The Good Life by Hugh Mackay

 

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No one can promise you that a life lived for others will bring you a deep sense of satisfaction, but it’s certain that nothing else will.

I was about to return this book to the library when I realised I wasn’t quite ready to part with it. It was a nagging kind of feeling, like eating a late night kebab. It made me feel uneasy to just put it in the slot and walk away. Why? The Good Life is a book that you read and talk about because being about life (and death) it is bound to hit nerves with all of its readers. It hit many nerves in me. Good and bad.

‘What makes a life worth living?’ The front of the book asks you.

If you’re looking for answers this book won’t tell you what to do exactly, Hugh MacKay will however tell you what doesn’t give you a good life, in fact most of the book is what he calls ‘Seven False Leads.’ We can rule out Certainty, The Future, Intelligence, Finding Yourself, Power, Wealth, Status and Fame, The Simple Life, The Meaning of Life. Although there’s actually more than seven.

Having a good life isn’t about a good time according to Mackay, it’s about doing good things for other people. Basically we need to take society back to that simple lesson we were first taught in preschool: Treat others how we’d like to be treated. Rather than asking Who am I? We should be asking: Who needs me? As our worth is based on many connections we have with other people. And having a good life isn’t even about feeling happy all the time. As Mackay points out Aristotle’s original pursuit of happiness was to live in pursuit of the good, not for one’s own hedonistic needs.

It sounds fairly simple, but being on your best behaviour is actually pretty tough. How can we be better people? Listen to people when they talk, try to be a forgiving person, be generous, help when you can. All these traits are perhaps what we aspire to, and expect others to have but they are not always our first response. The book uses mostly fictional examples of people struggling to live their good life. It’s a nice touch but the Mackay does come off as a bit arrogant as he does not interlace his own life and problems in the book. Perhaps Mackay did not want to include personal details but it is hard to relate to the writer making such a bold moralistic statement of how we should live without knowing anything about him as a person.

I did enjoy reading this book at first, but it does not touch on anything new, Alain de Botton has trodden down this moralistic path and honestly, he does in a much humble and intelligent fashion. It did make me think about our society’s ‘Utopian Complex’ where everything is in aim of a better, ideal life and how my mind is trained into thinking ahead and a ‘Ok once I’ve done this I’ll be happy.’

There is no a-hah moment where life will suddenly make sense. This is it – although a large part of me still doesn’t want to believe it.

 

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