What is “the good life” or La Dolce Vita as the Europeans call it? Is it jet-setting? Mixing with the beautiful people? Wearing Prada and Gucci? Living in a villa with an ocean view? These are all the benefits of wealth, but has it ever been proven that money buys happiness?
Life is a matter of choices, something like the customer in a cafeteria who chooses dishes as he passes down the line. But the choices we make in life are critical to our happiness and our future.
“The good life” means different things to different people, and the older you get, the less you define it in material terms. I feel I am living it now because of what I have acquired during my long life – not riches, but choices I made because of lessons people taught me along the way. I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I’ve always loved the Chinese proverb: “A bird does not sing because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song.”
Never laugh at anyone’s dreams: I learned that when I was 16, and met a Scottish lady in Australia named Esther Patterson, a famous artist and member of the Royal Academy. Apart from my mother, she was the only person I confided in about my dream to be a writer. She gave me so much encouragement and support that I was able to follow my dream my whole lifetime, taking rejections in stride and confident of one day reaching my goal. I have never forgotten this wonderful woman, and my novel Esther is dedicated to her memory.
Identify and pursue your true passions: If you want something badly enough, you’ll attain it. The world is full of amazing people who achieved their goals in spite of difficulties. Take Gen. Colin Powell, who became chairman of the US Joint Chief of Staff. He was a black man, son of Jamaican immigrants who grew up in the South Bronx, one of the worst slums in America. But he was proud of his heritage, and instead of letting it be his problem, he let it be other peoples’ problem – if they were racist. He never allowed himself the victim mentality, which implied that nobody was personally responsible for his life. He lived life in his own skin.
Great achievements involve great risks: At the Wimbledon Tennis Tournament in 1990, 16-year-old Monica Seles had to play Zina Garrison. Because she was scared, she was going for the safe shots only. Garrison played an offensive game that resulted in advantage, game, set and match. Seles said it taught her a lesson: better to perform to your potential than to concentrate on minimizing your losses.
Cus d’Amato, a legendary boxing trainer, once said: “Heroes and cowards feel exactly the same fear. Heroes just react to it differently.” If you focus on the positive, that image in your mind fires the nervous system the same way as actually doing it.
Learn from your mistakes: We all make them, but you should take immediate steps to correct them. Disappointment always precedes success. What’s important when you lose is not to lose the lesson!
The many small steps that contributed to my feeling of living the good life have all been learned from people I met at different times. Generosity makes the giver feel good; so cheerfully give people more than they expect. Say “I love you” when you feel it in your heart. Learn the 3 R’s – respect for self; respect for others, and responsibility for your actions.
To engender good feelings, stop and have a conversation with an elderly neighbor or a lonely child. Be gentle with the earth and enjoy the beauty of growing things. Pray when you need to... not just to ask for more, but to express gratitude for what you have.
“The unexamined life is not worth living,” Socrates wrote over 2,500 years ago. So reflect on yours, and where you see you could have done better, try to make amends. Treasure your friends, because as John Lennon sang: “I get by with a little help from my friends.”
You will feel that you are living the good life if you have accomplished more than you ever thought you could. It should be an exciting adventure that constantly challenges, rewards and rejuvenates you. We only have one life to live. Let’s try to leave the world better than we found it. ■
The writer is the author of 14 books. Her latest novel is Searching for Sarah.