What makes for a good life? A gentle reminder.
By Angie Reitlinger-Zorn
When you think about the span of a human’s life, it is arguable that the ingredients to a good life potion change over time, becoming more complex in textures, but shed of frivolous frosting.
When I think back to my time as a spotty teenager, certain I would live a much better life than my parents – filled with money, luxury, fame and a badass car – I cannot help thinking how shallow my perception of happiness was back then – and how completely unhappy I actually was most of the time. The key to a good life, or so I thought, was mainly appreciation and praise from others – may that be career-wise, family-wise or sex-wise. The life my parents lived seemed tremendously mundane, and escaping the ever-present abyss of financial struggles, as well as everyday life issues, was the most pivotal to accomplish. I wanted to be praised, to sit in talk shows and charmingly tell Ellen DeGeneres about my last trip to the Maldives with my eight-pack husband and my private jet (I would, actually, often practise for these interviews on the toilet whenever no one else was at home).
In my early twenties depression nibbled on my mind with yet more persistence, and despite my still-present wishes to get praise from the outside on a constant basis, I started to have an inkling that a public and shallow career for the sake of fame would probably not benefit my already fickle mind.
And yet, I idolised celebrities, convinced that the happy facades they portrayed in talk shows must stem from a most perfect life that was denied to me – an unfairness I could not quite forgive. Yet, it was never really the art that drew me in, the acting, the music-making, the dancing – but always the fame that I was sure would come with it, if ever I had the courage to pursue it (which, incidentally, I never did). The “humble” life, for me, was nothing short of an admission to failure and to become “just a teacher”, like my parents were, was a life so soporific to me I chased myself through many toils and snares on the quest to avoid it.
A “good life” was always just out of reach – the proverbial carrot dangling in front of a donkey. If only I had a boyfriend, I’d be happy and life would be good – but I got the most wonderful boyfriend, and still I wasn’t. If only I could live in England, life would be good – but I moved there and I still wasn’t all happy. If only I was prettier, if only I was slimmer, if only I was cleverer, if only I got a book published, if only I starred in a movie, if only they named the stars and planets after me…but a small voice inside my head kept telling me it would never be enough if a “good life” was to come from an exterior source. Despite this wise voice of reason more insistently popping up, I spent my early and mid-twenties kind of miserable, on the chase of what I still perceived to be necessary posts on the path to a good life.
So, barely scratching thirty years on this planet, what makes me the expert on a “good life” now to write all smugly about it? Well, as you may have formed the correct answer in your head already…Nothing. However, I realised a few things that helped incredibly on the quest to live the good life, brimming with happiness, joy and contentment amidst problems, sorrow and occasional days of despair.
First and foremost was my admissal that a good life does not equal an exclusively happy life – happiness as the predominant force is certainly an aspect of it, but eternal happiness is an oxymoron as such, as light can only appear bright with intervals of dark. Therefore, I am slowly accepting that not feeling happy does not mean I am failing at life – it just means I am living it. I often set myself unhealthy milestones, and now as a new mother I regularly feel I need to be “happy” all the time because I finally have my little girl. However, there are many days on which I simply feel tired, exhausted, overwhelmed (sometimes even terrified) and just don’t fancy walking around the flat with her on a loop because else she starts crying.
Parenthood, I find, is an especially guilt-ridden area when it comes to happiness, as it is suggested by society that our children must always make us happy. Anyone who actually has had a go at parenting will agree that happiness is as closely tied to having children as is regular despair.
Another key aspect to slowly inching towards a life I would call “good” was the acceptance that just because you crave fame and attention, it’s probably not healthy for you. Now I know that a life filled with bland attention and superficial fame would probably be the last nail to plummet me into a throat-deep depression. If something I love doing leads to attention and appreciation, it is infinitesimally better than deciding to do something just to become famous for it. The minute you crave attention and outer appreciation, you know it’s probably not a great idea for you – or at least I found this to be true for myself.
I can even give an example. I have loved writing my entire life and I scribbled short stories on paper long before I even knew there was something like paid authors. However, the minute I wrote to gain attention with it and be invited to talk shows, my passion for it ceased and became layered with pressure, stress and an unwillingness to sit down and concoct a story. The same held true for singing, sketching, blogging and many other things. The minute I saw fame or outer praise as the main incentive, it ceased being fun and became another weight on my shoulders.
Freeing myself from these superficial endeavours was (and still is) surely the most difficult obstacle to my good life, but with every year that passes I become a little better at doing it and cherish “the simple things in life”, for example reading a good book, drinking tea, meeting friends and, above all, my little family.
The people who come in and out of our life, I deem the most important aspect to a good life. I stand now, almost thirty years old, and it is the first time I can truly say I have rid of all toxic relations – direct or indirect. While climbing through various educational institutions and work places, it can be hard to avoid toxic people, and, still, it is always up to us how much we let them penetrate our world. I have become quite uncompromising when it comes to meeting new people, I must say. Not on an exclusionary basis, but an efficient one. The time we have to spend with people is limited and spending time with great people makes my life infinitely better, so why deal with people who suck your energy out?
A manifold of paragraphs have been written, much has been said, conclusions have been made. So with all being said and done, it’s time for me to curl up with Matt Haig’s Midnight Library while watching my beautiful daughter sleep and sometimes sneaking a side glance at my wonderful husband as he defeats demons and whatnot on the PC screen.
It’s time to live the good life.
Angie is a Sunday Writers’ Club member. You can find out more about Angie and her wonderful writing on her website here