, because I don't consider that to be a good benchmark of how well you're doing. And it wouldn't interest me in comparing myself to others. I used to do that way more, but not as much now.
Can you talk to me about the significance of family in experiencing a good life?
A good life or something that I want to achieve in life is to have time with my family, quality time, and for my family to be happy and healthy. To give them as much as I can, that's comfortably ahead of my career. Yeah, I'm competitive and I do want to keep moving up but it's going to be way down the list in comparison to family. I would also say enjoying time with my extended family is very important, like my dad is 80 this year and it's mad to think of.
My wife lost her brother last year…it was horrific, very unfair. It does put things, and I'm not saying that to take something away from it, but it puts things into perspective. It has had a massive impact in terms of priorities in life… yeah, sorry, I just lost my train of thought…
I'd say the most fulfilling moments in my life would be when I spend a day with my family. It really would. It's as easy as that for me. Having a good day with my family, going for a walk, bringing my daughter out on her bike. It's very, very simple and I'm glad it is that simple.
I don't have to achieve anything; I don't have to run 50 kilometres or to take myself up a mountain to give myself that fulfilment. I can bring my daughter out in the evening or we can all go for a walk and go down by the strand and that's it.
What challenges do you face in terms of experiencing a good life?
I'd say the biggest challenge is myself when I slip into being negative or seeing things slightly differently. I'm very conscious of that, and I try to catch myself doing that, but sometimes I don't, or it takes me longer to catch myself.
I’ve noticed that sometimes if I'm not in good form, and everyone goes through phases obviously, but there's not being in good form and there's being negative, and they feel different to me.
But I think that comes with your own personal growth as well, you get better at observing that and you have coping mechanisms too. I have an amazing relationship with my wife and having someone to be able to talk to openly about that is really important, it’s a great support for handling challenging periods.
This last year, not seeing people, not seeing my extended family has been a massive challenge. I look up to my dad, and my mum, and I would miss them a lot, especially them not seeing our children. That’s been a big challenge this last year, not having what you get from those relationships, from actually physically seeing somebody.
If we were to talk again in 20 years’ time, and you are absolutely experiencing a good life, what would have contributed to that being the case?
I think if I continue on the path I'm on, I will be experiencing a good life at that point. I feel like I've got the ability to relax and to be content, and to recognise when I am content. I feel now I am experiencing a good life, like we all we all go through horrific points in life as well. But there's nothing that I feel I'm searching for, there's no absolute be all and end all place that I feel that I have to get to.
If I have a happy and healthy family, and I don't mean we're going to be walking around with big smiles on our faces for the next 20 years, more the average or aggregate of our experiences. I know health, that's outside of anyone's control but if I can get to that point where people I love are healthy, then I’ll have had a fulfilling life.
I think a big thing is, like I've said, I look up to my dad massively, and at the moment I've been thinking about it more, and it is just his age as well. I want to spend as much time as I can with my parents, and I want to make sure that I have no regrets. When you lose someone… there’s definitely regrets…and you just you don't want to have any. That would be a massive part of my future good life.
“A happy family is but an earlier heaven” - George Bernard Shaw
2. This week’s insight
Each week I share an overall insight from reviewing 100+ interviews collectively
Family was mentioned by approximately 48% of the participants in this project as an important part of a good life. For the sake of balance, there were numerous other participants who found family to be a source of difficulty.
Family was cited as both a primary source of purpose and support in life. Participants suggested family provided an environment where they felt they could fully be themselves. Family related moments were frequently mentioned when participants were asked to recall moments of fulfilment.
One of the most frequently given answers to a future paced question (20 years’ from now) around a good life was having a healthy family.
“Families are like branches on a tree. We grow in different directions yet our roots remain as one.” - Unknown
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3. This week’s reflection
Each week I share a personal reflection on the weekly theme
The idea of a perfect family life or perfect parents doesn’t do justice to the complexity and depth of family.
They are people that we never selected yet spent much of our formative and then volatile pubescent years with. Being very similar can be a curse to finding familial equilibrium, as can being very different.
While we can move from one romantic relationship to another, one friendship to another, there’s no clean cut nor completely fresh starts with family – we all remember something.
They are the few people who potentially know and have witnessed your full story / whole body of work. Overnight reinventions of yourself won’t fly here.
What’s more, given that most of us employ less of a filter (verbally and emotionally) with our families than we would in other social circumstances, they often see the very worst of us more often than others might.
And yet despite these conditions or circumstances, we also get to see the very best of each other play out - innumerable acts of love and kindness, repeated cycles of forgiveness and reconciliation, unwavering acts of support, resilience, loyalty, laughs, tears and affection.
There are similarities between your relationship with your family and your own self-development: death aside, there is no finish line and you have to keep showing up.
And just like your relationship with yourself, an awareness that you’re not perfect, nor is the person you’re dealing with, can go a long way to handling the inevitable peaks and troughs that come with the terrain of family life.
"A dysfunctional family is any family with more than one person in it" - Mary Karr
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
What do you appreciate most about your family members? How often do you express this?
Is there a family relationship of yours that is currently experiencing difficulty? What could you do to help resolve the situation?
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. If you want to contact me directly, here’s my email and LinkedIn.