On the Building Blocks for a Life Well-Lived

What are the building blocks for a life well-lived?

Like most people over the course of the past year I've had ample oppourtunity to reflect on modern life. The world is full of contradiction and confusion, and the visions we see of the future are not always optimistic. Yet I know that positive change is possible: I have seen it in myself and I have seen it in the world. I don't claim to have a perfect life, but through a sustained and determined effort at improving my foundations I have the next best thing: a life I can build upon. In my estimation, there are four building blocks for a life well-lived. They are listed in no particular order and are deeply intertwined. Neglect one and you neglect them all. Nuture one and the others grow.

The Physical

Good and regular exercise. Good because the exercise needs to push your current limits. If you run on a treadmill at the same speed everyday your cardiovasular strength will plateau. If you bench press the same weight every day you will never grow new muscle. Regular because our bodies are adaptive systems that trend towards equilibrium. If you spend every day vegatating in front of a screen and never use your body's functions you will lose them. Because we are mortal some eventual decline is inevitable, but exercise is the best way to fortify ourselves in the short term. Equally important to what do with your body is what you put into your body and the quality of rest you allow yourself. You are what you eat, and if you fuel with junk you will feel like junk. If you never rest you will never be fully awake.

The Mental

Good and regular learning. If you never struggle to understand something new, you never learn. If you spend your time consuming mindless “edutainment”—whether that be in the form of oversimplified TikTok explanation videos or superficial Netflix documentries—your knowledge will be just that: oversimplified and superficial. To learn anything well you must first go through the difficulties and vulerabities of not understanding something. Only from this initial position of ignorance can we expand our minds. Arrogance and over-confidence cloud our judgements of what we do know—do not let either hide what you do not know.

The Spiritual

Good and regular meditation. Being happy is being content with what you have right now. If your sights are always set ahead to things you currently do not have, you will never be content with what you do have. If you are always looking back at the injuries that you recieved in the past you will never able to be healthy in the present. This is why meditation is important, whether it be in the form or prayer or formal practice or just taking a moment to be grateful for the chance to be where you are. Like exercise and learning it is possible to exist in a state of spiritual stagnation, comforting oneself with platitudes and motivational cliches. But like everything in life, spiritual growth must be earned. Without pain, there is no pleasure. Without sadness, there is no happiness. Rather than drown out our experiences with constant stimulation, it is crucial to spend time with what is right in front of us, not trying to change anything, and accepting that for what it is.

The Social

Good and regular friendship. Because we are social animals we achieve our fullest potential through our interactions with others. Without strong connections to others, our connections with ourselves become weaker. In the multiplicity of new social networks and virtual environments we have lost touch with the most important form of human connection: the face-to-face meeting. Like everything worth having in life good connection requires time and dedicated effort. It is not something that can be substituted with a Facebook like or a Zoom meeting. Technology has framed itself as an antidote to our emotional needs, but in doing so has become a poison. Look past the virtual surface and see the deeper connections between us. If you nurture your connections with others you will nurture yourself.

You have probably noticed many parallels between these building blocks. That is intentional and inevitable. Living your life well is an integrative process that you must strive towards. You can not always succeed, but you can always try, and that trying is part of what gives our lives meaning.

Onwards to whatever may come.

December 2021