What makes for a good life?

Frank Ra, Dharma instructor and AmAreWay.org blogger

What makes for a good life? Based on personal experience, and also on what I see from other people, a good life has its root in the choice of living a meaningful life. Here, I summarize an approach to it.

I had a sudden shift in awareness as a teenager: things were not working the way I wished, and I wanted to change them. The first step was to understand that we usually do not get different results by acting as we always did: new results often demand a new course of action. Before acting, I needed to understand what to change and what to keep. So, by being more Aware, I started to clarify goals and see what needs to be done to get there, noticing that too much focus on outcomes brings paralysis, and too little focus results in depleting energies on too many sides. I also learnt to be Accepting of what's too hard to change, and transform what can be transformed; the wisdom to be able to differentiate among the two every time is still not here, and maybe I'll never fully achieve it – still “good enough” proved to be an advisable approach.

By opening my eyes more, I understand what is Meaningful and what Motivates me. We can be happy all together. It is not realistic to aim to be happy in a vacuum. People near us need to be happy as well, in their own way. Sharing time and energy in ways which are meaningful both for the “sharer” and the “sharee” is one great motivator.

Armchair good intentions do not really count for tangible results. Being Active matters a lot. I started to act and understood the need to be Attentive to people's feelings, ideas and feedback, to leverage the flow instead of moving like an elephant in a small room.

Most of the time things worked out much better than expected, however sometimes I had to face serious setbacks. With every major geographical move I made, I had to start from scratch. The support networks available in the places where I previously lived are still there, but physically too far to make a difference in my daily life. That is where Resilience gives me a push back to my feet, in a reasonable amount of time. Sometimes resilience may mutate into becoming hard-skinned, but knowing that we all have similar basic needs for recognition and care (despite external differences which can make us think otherwise) I experienced the importance of being Respectful to people – their beings and their situations. Being tuned with the context around us is especially important, once we are in harmony, then satisfaction will come to us. If we are on different wave-lengths, then everything takes much more energy!

When I was at home in Italy, eating was not really an issue: my mother and grandmothers always took great care of this. When I was in my early 20s and understood one way to learn about the World was to leave my country and bring my journey to the next step, then Eating properly became one of my priorities. Considering I liked to think I was too busy to exercise in a formal way, my opportunities to Exercise regularly were embedded into daily tasks: not using elevators; shopping for food from a store about fifteen minutes away from where I lived and then walking home with the heavy bags; not using public transportation on Weekends, as long as the distance to walk was reasonable (within one hour), etc.

This journey took me around North America and Europe, not only as a visitor but often with work-obligations to support myself, and also studying to improve my knowledge. It also allowed me and my wife to meet, and to start building our life together. The way I share my experience is with the acronym AmAre, which stands for "being": Aware and Accepting; Meaningful and Motivated; Active and Attentive; Resilient and Respectful;
E
ating properly and Exercising.

One recurrent question I often hear: “Is happiness really an inside job?” As an answer, I suggest thinking in terms of degrees of facilitation. Some events are like a weight, making it harder for us to fly; some are like a lift, facilitating our happiness. But, at the end of day, considering even the way we discern between weights and lifts is subjective (the same event can be considered in various ways, and especially with different degrees of effect, by different people), we can say that happiness is about attitudes, it is not something to reach through external factors.

We can also consider a “natural range”, a happiness baseline. Regardless of the short-term changes we have in how we assess our happiness level, in the long term we tend to oscillate within our natural range. Current natural range is influenced by several components, including attitudes, genetics, familiar situations, etc. Natural range does not mean an unchangeable range, it just means the current usual range, which has been built over time. As said, short-term events usually do not change it; we can change it by changing our attitudes, or it can be moved up or down by external events only if they have an extremely strong magnitude. By understanding where we are, where we want to go, and how to get there and acting accordingly for a sustained amount of time, we reach a “nurtured range”. An AmAre approach, based on what is shared by many people in terms of well-being, facilitates happiness.

Looking from here, I understand this journey dates back to a long time ago. It started at least with my grandparents, who showed my parents by example what love and having a family means. My parents brought this lesson to life, and took care of me. Then, I started to grow, with my happy moments, fun moments, doubts and mistakes. Learning from the lessons my ancestors have passed along, and from personal experience while travelling, I decided the only way to consolidate my happiness – to make it durable, not only a short spree – was to live happily and stop mixing happiness (the attitude) with happiness (temporarily states of pleasure), and to share it with my partner and everyone who wants to be part of this journey. The merit for what has been learnt and achieved belongs to my relatives, friends, and other people with whom I cross paths, at least as much as it belongs to me.

Thanks for your attention, peace and metta,

Frank


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