“We don’t live for happiness, we live for holiness. Day to day we seek out pleasure, but deep down, human beings are endowed with moral imagination. All human beings seek to lead lives not just of pleasure, but of purpose, righteousness, and virtue.” ~ David Brooks
What is the purpose of life? What are we living for?
These are deep and important questions. Many books have been written about these very questions and we certainly are not going to answer them in a short essay. However it isn’t only the answers that are beneficial but the struggling with and contemplation of the questions that lead to growth. Some people have never even thought about these questions and that’s OK — we are all at different points along the path. But I invite you, if you are so inclined, to consider what it means to be a person of character . . . to live a life of flourishing, of well-being, meaning and purpose — in fact, to live the Excelerated Life.
A life of flourishing.
Here, adapted from Merriam-Webster.com, is a definition of flourishing. Flourish: to grow, to thrive; to achieve success, to prosper; to reach a height of development
When you are flourishing, says Barbara Fredrickson, a major figure in the research of Positive Psychology: “You feel more alive, creative, and resilient. You have a palpable sense of personal growth and of making a positive difference. This is flourishing. It feels and is totally different from languishing. You’ve stepped up to a whole new level of life.” [Fredrickson] When a plant flourishes, it is growing – strong, healthy, alive. It has beautiful foliage, masses of flowers or fruit. When you flourish, you, too, are strong and healthy. And not only physically, but mentally, emotionally and spiritually. You are growing and producing the fruits of your labor — you feel content, even when you are confronting and struggling with problems and concerns.
A life of well-being.
A definition for well-being that I especially like comes from www.dictionary.com: “a good or satisfactory condition of existence; a state characterized by health, happiness, and prosperity.” Martin Seligman, the “father” of Positive Psychology, identifies 5 elements of well-being: Positive emotion, Engagement, positive Relationships, Meaning, and Accomplishment. (Seligman offers the mnemonic = PERMA to help remember the 5 elements.) [Seligman] The Excelerated Life uses various tools to help us build and grow in these 5 areas.
A life of meaning.
“The meaningful life is the same eternal thing, the combination of some set of ideals and some man or woman’s struggle for those ideals.” [Brooks] Meaning, one of the 5 elements of well-being, has its own place in the Excelerated Life. Seligman defines meaning as having 3 criteria: 1) It contributes to well-being. 2) It is often pursued for its own sake. 3) Meaning is defined and measured independently of the other 4 elements of well-being. [Seligman] We consider meaning and a meaningful life within the context of well-being but also outside of that context – we frequently consider life meaning on its own. In living the Excelerated Life, we actively seek to live in meaningful ways.
A life of purpose.
What did you come here to do? Purpose is not something you select or decide on. Purpose is a thing you discover. It is there all along, you only need to find out what It is. We human beings are alike in fundamental ways and we share a set of common characteristics. Ultimately, we each have the same purpose — to “master ourselves in service to the world” in the words of Brian Johnson. At the same time, no two people are exactly alike. We are alike in many ways and we are each different from every other person who has ever lived or who will ever live. The way you live out your purpose – the thing you came here to do – makes you unique. You brought something with you when you came that makes you uniquely suited to fulfill your purpose. No one else who has ever been born or who will ever be born can fulfill your purpose. If you don’t do it, it won’t get done. Living the Excelerated Life is one way to enable yourself to live out your distinct and individual purpose.
Live for Holiness.
“The best life,” says David Brooks in The Road To Character, “is oriented around the increasing excellence of the soul and is nourished by moral joy, the quiet sense of gratitude and tranquillity that comes as a byproduct of successful moral struggle. The meaningful life is the same eternal thing, the combination of some set of ideals and some man or woman’s struggle for those ideals.” [Brooks] It has been said that we cannot find happiness directly . . . happiness is a by-product of the actions we take in pursuit of living our purpose, of building our character, of living a noble life. “We don’t live for happiness, we live for holiness.” But in living for the one, we find both. And that is living the Excelerated Life!
Excelerated positivity — building the skills in positivity that help you flourish — is one step in creating your Excelerated life, a life of well-being, meaning, and purpose.
Brooks, David. The Road To Character. New York: Random House, LLC, 2015
Fredrickson, Ph.D., Barbara, L. Positivity. New York: Crown Publishing Group, 2009
Seligman, Ph.D., Martin E. P. Flourish. New York: Free Press, 2011