Spring’s arrival always serves as a welcome reminder of the passage of time. It seems just last week we were shivering in piles of sweaters; now, the air tastes sweeter and warmer, the days are longer, and the trees are donning fresh buds. We are given a chance to reflect on the months past, to reconnect with ourselves and those we love, and to reorient our lives for the year ahead.
My own recent reflections have centered around the question: what is a life well-lived? Here, I surfaced a few artifacts, ideas, and practices that have recently guided me through this inquiry. I hope these bring you solace and self-understanding as they have for me—or, at the very least, provide some interesting mental fodder for these longer days.
In this charming essay, Annie Dillard urges us to live like a weasel, a creature who “lives in necessity” rather than floundering in an abundance of choice. So often, we are consumed by the hectic routines of our lives, by matters of what we “should” do rather than what we are called to do, that we lose sight of our true desires. Dillard reminds us to “grasp [our] one necessity and not let it go” and live authentically by only yielding to what is most important.
This piece by psychologist Gena Gorlin on her Substack, Building the Builders, has inched me out of my limiting perfectionist tendencies by separating the concept of perfection from perfectionism. By reframing perfection in Aristotelian terms as one’s individual excellence, or “potential fully actualized,” Gorlin argues that fighting for a “deeply personal vision of perfection” can help us achieve self-actualization rather than barring us from it. It presents a compelling vision of a realizable ideal: defining and pursuing our own standards of excellence rather than chasing after conventional narratives of an ever-elusive ideal.
Though we live in the most prosperous era in human history, humanity also seems to be suffering in new and unexplained ways. Why is this the case? Many of the most important components of a good life are intangible and immeasurable, and are thus often overlooked by those who seek to measure quality of life through purely rational or quantifiable means. This Reason podcast interview with Russ Roberts, economist and host of EconTalk, touches on some of the necessary virtues and conditions for a life well-lived, with a level of humility and self-awareness toward his profession that I admire:
"Dignity is hard to measure. A sense of self is hard to measure. Belonging is hard to measure. A feeling of transcendence is hard to measure. Mattering—that you are important, that people look to you. [These sorts of things are] about the life well-lived and they're not about getting the most out of your money. They're not about what the interest rates are next week. And economists truthfully have virtually nothing to say about these things."
Created by the family and friends of the late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, this online archive celebrates his life and shares some of his most inspirational thoughts. It begins with a memo Jobs wrote to himself in 2010, which I find to be a touching reminder of the interconnectedness of humanity:
I grow little of the food I eat, and of the little I do grow I did not breed or perfect the seeds.
I do not make any of my own clothing.
I speak a language I did not invent or refine.
I did not discover the mathematics I use.
I am protected by freedoms and laws I did not conceive of or legislate, and do not enforce or adjudicate.
I am moved by music I did not create myself.
When I needed medical attention, I was helpless to help myself survive.
I did not invent the transistor, the microprocessor, object oriented programming, or most of the technology I work with.
I love and admire my species, living and dead, and am totally dependent on them for my life and well being.
Few practices have improved the quality of my life more than walking daily, and I am far from the first to wax poetic about the magic of this ordinary practice. Hippocrates stated that walking is “man’s best medicine”; Nietzsche asserted that “all great thoughts are conceived while walking”; Kierkegaard claimed to know of “no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it.” Walking is the antidote to our frenetic world, a sacred time for ourselves, our thoughts, and our bodies.
Naturalist and philosopher Henry David Thoreau once delivered a lecture on this very topic, which was later published in The Atlantic after his death in 1862. I find that listening to the audio recording of this lecture—especially while walking—is a wonderful way to think about man’s relationship with nature and what we can learn about ourselves while wandering on foot.
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