Reimagining the Good Life

There's more to life than the pursuit of private splendor

| May/June 2001

Ahh, the good life. Fine wine. Fast cars. Beautiful people. The beach house on St. Bart’s. The ski chalet in Switzerland. The apartment overlooking Central Park. The ranch in Montana. The castle atop . . .
Dream on!

For the overwhelming majority of us, living like this is about as likely as pitching for the Yankees. Our days are not spent on the beach or the ski slopes, but rather commuting to work, struggling with bills, and perhaps sensing that the best things in life are passing us by. It’s easy to feel small and drab compared to the millionaires and movie stars whose exploits are chronicled across the media. Making money—lots more money—comes to seem the only way to ensure a meaningful life, a point hammered home incessantly by advertising, financial experts, and political leaders.

This rising obsession with getting and spending has prodded authors John de Graaf, David Wann, and Thomas H. Naylor to observe that "a powerful virus has infected American society, threatening our wallets, our friendships, our families, our communities, and our environment. We call the virus ‘affluenza.’ "

They define this affliction as "a painful, contagious, socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety, and waste resulting from the dogged pursuit of more." In their insightful soon-to-be-published book, Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic (Berrett-Koehler, $24.95), they report that in-creasing numbers of Americans are growing concerned about affluenza’s long-term symptoms—a view confirmed by the Merck Family Fund, whose national poll found that "there is a universal feeling in this nation that we’ve become too materialistic, too greedy, too self-absorbed, too selfish."

Recovery from this condition starts with a realization that there’s more to life than the pursuit of private splendor. The good life cannot be measured just in dollars. Satisfaction cannot be sustained only within the tight circle of home and family. All of us live in the broader world. The vitality of our community, the direction of our nation, the health of our environment, and the ins and outs of everyday existence significantly affect personal happiness.

That’s the point behind Utne Reader’s Quality-of-Life Checklist:
to highlight some of the social, cultural, aesthetic, spiritual, political, and ecological factors that enrich our lives. A stunning sunset or a beloved bookstore can be just as fulfilling as a fancy house full of expensive stuff. We hope this list inspires you to think about the things large and small that bring meaning to your life. Please send us your ideas about what constitutes the good life

(editor@utne.com or 1624 Harmon Place, Minneapolis, MN 55403), and
we’ll publish an update in a future issue.