What is The Good Life? To many, the good life is an existence made comfortable with material possessions and entitlements. This philosophy, while certainly not new, seemed to gain traction in the 1980s; blossom in the 1990s; and burgeon in the first several years of this century. Is there a personal cost associated with the pursuit of this kind of happiness?
Wealthy and savvy Ann Barons - the protagonist of my novel, The Good Life - lives in a corporate town with her busy CEO husband and two unattended teenage children. Her infatuation with status has obfuscated the values instilled in her as a child growing up on a farm in eastern Pennsylvania. Exercising, shopping, and making appearances at board meetings and charity events fill her otherwise unscheduled days; she considers her life both full and enviable. Her luxurious existence and the simple country life she left behind collide when her headstrong mother and dementia-laden father re-enter her life seeking temporary housing. Their old-fashioned work ethic and values create confusion, frustration, and an unexpected transformation in all the Barones - especially Ann.
What can we learn from her?
1. Share What You Have
While money doesn't necessarily buy happiness, it most assuredly does buy opportunity. People with money can educate themselves at the country's finest universities. They can travel the world. They can feast on organic and gourmet food, and they can live in a castle. Wealthy people can also make a difference if they use their money, after they have enriched their own lives, to change the dire circumstances of others. Until Ann's parents arrive, the Baronses are focused solely on themselves. They are not particularly charity minded, preferring to cater to their personal desires. Step number 1: See to your own needs and then give some of your money away.
2. Size Doesn't Matter
Women still don't believe this. Because we are bombarded with images of pencil-thin models and movie stars with inflated breasts, we feel inadequate in our normal-sized bodies. We subside on diet food. We kill ourselves at the gym. If only we were ___ pounds lighter, we'd feel attractive. Ann is a size two; her image is everything to her. She has more clothing than she can possibly wear to adorn her fit and firm frame. But with coffee and wine as the foundation of her daily diet, is she really healthy? Step number 2: Be healthy first: eat foods that fuel your body and exercise several days a week. You will feel good and look good, no matter what your pants size.
3. Pay Attention to Your Children
And I don't mean in the helicopter kind of way. Parents of teenagers often express frustration with rebellion. Their children, who once lovingly held their hands and listened to every word they said, are now barricaded behind closed doors and resentful of enquiries as innocent as, "How was your day?" When Ann's children begin to pull away, as all teenagers do, she is resentful instead of understanding. Because Nate and Lauren have hurt her with their surliness and silence, she withdraws her attention. Teenagers pretend they don't need adult attention, but this is when they need it most. Step number 3: Talk/email/text with your teenager daily. And do your best to ignore the harmless bad behavior and encourage the independent good choices.
4. Pay Attention to Your Parents
And, in general, to people older than you are at the moment. Other cultures value age and wisdom while America seems fixated on youth and smarts. We can certainly learn from those younger than ourselves, those who have energy, fresh ideas, and a vision for the future. But we can also learn from those who have come before us, those with experience, patience, and knowledge. In her quest for newer and better, Ann has lost sight of the lessons from her past, and of the parents who attentively and lovingly raised her. Step number 4: Listen to your parents, grandparents, and elderly neighbors. The respect shown to them will be returned with relevant history lessons and timeless insight.
5. Take A Look Around
It's easy to get caught up in our own stuff: our jobs, our wardrobes, our weekends, our lives. If we're not looking out for ourselves, who is? But this can be taken to an extreme, as in Ann's case. She is completely focused on herself, her needs, and therefore often unaware of what's happening around her. If we are unaware of our environs, we are closed off to opportunity and growth. Step number 5: Volunteer for an organization that means something to you. Reach out to someone who can't do you a favor. When you become part of your community, your world opens up and your personal issues become more manageable.