The question of the “good life” is ages old. Socrates, the Greek philosopher, was actually killed for his answer. He was a thorn in the side of Greek culture, which centered around physical beauty, material wealth, and all the trappings of power.
Socrates was all about cultivating the inner person – the heart, the mind, and the soul – and famously wrote that, “the unexamined life is not worth living.” When he was put on trial for supposedly corrupting youth with his ideas, he stuck his finger in the eye of Athens, as all of Greece looked on. In the end, he chose to drink the fatal cup of hemlock rather than give up his principles, but his stinging words remain very much alive and speak to us directly today.
Every study has shown that lots of money doesn’t equate with happiness. Once we have enough to live comfortably, greater wealth doesn’t increase our feeling of well-being. In fact, sometimes it even has the opposite effect.
David Myers author of the book, “The Pursuit of Happiness” calls this the American paradox. He has documented the near doubling of wealth in America since the 1950’s, along with simultaneously declining rates of happiness, and this is what he concludes.
I have called this soaring wealth and shrinking spirit “the American paradox.” More than ever, we were finding ourselves with big houses and broken homes, high incomes and low morale…We excel at making a living but too often fail at making a life. We celebrate our prosperity but yearn for purpose. We cherish our freedom but long for connection. In an age of plenty, we feel spiritual hunger.
As the rabbi said, “As we consider the question of what makes life good, we have to wonder where are we headed? Yes, Twitter increases our public exposure, texting keeps people in our orbit, Facebook makes us look interesting and stand out to others, and emails keep us productive and efficient.”
“But to what end? Isolating us from the person sitting next to us-is this the good life? Social media obsession and FOMO – “Fear of missing out? These may add to our influence, our friends list, but do they bring us greater love, satisfaction, and spirituality.”
As a rabbi, I have never heard a dying patient say, I wish I could update my Facebook status. When people face their mortality, they realize that affluence, prestige, physical beauty, are insignificant.
So what, asks the rabbi, is the good life? Do we take the time to evaluate our relationships, our physical well-being and inner spiritual life? The Hebrew poet contemplated this before his own premature death from cancer, and sounded a warning to all of us.
We don’t have time in life to have time for everything. We don’t have seasons enough to have a season for every purpose. Ecclesiastes was wrong about that. We need to love and recoil at the same moment, to laugh and cry with the same eyes, with the same hands to throw stones and to gather them, to make love and not war .
As it is, we don’t have time in our lives “to have time for everything.” But, we can use the time we have for a good life and a better world.
Rabbi Hirshel Jaffe, a cancer survivor, is a motivational/inspirational speaker on the theme NEVER GIVE UP! He authored “Why Me? Why Anyone?” which chronicles his rescue from leukemia and his spiritual triumph over despair. Known as “The Running Rabbi” for competing in the NY Marathon, he received the “Award of Courage” from President Ronald Reagan in a White House ceremony. Rabbi Jaffe was one of the clergy who visited the American hostages in Iran to offer them comfort and hope and was asked by the President to greet them at the White House upon their return. He received an honorary Doctorate from his seminary for “his work with the sick, and his noble influence upon all people. You can follow him on Facebook.
Image courtesy of Paula May.