These two simple rules cover a lot of ground in serving as easy reminders for how you can live a more meaningful life.
It’s almost become a joke to ask or bring up “meaning of life” conversations, but we’re going to kind of have one today; I’m not intentionally trying to be that heavy, but I think you can take today’s episode to that extent, because I think quite simply that the meaning of life is to lead a meaningful life, and I think there are two very simple rules to achieve this, even on a spectrum of potential definition for what qualifies under each rule. If or when I have kids, my hope is fundamentally that they live by this mantra because I believe that keeping these two things in mind throughout day to day life is potentially all one has to do to make a positive impact on others and the world while living a life that is fulfilling.
The first rule: BE GOOD. I should mention right now that these rules are meant to be simple to remember, but of course just like most things, there is complexity beneath the surface. The word “good” can be taken to mean a lot of different things, but it is universally recognized for the meaning it would take in the phrase “he was a good man” or “she is a good person.” To me, being good is largely a matter of making decisions that are of high moral quality. To be good is to help someone in need. To be good is to smile at a passerby. To be good is to fight decisions or urges that go against the grain of ethical code, to make a conscious effort not to make decisions that could harm others. The obvious here is to avoid physical assault of any nature, to avoid any inclination to engage in theft or robbery. Perhaps less obvious is to never let yourself think too much only about yourself. To never be a passive bystander to verbal or physical abuse. To be good is also to think about others and their needs, to think critically about how another might be interpreting a situation and to consider ways that you might directly or indirectly be affecting them. Being good is, in a sense, to be mature and to do unto others as you’d like done unto yourself.
To lead a meaningful life is in significant part about pursue decisions that leave those around you in a better place while also leaving the world and environment a better place. Avoid decisions particularly in work that have a negative impact on the world and environment, as this will go against your inner desire to be and do good. I’ve heard people with frankly standard service jobs where they view the opportunity to really make a customer’s as an enjoyable and fulfilling privilege. As I see it, that is beautiful. A friend of mine in college worked at Disneyland in southern California and recalls it with great fondness specifically because he often had the opportunity to make the experience unforgettable for visitors. He is now pursuing a medical field but if he had stayed there forever, who could blame him for that? A lot can be gained by viewing day to day decisions in behavior and work as an opportunity to serve others and the world. Pairing this with the second rule and putting both in practice often will go a step further to helping you lead a meaningful life.
The second rule: BE GREAT. It sounds of course like the first, but that’s the idea, and in a second we’ll break down the differences here. Point is, anyone can remember and say to themselves, BE GOOD and BE GREAT. I personally have turned this almost into a daily morning meditation as I’m getting ready for work: I remind myself that living a meaningful life is like sitting on the top floor of a castle. To get there, you must build block by block, and to build a reliable castle block by block requires a sound foundation on which to build. By reminding myself to be good and be great, I am reinforcing and priming my brain to go throughout the day consciously placing those building blocks in the right ways. And to take this analogy a step further, the only way it could possibly suck to sit atop a castle you built yourself would be to sit atop an empty one — reminding myself to be good and be great helps me lead a meaningful life because it ensures that I keep in mind that I have to bring other people with me on the journey for it to be worth it.
When I think of this second rule, I think of something I heard a friend say once. She told me that her dad always told her growing up that he’d be happy with her being whatever she wanted, as long as she was a great one, the best version she could be and if possible better than everyone else at it too. I believe the exact example she used was, “you can be a dog-catcher for all that I care, just be the best one out there and be the best one you can be.”
To be great is to chase greatness in whatever you do. To refer back to the previous story about my friend who worked at Disneyland, if he had made the decision to work at Disneyland forever because he got to make the visit special for others, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. In fact it’s almost a noble pursuit. But for himself, and for most people, it may not be truly fulfilling and it may not give life meaning where there is simply not a ton more that can be done with that type of calling. To spend an entire life in that one role where there is likely not much upward mobility in terms of purpose, responsibility, and earning potential, there are certainly people who are okay with leading this type of life, but I would guess that isn’t the case for most. I would guess that isn’t the case for you, as you’re here listening to or reading to a podcast and blog dedicated to self-improvement and optimization in all areas of life. But let’s say that this Disneyland job were truly my friend’s calling and he loved it and got a lot out of it because it allowed him to be good. Who is to say he can’t simply be great at that job? He could put a lot of effort and energy into being the best version of that as he can possible be. He could work hard to become recognized as a great — perhaps the greatest — employee of a Disneyland park. In this scenario, being good and being great would truly be enough for that individual to lead a meaningful life. Being good and being great doesn’t mean you have to change the world in some grandiose way. You don’t have to write a book or cure cancer. Your job is to lead a meaningful life, and being great in your own definition of it is a key way to get there.
The meaning of life is, in a sense, to live a meaningful one, and being good as a person and great in your pursuits is a simple and complete way to achieve the best possible life for you and those around you. Remember these two simple rules and I truly believe you will find that every time you reflect on it, you will know with conviction that you are here to lead a meaningful life and pursuing it in the purest manner and in your own definition. Until next time…