What defines a life well lived?

If you asked someone “Define a life well lived”, how would they respond?

Possible responses may include:

  • Having as much fun as possible
  • Plenty of good memories
  • Comfortable material situation
  • Well travelled
  • Well read
  • Leaving a legacy for family, for all humanity

Taking each in turn.

Having as much fun as possible

Fun is when you feel happy in a sustained way. Fun is about activity. Activity that produces feelings of happiness. Feelings come from inside and can be triggered by external events (or the interpretation of external events). External events don’t appear the same to everyone, e.g. not everyone likes the colour red, some people prefer reading as opposed to clubbing. So fun is based on your personal interpretation being positive. The reaction to your own responses to events. I don’t like the word, but it makes me think of mindfulness, or being aware of one’s thoughts and the kind of responses they trigger. So fun equates to responses to events and having the ability to interpret events in a way that makes you feel happy. The more events you interpret like this the more happy you become. I agree that a life lived in this reflective manner and putting a positive spin on things in a sustained way would contribute to a life well lived. Although my own tendency is to try to see things as they are, in reality we see things as we are. Nevertheless, the world is unpredictable and you don’t want to be putting some events in a ‘positive’ box and some in a ‘negative’ box so its more a case of being able to deal with everything life brings with a sense of peace.

Good Memories

When you do something, if you were paying attention at the time then afterwards you are able to remember something about the experience. If you were not paying attention, and instead thinking about something else, chances are you won’t remember. Memories are not the same as the actual experience otherwise when we remembered something it would be exactly the same as being there. Memories are a distortion of our experience of something that happened in the past. A memory gets stored in the brain in some configuration of synapses. That memory is then accessible. At first it is probably more accurately representation of the experience and then over time it fades. However, even in the first place when you were having the experience it was your interpretation of it. So the original memory was one step detached from reality. However, what would be the point of storing loads of extra information that wasn’t relevant to your own life? So the memory is a storage of an interpretation of an experience that was relevant to your own experience at the time. Through a process of recall you can then return to the memory, which is called nostalgia and reinterpret it- e.g. tell a new story about it to yourself or to someone else. That can upgrade the memory or if it has value to others also be helpful to their life experience. Memories are complex and interesting.

They are about:

  • Paying attention
  • Remembering (piecing together)
  • Interpreting your experience
  • Choosing to remember or forget
  • Knowing what is relevant
  • Telling stories
  • Strengthening, deepening, elaborating on memories to give more meaning
  • Sharing stories

Comfortable material situation

Humans are strange in that they have taken the use of tools to extremes. When I say tools I mean any kind of made object that is used for something. Objects afford some kind of experience. A bicycle allows mobility, fitness, freedom. A paintbrush allows the movement of paint on a canvas. A computer offers a space of thinking, arranging and researching. Without material possessions humans would be very weak. The human brain is strong and allows for the exploitation of materials into different forms. The brain contains ideas which map out objects and arrange them in such a way as to bring an objective. For example, cutting down a tree with a saw for timber and fashioning a chair in a workshop of tools made by many different people using special joining methods invented before by others to construct a 3 dimension cradling of the right amount of space for a human backside to sit in an the right amount of strength so that it is held in that position and takes the weight of the human off their legs which is the objective. Achieving weightlessness then affords other things like being able to focus or relax to regain energy, or invite guests round for dinner and allow them to be comfortable too. A comfortable material situation affords the possibility of experiences. It is a way of bringing ideas into the world, bringing together the ideas of others and a way of remembering - eg. a house that reminds you of your child hood or a book that reminds you of a journey you took.

Well travelled.

Travel is moving from A to B. It is going away from your normal geographical location and routines of movement. It is doing this repeatedly. Going to the same place each day and seeing the same objects and spaces causes a deepening of experience in that you should become familiar with some elements but notice more other things that you didn’t notice the first time around. Going to different places each day means that there is the opportunity that the external world is constantly challenging your own interpretations (or preconceptions). It may depend on your habits, but the first one may make you blank out the norm and see the strange in the norm and in between the norm. The second one might make you super aware of the everyday because of its ability to constantly change but then start to see patterns. So you might start to interpret a wealth of different information but not look into the details of any specific place. Or you might become an expert in a specific place. One might imagine that you could exhaust every detail by going to the same place repetitively, but it would be difficult because of the immense amount that the world exceeds and precedes your life - e.g. all the history of a place, of materials, of people, objects, non-humans. Seeing many different places, particularly very different places (exotic geography, animals etc) can undoubtedly cause you to be fascinated by the wealth of difference. An interesting point is how other people relate to you if you stay in one place with them or move to many different places, connecting with many different new people. You could move with someone else and get closer to them whilst touch on different people’s lives. You could move amongst many different people in the same place and know all of them quite well. Being well travelled as part of a life lived fully depends on how and what you did, and based on the other point, how much attention you paid, how much and what you remember and how you shared your memories.

To conclude travelling boils down to

  • depth of experience
  • being amazed by new things
  • ways of connecting with other people, places and objects.

Well read

Books are words that people put down in usually large quantities that pass on information that they consider valuable in some way. Books often take a long time to write and require some level of recall of memories, research, and experience. Based on the fact that humans are limited beings with limited lifespans and potential for experience, books offer a chance to learn about other paths in life that either aren’t, weren’t, won’t be or could be accessible to your own life. They could provide knowledge that allows you to build on top of what others who went through certain experiences and made decisions about it. Those people may have had the benefit of a different kind of upbringing, energy or chance to experience something that brought them to advance their understanding of the world. Understanding relates back to the point about interpreting experience in the sense that how you understand an event that is happening may affect how you respond to it. Hence being well read may allow you to respond in a particular way to life events that causes you to take one path and not another, whereas if you didn’t have that knowledge maybe you would have to go through an experience in order to learn something yourself. That experience might be costly in some way - e.g. take time, money or another kind of investment.

Being well read helps in life to

  • Respond better to life events
  • Make more informed decisions
  • Build on the knowledge of others
  • Be entertained
  • Get a viewpoint into life paths you will never lead

Leaving a legacy

A legacy is like a book in the sense that it is a body of work, but unlike a book made from paper bound with a cover, a legacy could be anything that is left behind after something is no longer acting in this world. In fact what is left being after those events continue to act on their behalf. So this might be a configuration of objects, structures, people, materials, ideas, knowledge that works together to influence those who interact with it. So like the aforementioned material possessions that afford certain things like the chair affording weightlessness, the legacy might afford something similar- like education, care, wealth. Legacies can be positive or negative, but as we are talking about a life well lived, we are probably talking about a positive legacy.

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