14 August, 2013

Book Review: The Good Life

From Goodreads: "No one can promise you that a life lived for others will bring you a deep sense of satisfaction, but it's certain that nothing else will."
Hugh Mackay has spent his entire working life asking Australians about their values, motivations, ambitions, hopes and fears. Now, in The Good Life, he addresses the ultimate question: What makes a life worth living?
His conclusion is provocative. The good life is not the sum of our security, wealth, status, postcode, career success and levels of happiness. The good life is one defined by our capacity for selflessness, the quality of our relationships and our willingness to connect with others in a useful way.
Mackay examines what is known as the Golden Rule through the prisms of religion, philosophy, politics, business and family life. And he explores the numerous and often painful ways we distract ourselves from this central principle: our pursuit of pleasure, our attempts to perfect ourselves and our children, and our conviction that we can have our lives under control.
Argued with all the passion and intelligence we have come to expect from one of Australia's most prolific and insightful authors, The Good Life is a book that will start conversations, ignite arguments and possibly even change the way we live our lives.

Thoughts: If you google "good life" it is defined as:
                   1. a life abounding material comforts and luxuries
                   2. a life lived according to the moral and religious laws of ones    
                       culture (Dictionary.com)

Hugh Mackay defines the good life as one lived for others - "defined by our capacity for selflessness, the quality of our relationships and out willingness to connect with  others in a useful way."

Mackay suggests that our focus on ourselves, the misplaced importance on accumulating money and possessions is leading us into a misguided idea of a good life. He has no problem with money and possessions - just the use of them to measure our worth.
Instead he suggests that a truly good life is lead if you follow the golden rule - do to others as you would have them do to you. (Interesting point - this rule or a version of it has been around a lot longer than it's religious connotations. All ancient civilizations has a variation on the theme...) Something that is not as easy as it sounds. I really enjoyed the part of the book where Mackay delved inot how to apply the golden rule in situations such as criminal behaviour, break ups, having to fail someone or deal with someone who is a bully - situations where the golden rule may appear to not apply. In the end, while no one wants to reward bad or inappropriate behaviour by excusing it, revenge also never works. Instead Mackay suggests you ask the universal question - what would happen if everyone acted like that? Bad behaviour needs to be addressed - but with courtesy and respect (the way we would all like to be treated regardless of our behaviour) - even if that courtesy and respect is not returned - a hard ask indeed.
Finally, Mackay suggests three things we need to do to live the good life:
                  1. Listen attentively. 
                  2. Say sorry (and mean it!).
                  3. Forgive generously. (even when not asked to)

Having read this book, I will be making mindful attempts to follow the golden rule. What I will really concentrate on though is listen attentively. Too often I believe we are distracted when listening - I know I am. It's hard to attend completely to someone when there is so much else going on internally and externally. Listen attentively is my personal goal.
The Good Life feels laboured at times, but in the end I really enjoyed it. I found it useful and meaningful without being preachy. Unlike many self help/ motivational books, it didn't feel like it was telling me my life was wrong and if I don't change I would be miserable. In fact I think Hugh Mackay has struck the right balance and he'd be a most interesting man to sit and chat with.

Challenges: eBook challenge, Aussie Author challenge, 13 in '13 challenge