The Good Life
The American Dream, the land of milk and honey, the good life. Almost everyone wants these things, but how can they be attained? Traditionally, a family of four with the father working, the mother at home, and two children making high grades in their classes embodies the American good life. More recently, people thought it consisted of a family with a teenager in several honors classes, both parents working high-end, white collar jobs, and all three supplied with Steve Jobs’ latest gadget. However, people with a good family, a steady job, and a plethora of Apple devices are often unhappy, so these stereotypical examples are clearly inaccurate definitions of the good life.
The good life cannot be defined by material wealth or temporary pleasure—depression-haunted celebrities prove that beyond a doubt. Thus, the good life must be something very different and separate from our culture’s assumptions. The good life must be lived through the will of God, responsible financial decisions, and fiscal contributions to those who need them. The first step to truly living the good life is following God’s call. Not every Christian will be materially blessed, as shown by the early Christians’ suffering, but all will be spiritually blessed. Obeying the will of God, no matter how the circumstances appear, leads to the good life.
Few realize this more than Martin Luther King Jr. and Saint Paul. Both of these men followed God’s path and lived the good life. By answering God’s call to save his people from the torments of segregation and prejudice, King lived the good life. As iterated in his “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” segregation is “morally wrong and sinful,” and since God calls us to battle such evil, King followed God’s command to stand against segregation.
He lived the good life by inspiring his people and his nation to end injustice and segregation. Saint Paul, one of the most renowned leaders in history, concurred with this, stating that he had “run the good race” by following God’s leadership. Both King and Paul experienced physical trials, but through their openness to God’s guidance, they lived the good life. To live the good life requires that we be good stewards of our finances. We must avoid debt and spend within our means.
It is entirely fruitless and damaging to buy things we cannot afford, because doing so disables us from buying necessities and often plunges us into debt. No one, not kings or congressmen or presidents, can live a good, enjoyable life while swamped in debt. Furthermore, overspending leads directly to stress and can escalate into disabling credit history. As renowned philosopher Henry David Thoreau stated in his book Walden, “we must learn to keep [our] accounts on [our] thumbnail” and “simplify, simplify” our financial situation. He believed that is how to “live deep and suck out all the marrow of life,” and it is how he lived the good life. Frivolously wasting money not only makes us unable to enjoy life, but it disables us from executing another step to the good life: financially assisting others in need.
We have the personal responsibility to help the poor. Obligating us to give to the less fortunate, nature itself realizes the importance of altruism. What popular culture has dubbed our “conscience,” the innate, inner voice that knows right from wrong, screams in pain when we ignore the needy. Everyone may not be able to donate immense amounts of money, but since the destitute widow in the New Testament contributed her last penny, what stingy excuse do we have? As bioethicist Peter Singer showed in his essay “The Singer Solution to World Poverty,” $200 can save an African child’s life. Singer, nature, and the Bible all agree that it is our responsibility to give this money whenever possible.
Furthermore, the Bible states that “it is better to give than to receive,” meaning that giving significantly benefits the giver. This is proven by virtually every philanthropist’s story. From the fictional March sisters’ famously-joyful donation of their Christmas breakfast, to Amy Carmichael’s content devotion to Indian orphans, givers are known for being cheerful. Thus, helping the poor and reaping the emotional awards that follow opens the door to the good life. However, despite the goodness of giving to the poor, we must not hyperextend ourselves because this will sacrifice others’ happiness and destroy the purpose.
It would not help starving orphans, human trafficking victims, or China’s oppressed if we gave so much that we financially crippled ourselves and required the giving of others. This would be entirely counterproductive, as proven by the aid fiasco after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Volunteer rescue workers, some miserably unprepared, poured into Haiti. These volunteers foundered and were forced to survive on other organizations’ supplies intended for the Haitians. Through their unprepared, unrealistic benevolence, they essentially stole from the victims. In reaching beyond our means, whether physically, like the unprepared rescue workers, or financially, by spending money we cannot afford, we make ourselves hindrances.
As philosopher Bertrand Russell asserted in his book The Conquest of Happiness, a happy person “feels himself a citizen of the universe. Since a country cannot function with its citizens abased by overspending, the universe cannot either. We should give substantially, but not so much that we become useless. So how can we live the good life? Four steps are imperative: 1. Follow God’s calling, 2.
Give to others, 3. Be a good steward, 4. Do not overextend yourself. Without God’s purpose for us, we are lost. This lack of purpose is one of the many reasons people sink into depression and is clearly not a way to the good life. Relieving the world’s overburdened and destitute is the second ingredient to the good life.
Helping others, lifting them out of life’s mire and misery, is a responsibility that we all carry. We were made, as shown by literature and life, to help each other. Furthermore, to avoid undue stress and emotional burdens, properly handling personal finances and being a good steward is imperative. We have the option to live the good life, and we all have the tools for it. We are all capable of following God’s direction and handling our finances wisely. The choice is yours.
Will you live the good life?