My Dear Children:
It may be a colloquialism
that we say, "that a person 'gets it'" meaning,
generally, that the person understands how to live life
well. But, however said, at any time, or in any
location, it is of great value to think about the
qualities in a person that underlie living life well.
The premise, of course,
presupposes that some lives are lived better than
others, since living a life well necessarily implies
that a life may not be lived well. And, since no life
may be lived twice, there can never be an absolute
comparison between or among the implementation of
unlimited choices in any single life at any given
time. Nevertheless, it seems possible to identify the
common qualities of different persons who all appear to
live well, to the extent that such qualities can be
At the onset, it should be
importantly noted, that knowing how to live life well
has no relationship to social status, money, employment
or any other possessory interest. It is far deeper than
any of those. An old mid-west farmhand and a wealthy
corporate executive, with such different lives, can
equally live life well, as can, as Aesop would say, a
city mouse and a country mouse.
At its most fundamental
generality, living life well appears to be a peace with
existence. It seems to be a detachable independence,
with, at that same time, complete dependant
integration. Irrespective of any one particular life,
it can never be true that a person lives well if that
person complains, is hurtful, jealous or mean; certainly
so, for such qualities in a person are indicative of the
struggle, unhappiness or frustration that can never be
part of living well and are, in fact, its antithesis.
It is, furthermore,
important not to become discouraged (if that is not
ironic) in learning to live well. It is usually, I
think, something to be learned. Like most things, it
may come naturally to the very few, and it may be
inaccessible to others. But, for most, with some
attention over time, such as a subtle wisdom is
achieved, learning to live life well also can be
It may take a lifetime to
learn to live well.
And, so, simply stated,
following are the qualities that I believe are common in
persons who live well, and who understand how to live
life well. They are, as fundamental in nature,
necessarily simple qualities:
1. Work hard.
Be diligent. Working hard
means performing your obligations and being diligent in
your purpose. If you cannot find contentment in your
work, then you are in the wrong work. Everyone I have
ever known who lives well loves their profession, and so
they work hard by passionate compulsion.
Nothing great has ever been
accomplished that was not the result of uncompromising
It is an important point
that you should strive to find a profession that will
allow you to fulfill your purpose. And, it is your
passion for your purpose that will slice through the
inertias of daily life. The passion of an artist
provides no choice. Remember that contentment is
something subtlety different than happiness, for persons
of great responsibility may or may not be lightly happy
in work, but will find deeper contentment in the
fulfillment of a greater purpose.
Even if your purpose is to
watch beautiful sunsets, it will not be an easy task if
you should desire to be your best in doing so.
2. Play hard.
Enjoy life. This is, of
course, part of working hard, if you love your
profession. But, it means knowing how to have fun. It
means feeling as good in a suit or a beautiful dress as
in jeans. It means not taking yourself, or others, too
seriously. As Jesus said, "Solomon in all his splendor
was not clothed so well as one little flower." The
things from which you take enjoyment do not need to be
expensive or complicated. There is nothing more simple
in life than a sweet kiss or a giggle.
3. Love others.
Do your best to love
everyone. This means being unselfish. By definition,
you cannot love and be selfish. Love is selfless. As a
human being, our most basic nature is to survive, and
that is, if anything, selfish. Certainly, in that
regard, it is natural to be selfish. But, in that
regard, it is also base and the condition of animals.
It is by love that we transcend ourselves. To give your
life for others is certainly the highest form of love,
to give your possessions less so. The Stoics teach that
there is nothing you own, only things are borrowed,
including your life. There is nothing more wise that
this statement. Therefore, you should understand that
you will have to return everything you have or will
every have. Understanding this fundamental point is
where understanding of love begins.
Perfect love is tantamount
to martyrdom, which is, I suppose, a different type of
fulfillment. Although we are guided by the star of
perfect love, living well does not require perfection—it
is enough, I think, for you to be guided by the star
without necessarily having to touch it.
Respect life, and the rules
It is the state of nature,
neither good or bad, right or wrong, that a lion will
eat an antelope. A bear will eat a fish. You will
accidentally step on many ants. It just is. It has
been. It will be.
There are very few things
that are generally good or bad except as we make them
so. But, it seems bad to kill anything alive, not from
necessity, but for pleasure or sport. There is a
subtle meanness in killing for sport; or, possibly, not
so subtle, just ubiquitously overlooked. As Abraham
Lincoln said, "it may be just an ant's life to you, but,
I suppose, for the ant, it is a rather important thing."
But, please do not
misunderstand this point. Cats will chase mice. Two
rams will butt heads. Birds will eat worms—as they
sing. There will be war. It is the way it is. It has
been. It will be. Society may advance, but never human
nature. Do not try to contradict nature. It is folly,
and an inherently frustrated purpose, to try to
re-invent the fundamental way of things. Not all
mountains can be tunneled, but they all can be crossed.
The important point is that, whether by prayer or other
appreciation, you recognize and understand the cycle of
life from which we all will take, and to which we will
But, if you ever laugh at
nature when you take life from her, I assure you that
she will laugh when she takes life from you.
Help others, whenever you
Where love exists, helping
others is a natural incident. But, you can still help
others out of discipline, even if you do not love them.
It is rightful that you should use your strengths to
help the weak and vulnerable. I have tried to reconcile
living well with the probable inability to purely love
everyone with an appropriate real-world unselfishness.
Here is the best I could do:
limitation is gluttony.
consumption is drudgery.
Neither extreme could be
It seems rightful to
produce all that you can without drudgery.
And to consume all that
you can enjoy without gluttony.
But, in all cases, to do
your best to consume less than you produce,
and to contribute the
to those that are unable
to produce what they need to consume.
People that live well are
Understand that, for better
or worse, life will end.
Space without boundaries is
a meaningless void. There is no circle without the
encompassing line. Life is the inside of a circle, and
death the encompassing line. It is death that defines
our life. Without death, there is no life—or it has no
meaningful definition. Death gives time its importance.
Remember that, with every
laugh with your friends, you will likely be at their
funeral or they will be at yours. This point should not
be depressing, but it should be deepening. It is the
way of things. Napoleon said, "space can be recovered,
never time." And, so it is that each moment is
precious. There is nothing more important that I have
ever done than, as my father did, each day telling you
and your mother that I love you with a kiss. For I
recognize that, one of those days, it will be the last
I love you,
Copyright 2006 by Gregg R. Zegarelli. All rights