To tell the truth, I often agonize over how to spend my time: what is the right balance of work/play/socializing, etc etc etc. But there is something that helps me. The moral philosophers from Aristotle into the present day always ask what is the good–that which promotes man’s flourishing?
So I ask myself: what is good? What is flourishing? I think monks flourish. It’s no secret that I admire the avowed religious life very much. But I think everyday lay people in cities and countries can flourish too. So what’s that like?
But what are the actual daily activities that comprise a life well spent?
- Loving relationships-spouse, friends, children, parents, churches, organizations, civic life. The people we love tie us together and are worth spending time with and enjoying.
- Cooking and eating – food is part of life, and a good part. Cooking it, enjoying and it and sharing it combine an connection with the source of food and sustenance, enjoyment and community, a chance to share partake in those relationships mentioned in 1.
- Enjoying art – music, books, visual art, etc. Beautiful things, natural or man-made, invite us to appreciate life simply as it is and sometimes to contemplate the source of the beauty. Man-made art adds a layer of human reflection to contemplation.
- Maintaining the goods of our lives – our homes, our tools, our clothes, aspects of our communities etc. It shows care and gratitude to repair and clean the things that contribute to our lives. It keeps us grounded to provide for own physical needs and that of others.
- Creating – contributing our gifts to something new and meaningful, be it pottery, gardening, painting, writing, carpentry. This work also contributes to our community and engenders mutual flourishing
- Exercising – Care for the body that allows us to live and move is so important
- Being in nature, even if it’s just the yard or garden, or gazing at the sky from our city balcony. Watching and interacting with creation is both an appreciation of beauty, and it reminds us of what it real and the forces of the earth which are more powerful than we are.
- Spirituality – in addition to appreciating the beautiful and loving one another, to attempt to and to commune with God, the source of all, restorer of all and our own maker, is the simplest grounding there can be. (PS there is a short-cut, the sacraments, the Bible and the Catechism)
These are the basics, in my mind, and constitute the best way to structure each day. Meals combine the need for food with relationships. Art and maintenance can be enjoyed with others or done alone. Exercising is the same way. Ideally, we can make an economic living through meaningful work–not always, of course, and I feel for that. I hope that we still find ways to get some creation into life as well as exercise and nature. And the tie of all these, the vivifying principle is our relationship with God–something which I admit eluded me for a long time.
I actually believe it’s possible to incorporate most of these most days. Even if it doesn’t always work out, that’s okay. We just have to keep coming back to the goal.
Enjoying life is possible, in my opinion, doesn’t have to involve tons of material indulgence, though that isn’t necessarily excluded. Eating junk, sleeping a ton, buying cool stuff, zoning out in front of the TV or phone–may have their place at times, but they are not the goals of life nor the marks of a life well-lived.
It’s simple but hard and ultimately very good.
What do you think of this list? What would you add or take away?