What Is The Good Life?


In one of my classes today, we discussed the idea of “the good life.” The definition of the good life that we were given is “a life that is (sufficiently) intrinsically good for the person whose life it is.” That is, of course, only one definition of what the good life is. But what does that definition mean?

In class we talked about different types of good lives. There is the morally good life where the person lives a life within a set of moral guidelines, there is the instrumentally good life where the person’s life as a means to some further end, there is the aesthetically good life where a person lives a life of comfort and beauty, and there is the religiously good life where the person leads a life where they have followed the guidelines of their religious belief. There are many other types of good lives, but these are some of the main types. However, “the good life” is not the same as any of those good lives “the good life” is more of a prudentially good life, or a “good for me” good life.

One thought on the good life that we looked at stated that “the intrinsic value of a life no matter whose life it is derives elusively from the intrinsic values of the satisfaction (accomplishment) and frustration (inability to achieve) of a desire.” Basically, intrinsic value comes from whether or not you accomplished your desire. My professor made two good points about this idea. The first is that this thought implies that the number of desires you accomplish determine how good your life is, but this doesn’t seem to be the case. It seems as though people can lead better lives having accomplished less desires simply by being more ambitious. The second idea is that actual desires may be accomplished, but they may not be satisfactory. For example, someone may desire to join the army because they have dreams of being a hero, but then they join and realize that they don’t enjoy working within the strict hierarchy of the military. They accomplished their desire, but they weren’t satisfied by it. Instead, it seems as though we should look at theoretical desires, or the desires that a person would have if they had all the information and were rational. Basically, the facts are what makes accomplishing the satisfaction good, not the desire.

The idea in this class is that “the good life” is somehow objective. Not in the sense that there is one set of things that is good for everyone, but in the sense that, while the details may change, there is a definition of “the good life” that applies to everyone. It is possible to look at a person’s life and say “they led a good life” or “they led a bad life.” And people can be wrong about whether or not their life was a good one.

I’m not yet sure how much of this I actually agree with, but I thought it was worth sharing. Part of me agrees that there is some way to judge whether another person’s life was good, but I’m also not so comfortable about the concept of telling someone that their life was terrible when they say that their life was good. I suppose I’d prefer to look at it in degrees. If a person says their life was good, but they were abused and neglected, I’m not going to agree with them. But if a person says their life was good but they complained a lot about their job and regretted never traveling, I’m not going to disagree.

What are your thoughts about “the good life”? Does it exist? Is the given definition a useful one?

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12 responses to “What Is The Good Life?

  • Ros

    What if a person is abused and neglected for part of their life, but also accomplishes a number of goals that bring them deep, personal satisfaction and which also contribute to the wellbeing of others? I suspect that most of us have lives that are a strange mix of both ‘good’ and ‘bad’.

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    • hessianwithteeth

      Given what was talked about in my class, that would fit into the category of a life that is good for its end goal, but not good for the person whose life it is. It wouldn’t be the good life, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a good life.

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      • Ros

        Hmmm. That suggests to me that ‘the good life’ is largely a theoretical term. In practical terms, I suspect that most people’s lives wouldn’t fit the objective criteria required. Yet, as you say, they might consider them differently.

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  • Kit

    I think as evolved social apes, our universal good life probably has something to do with being connected to our tribe and also being able to offer something of use.

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  • streamsofconsciousthoughts

    Really interesting post. I connected with it a lot. I have actually nominated you for the Versatile Blogger Award because I love reading your blog so much. Here’s a link: https://streamsofconsciousthoughts.wordpress.com/2015/01/16/nominated-for-versatile-blogger-award/

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  • The Brain in the Jar

    I think that a ‘good life’ would be a sum of the various aspects of life: Aesthetics, morals, accomplished, etc. You cannot judge a life based on a single thing – religion, morals, aesthetics. These are all important factors, which sometimes cancel each other.

    We should each aspect, and only then decide. Life is the hardest thing to review.

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  • paidiske

    I wonder if there might be such a thing as a psychologically good life? Perhaps one in which there has been a degree of self-actualisation?

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  • L Alan Weiss

    I find many of your posts quit interesting. The question of a life being good or bad is judgemental by its very nature. An individual can personally exercise good judgement, but being judgemental of others is a function of ego. Egolessness, on the other hand, precludes being judgemental. I believe that if one lives by the axiom “Do no harm.”, the goodness of a soul’s life would be a moot point.

    Someone may be seen to do good deeds or bad deeds, but that is no measure of goodness. There is always the question of motive and motivation, and that can never be known except to the doer of the deed.

    In reality we can only judge our own goodness, which of course is a matter of perspective. If we assume an egoless state and assuage all allusion and delusion, then and only then can we assess our own goodness.

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  • Jane Doe

    I believe a good life is determined by that persons perspective. Regardless of their accomplishments per say. Its subjective. For me, I will determine if my life was “good” if I cared for, taught my children well and provided the tools they required by a parent in order to succeed in their lives. I already work within a field I desired, have an awesome family and do for others. Not sure what else has true meaning when it comes to the nuts and bolts of our existence. Your class is interesting!!

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  • 4 year old adult

    The goodness of our lives is defined by the satisfaction level. The real satisfaction means a point where we focus upon the good things of our life. One must always compare his/her life to those of the less-privileged ones. This makes us realize the amount of blessings we have. Goodness of life is not a point which can be touched and felt, it is a moving identity. Thanks for sharing the post 🙂

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  • livingonchi

    I think the good life is the one that is happy and at peace with the world.

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