Bola Egunjobi

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What Makes a Life a “Good” Life?

Posted by Bola Egunjobi on February 23, 2011

Is a good life one that is enviable? Or one that is admirable?

An enviable life can be said to be a life that is good for the bearer. Consider all the qualities that might be enviable in a person: good health, wealth, happiness, comfort, a happy family, possessions, and the enjoyment of things. Is this then, a good life? Perhaps.

But lets also consider an admirable life. A person’s life might be considered admirable for the things he or she does, i.e. for the person’s selfless ACTIONS in the service of others. Perhaps some examples would best illustrate this: Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa, Gandhi. At the extreme, an admirable person would be one who completely devotes himself or herself to the service of others with no regard whatsoever for his own or her own personal wellbeing.

We envy the first life described above for the things he has. We admire the second life for the things she does.

Admirable as the second life is, not everyone aspires to live it, certainly not at the extreme of complete selfless devotion to the service of others.

And enviable as the first life might be, not everyone would want to live it at its extreme: a life of possessing without giving, a life of spectating and enjoying for ones own sake with scant consideration of the plight of others.

Therefore the “good” life must lie somewhere in between these two extremes. It will be a life in which we have empathy for the wellbeing of others and in which we act, sometimes selflessly, to improve the wellbeing of others. In that life, enabling us to help others, and as a consequence of helping others, we would have some of life’s enviable possessions ourselves: health, wealth and happiness, etc.

Yet the story does not end there. Because there is an interesting tension between the admirable and the enviable qualities in a life. The tension involves the consideration of to what extent one must do things for the benefit of others (the admirable qualities) and to what extent one must live for one’s self (the enviable qualities). This paradox cannot be resolved by analysis – it can only be implemented in each individual life through living.


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