Who among us doesn’t desire “a better life”?
In his way, the worldly man seeks it in his accumulation of things. In another way, the monk who divests himself of materiality also seeks it. The loving parent sees that a better life goes beyond the singular organism, as does the heartfelt activist. The spiritual seeker sees no singular organism in the first place, but understands that the one produced two, two produced three, and three produced all things (a reference to Tao that I’ve happily twisted out of context and felt in a Christian way as I wrote it).
Those who’ve spent the time to think through the problem have differing opinions on which road to “a better life” is best and have their statements about value propositions and priorities. Personally, I feel that the most common reason for unhappiness is pride- many people sacrifice their lower flaws into that all-consuming and infectious source of suffering. No progress is made by putting your finances in order, having a fit body, and being popular if you got there in worship of that part of yourself that will dissolve into dust. Indeed, that’s a reversal, a descent. But I digress.
Even the qualification of “happiness” isn’t sufficient to define “a better life.” Is happiness merely physical comfort? Or it the absence of struggle, or being effective in making change in the world, or creating something we can be proud of? So then people branch off into the seeking of “life purpose”, which is just a third way of restating the very same problem of what it means to have a better life.
The problem is that the desire for “a better life” is coming from the parts of our minds that exist only because of fear and uncertainty – the self-preserving part of us. And that part of us would cease to exist if there wasn’t always the prospect of something better. The question must remain unanswered to preserve our egos, yet we try to solve it with our egos.
Such endless striving, so unnecessary and arising out of the shadow fictions of ourselves. We can “answer” the question by driving it out through realizations.
The first realization about “a better life” is that we’re swimming in it. That’s part of what people are trying to explain to us when they say we should practice meditation and mindfulness. Words don’t suffice. As you walk around in your day, you’ll never behold the beauty of the sky without looking up – yet it’s huge, it’s hanging over you all the time, it can’t be missed unless you hide in your cave or focus on your own feet. Relax into your breath, and the revelation of grace unfolds around you – it’s never left you.
The second realization about “a better life” is that the unclear term “happiness” is never realized until we decide how to love. Whether the focus of your love is yourself, another person, or the world at large – there’s a vast difference between pleasing someone and helping them toward greater peacefulness and centeredness. In fact, the two (pleasing and happiness) only go hand-in-hand if we’re talking about God – for to please God is to make ourselves happy, but to please anyone else (including ourselves) typically means enjoyment now that we’ll have to pay for later. Not always – sometimes, pleasing ourselves also pleases spirit (when we dance in celebration of some gift of grace, for example) – but enough times that hedonism and greed very deservedly have a bad rap.
But the third, and most important, realization about “a better life” is that you are, at best and thankfully, just a collaborator in your life. Your visions of a great life would probably hurt you if they came about exactly as you thought of them. Get the idea of what you think you want in your head, and then try your hardest for it – that’s good stuff, exactly right, free will. But, in all your efforts, know that you can’t actually accomplish anything on your own – pray for guidance and the assistance of your holy companion. And then, ultimately, whatever happens is the better life. It doesn’t matter if it matches that idea you had in your head, it doesn’t matter if there were failures or disasters along the way. Because the circumstance you arrive at is just another step in your journey, and it’s the step that your higher self – your spirit, your divine companion, and God Himself – has decided is best for your happiness.
And, being so guided and taken care of, being so very loved despite our undeserving natures and insufficient merits, how could life get any better?