Everybody is yearning for the good life but very few people really know what it is and even fewer know how to attain it. Some equate the good life with the pleasant life while others emphasize engagement and success. We propose that the key to unlocking the mystery of the good life is meaning and purpose.
Meaning in life can be best defined in terms of PURE, which stands for Purpose, Understanding, Responsibility, and Enjoyment/Evaluation.
Let me briefly explain why the PURE way is the best way to attain the good life.
No one can lead the good life without a clear sense of life purpose. Happiness inducing exercises will not do. Strength enhancing activities will not do. Self-esteem boosting exercises will not do either. A life without purpose is like a ship without a rudder – it will not go very far without getting lost or shipwrecked.
Therefore, it is imperative to identify and clarify your life purpose. This includes discovering your calling, clarifying your life goals, developing your core values/beliefs, and knowing what really matters in life. It also includes learning how to set realistic goals and negotiate obstacles.
In terms of everyday living, life purpose is important in organizing your activities, deciding on your priorities, and deliberating your decisions. Purpose provides both the directions and the fuel to move your life forward.
‘Know yourself,” ancient philosophers have enjoined us. For us to function fully, we need to know who we are and where we stand in the larger scheme of things. Self-knowledge is very different from self-deception. Ironically, some of the smartest people are most likely to delude themselves to playing god.
All kinds of tools are available for self-assessment regarding our strengths, interests, and personality traits. But the whole is more than the sum of its parts. A holistic self-understanding requires reflection, life review and meaning making.
Understanding also includes knowing the world in which we live and the culture within which we function and interact with others. Self-diagnosis involves balancing one’s potentials with external and internal constraints. The courage to confront the dark sides of life is a necessary step to achieve authenticity. Unfortunately, most people see the world through their own colored lenses without having the courage to confront reality in totality.
Finally, understanding involves achieving a sense of coherence in the midst of uncertainties, chaos, and absurdities. We have to make some sense of life and detect some sense of continuity and order, even if we have to create myths.
If we do not take full responsibility for our own lives, who will? If we do not assume responsibility for our own decisions and actions, who will? How can we develop a sense of self-efficacy, if we blame others for our problems? How can we create the life we want without taking charge of our lives?
Responsibility and freedom always go together. Freedom of choice and the agency of self-determination can lead to disastrous consequences without a sense of responsibility and accountability.
Responsibility also has moral implications. We need a moral compass to guide us in deciding right from wrong in every life situation. Doing the right thing is the surest way to feeling good about ourselves.
The inevitable outcome of leading a purposeful and responsible life according to our best understanding and highest values is joy. The best part of adopting the PURE principle is that we will not achieve happiness at the expense of others and we can develop our full potential without violating virtue ethics. The PURE way will lead to the good life that is good in every aspect, emotionally, intellectually, relationally, and morally.
However, if you do not experience happiness after following the PURE way, you may need to re-evaluate your life purpose, understanding, and actions in order to do some fine-tuning. The PURE way is basically a process of self-regulation that requires honest self-reflection and courageous self-correction.
I have provided a framework for a meaning-centered positive psychology. The PURE principle can be applied to self-help as well as helping others. In the forthcoming issues of the newsletter, I will introduce various interventions to implement the PURE strategy. For more information on the PURE way to the good life please visit www.drpaulwong.com and www.meaning.ca