What’s the point in living a deliberate life? Are there certain approaches to life, which, if carefully crafted into the fabric of our lives, will ultimately leave us more satisfied when it comes time to look back over our days?
I believe there are. I believe that woven throughout our shared human experience, there are certain components that make up a life well lived, and we see them surface again and again in our great thinkers, art, and science.
Recognising these components, and considering how we deliberately build our lives around them, can, I believe, help us live our best lives.
Connected to purpose
As George Bernard Shaw so memorably put it in ‘Man and Superman’,–
This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap; the being a force of Nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.
We are happiest with a purpose towards which to direct our time, energy and passion.Even more than that, serving a purpose, rather than simply our own whims, is what is most likely to ensure our lives are ones that are well-lived; that leave the world better than we found it.
Being deprived of the chance to work, or to otherwise contribute to society through meaningful efforts such as parenting or volunteering, is, we all know, notoriously bad for a person’s sense of both self-esteem and satisfaction.
Living our most deliberate life means a life serving ‘a purpose recognised by yourself as a mighty one’.
Connected to others
What could possibly be more self-evident from every inch of human art and philosophy than the fact that, truly, love is the thing?
Not merely romantic love, of course, but all of the ways we build meaningful relationships with each other. Indeed, Oxford thinker and author C.S. Lewis famously talked of ’the four loves’, based on four Greek words – simple Affection such as enjoying another’s company, Friendship, Romantic love, and ‘Agape’ or true Selfless love and sacrifice for another.
Our connections with other are a critical component of a life well-lived.Choosing to craft a deliberate life is choosing to cultivate the health of these heart connections. Indeed, science is now finding that not only are our connections with others good for us emotionally, but mentally and physically as well, with one studyeven showing a 50% increased chance of longevity. There is now even ’social prescribing’, in which, as described by William Davis in ’The Happiness Industry’,“doctors recommend that individuals join a choir or voluntary organization… aimed at combating isolation and its tendency to lead to depression and chronic illness.”
Mostly though, we know deep down, as a society and as individuals, that if we come to the winter season of our lives only to look around and find we chosen either isolation or antagonism over affection, we will not have led our best life.
Positive connection with others is a key component of living a deliberate life.
Connected to identity
To craft a deliberate life, we must ultimately anchor our identity in something that isn’t transient.
Who would we be if we lost our jobs? Our looks? Our marriage?
Who are we, really?
Being able to answer that question in a way that can stand up to the vicissitudes of life – or at least being on the path towards being able to answer it better today than yesterday – is a key component of a life well-lived.
Eleanor Roosevelt said of a significant period of identity discovery in her own life –
Somewhere along the line of development we discover what we really are, and then we make our real decision for which we are responsible. Make that decision primarily for yourself because you can never really live anyone else’s life, not even your own child’s.
Connected to meaning
Finally, in order to craft a deliberate life which honours what matters to us most, we must be connected to meaning.
By that I mean, how do we determine what is true and good and worthy in life? The reference points we use to answer those kinds of questions are the source of our meaning. If we live a life in which we don’t give sufficient attention to the basis for our answers to these questions, we rob ourselves of the most profound experiences of life.
Viktor Emil Frankl was a Viennese born psychiatrist who was imprisoned in several Nazi concentration camps during the Holocaust, after he declined to escape to the USA on a valid visa so as not to abandon his parents. He survived, an went on to establish an extremely successful psychiatric treatment approach called ‘Logotherapy’, or meaning-based therapy. In his classic book reflecting on his time in the camps, ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’, he writes –
To be sure, man’s search for meaning may arouse inner tension rather than inner equilibrium. However, precisely such tension is an indispensable prerequisite of mental health. There is nothing in the world, I venture to say, that would so effectively help one to survive even the worst conditions as the knowledge that there is a meaning in one’s life. There is much wisdom in the words of Nietzsche: “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.”…
There are some authors who contend that meanings and values are “nothing but defense mechanisms, reaction formations and sublimations.” But as for myself, I would not be willing to live merely for the sake of my “defense mechanisms,” nor would I be ready to die merely for the sake of my “reaction formations.” Man, however, is able to live and even to die for the sake of his ideals and values!
Being connected to meaning worth living for is foundational to living a deliberate life.
A live that is crafted around these key components doesn’t happen by accident. It is worth our time and attention to choose to deliberately nurture these critical components of a well-lived life.