Getting a little philosophical
There’s a new show on Netflix. It’s called The Goop Lab and it’s hosted by none other than the controversial wellness guru-head of Goop herself, Gwenyth Paltrow. I watched it. I found it somewhat enlightening, somewhat entertaining, and all the way fascinating.
But whatever your thoughts about her, her brand, or the zeitgeist that made it all possible, there’s no doubt that she’s influential. The whole wellness industry is, in fact, everywhere.
For me, I’ve had my moments with it. I’ve gone from cynical skeptic to true believer and back to somewhere in between, but one of the things I can’t let go of that’s pervasive in the genre is a catchphrase of sorts; words to take to heart, to guide you, to measure all things by.
Living your best life.
Man, those words are just so good together. I don’t know who originally coined this phrase, but a genius of something that person surely is - marketing most likely.
Regardless, it sounds like such a great idea right? It sounds like exactly what we’re supposed to do with the precious little time we have before we shuffle loose the mortal coil. So just as with many other shiny things we’re convinced we want, we want this to. I sure do, I’m not afraid to confess, and I’ve used this phrase unabashedly many times.
The question I continue to have, however, is what does it freaking mean?!?
Is it doing something? And how do you know what? Is it being something? And again, how do you know what? Is it championing an issue or living for others or knowing yourself well? Is it one of these things or several of them? Is it all of them or something completely different?
It’s one of those phrases that seems so simple at first, but it is actually just beyond reach. You try to turn the words over and over to figure them out, to fit them into your life and in doing so they tend to fall apart and the meaning becomes more elusive than ever.
And it’s damned frustrating.
I’ve thought about it lots and lots and I’ve posited some theories - as in, this is what it means to live your best life - but truthfully, none of them have ever been all that satisfying. None of them have ever really gotten to the essence of what this phrase seems to be getting at.
Recently though, I stumbled on this idea in a book I was reading about late bloomers, of which I consider myself one. It wasn’t the author who came up with it, it was French philosopher Paul Ricoeur who said the opposite of suffering is agency. Or conversely, Ricoeur says “when we lose the ability to act independently of our own free will, we suffer.”
Eureka! There it is my friends; the elusive meaning of living your best life.
Living your best life is not about how you make a living, how much money you amass, how many stamps you have on your passport, whether or not you have children, or even how you will be remembered. Although no doubt, these may be things that you do with that life and that are very important to that life, they are not the point.
In fact, doing anything at all is irrelevant. Living your best life simply means having freedom; having choice; having the power to direct your own life in whatever way you see fit.
Let me say then, that thinking about the masses of people who don’t have choice and who don’t have freedom can be nothing short of staggering and incredibly, incredibly sad, and I in no way want to diminish their plight by comparing, so if I may, for the purposes of this discussion I’d like to draw your attention to the more micro level by reminding you of last week’s post.
Because I think those of us who are lucky enough to be gifted with the ability to have freedom often don’t really feel free. We’re saddled with fear of the critical voices and expectations of others. We allow our choice to be taken away to do what we think we “should.”
And in doing this we are foregoing our opportunity to live our best life.
It’s not just that we might be stuck in a job we don’t like or that we’ll spend our free time in ways that we don’t enjoy or that we'll buy stuff just to buy, it’s so much bigger than that. It’s that we are not living out our purpose as beings with agency. That’s a huge thing to give up.
I do want to add here that while yes, this is big and serious, it doesn’t have to be dramatic. You can totally decide that you don’t need to change a thing and everything is grand and you’re already living your best life, thank you very much.
That’s great! I wish you great satisfaction on your continued journey.
All I’m actually saying is just make sure that whatever you do it’s your choice; don’t let someone else make the choices for you. No matter what you choose to call it - living your best life, finding your purpose/truth/meaning, yada, yada, yada - that’s really all it takes.