Living your best life is a popular expression these days, a pervasive belief that everyone can—and should—be happier by getting what they want. It usually means having more material things, looking beautiful, and having a lifestyle with a lot of leisure time and a rewarding and high-paying job. If you search the hashtag #liveyourbestlife on Instagram, the results include before-and-after photos of weight loss and diet plans; glossy pictures of digital nomads in Bali, Rome, and Belize; yoga moms with their kids in coordinating outfits outside of renovated farmhouses; and advice quotes from tech-startup founders and new age spiritual teachers. Thousands of programs, classes, and books are available to teach us all how to live our best lives, and nearly all purport to tell us how to increase our wealth; land our dream job; find the perfect relationship; be beautiful, fit, and healthy; and feel good all the time.
Clearly, this idea of living your best life is deeply ignorant, because it’s demonstrably untrue—it’s neither possible nor the best life. It’s impossible because very few of us have the resources or privilege—the time, money, education, social connections, ability—necessary to get an interview for a high-paying prestige profession; go hiking in the rainforest; hire a life coach; or quit a job, find investment capital, and become an entrepreneur. The vast majority of us simply need and want to make a decent living to support ourselves and our families, and to do so in a position that pays fairly and treats us with dignity and respect. In fact, right now, just over eleven percent of Americans live in poverty, and over four percent are currently unemployed. Suggesting that it’s possible for everyone to live this version of a best life is a dangerous and cruel delusion.
Furthermore, living your best life in this way is actually not the best life because it necessarily means that the life you have is not enough and never will be until you get everything you want. It requires comparing yourself to others who have more than you, and ignoring the blessings that you currently enjoy. This cycle of wanting and getting—the Sanskrit word for it is samsara—is never satisfying because desire and comparison create more desire and comparison, not less. They generate greed, aversion, and delusion—the poisonous root causes of unhappiness and suffering. A real best life is a happy one, which is not the same as getting what you want. Real happiness is freedom from these poisonous roots of suffering, also called neediness, hatred, and ignorance.
The Buddha explained that it’s easy to live a real best life. All we have to do is create the conditions that will end our suffering and create happiness. When we live this real best life, our mind is steady and clear and present-focused, and we’re not swept away by envy or shame, so we don’t have reasons to regret or feel guilty about our actions. We feel content about ourselves and at peace with our life. The way to do this is pretty simple—we just need to appreciate our blessings, cultivate our wholesome qualities, and act compassionately with wisdom for ourselves and each other.
Appreciation arises just from noticing what we already have. Using mindfulness, we can turn our attention away from what we think we lack or are missing from our life, and instead choose to focus on the healthy, supportive, and positive aspects that we all enjoy. This can include: friends and family who love us; material things that we often overlook, like unlimited potable water from our tap, or warm shoes; shelter from the rain; and inner qualities like kindness, patience, and a warm heart, which we may dismiss or overlook as unimportant. Even if we struggle with illness, experience painful loss, or have other hardships, all of us can balance our difficulties by recognizing our advantages, however small they might seem. Even something as seemingly insignificant as an easeful breath can be a cause for appreciation.
A real best life is one in which we develop our limitless capacity for love, wisdom, compassion, and joy—what the Buddha called the Four Immeasurables. Cultivating these qualities dispels distressing feelings like jealousy, self-loathing, and boredom. It gladdens our mind and reminds us that we are worthy, loveable, and wise—and so is everyone else. Developing our beautiful qualities deeply connects us with the truth—that all living beings want to be happy and free, just like we do, and all deserve to live their real best life, too. We realize we’re not in competition with anyone else—in fact, we have a true intention that everyone, everywhere, including us, deserve to live their real best life, and it’s a pleasure and an honor to use our wisdom and compassion to help make this happen.
As we practice the Four Immeasurables, we begin to recognize the deep connection we share with everyone, and we gain confidence in our actions. We learn to use our thoughts, words, and behaviors skillfully, to benefit and not harm ourselves and each other. We notice that our clear communication and ethical behavior has an effect on everyone we encounter, and we begin to accept that we are significant and all that we do matters. This enables us to accept an important truth—that there are tremendous possibilities for positive change and growth for ourselves, society, and the world, now and in the future, and that we can contribute to creating them.
Because living our real best life is tethered to our intention to be happy and free and to help everyone else be happy and free, we don’t have to feel ashamed, regretful, or guilty, even when we make mistakes or forget our blessings. We can learn from our actions and start again and again. And, as we lead our real best life we naturally feel good because our wholesome qualities expand. We begin to trust ourselves to weather difficulty, sadness, and upset, and to keep a steady mind when we have success, good fortune, or achievement.
If you think you should be living your best life, consider living your real best life. Everyone, including you, can do this with true contentment, abiding happiness, and deep appreciation for what you have and who you are. If you feel like something is missing, if you’re envious of others, or if you’re comparing yourself to other people, you can begin living your real best life by doing the following meditation.
- Shut off your devices, find a quiet spot, and stop talking. Get still and sit comfortably on a chair or the floor or even in your car. Put your hand on your heart and take ten conscious breaths, perhaps deepening your inhales and exhales.
- Now think of someone you know who is dissatisfied with their life. It could be someone close to you who complains a lot, or a colleague who’s never satisfied, or even someone you know from the news or the internet. Imagine they’re sitting near you, and silently say these phrases to them, “May you recognize all your good blessings. May you be content and at ease with yourself.” Repeat for five minutes.
- Next you can think of yourself. You can put your hand on your heart and feel your presence, or perhaps you imagine yourself as a child. Then give yourself the same kindness, repeating silently to yourself for five minutes, “May I recognize all my good blessings. May I be content and at ease with myself.”
- Finally, consider all of us dissatisfied and confused beings who want to be happy and free just like you do. Make a connection with us all—maybe just allowing your heart to open to the life around you, or imagining the living beings on the Earth—and silently say for a few minutes, “May everyone recognize all our good blessings. May we be content and at ease with ourselves.”
- You can do this practice whenever you feel like you’re not enough or you’re desperately wishing for something or you’re filled with envy. Try to do it every day, even if it’s just for a few minutes. Each time you end your meditation, be sure to appreciate your wisdom and compassion, by whispering “thank you” to yourself for your sincere efforts.
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