The Secret to Experiencing The Good Life, It's More Accessible Than You Think
Updated: Apr 1, 2020
‘People leap into express trains,’ said the little prince, but they no longer know what they’re looking for. So they get agitated and go around in circles. And he added: “It’s not worth the trouble.”
(Antoine de Saint-Exupery, The Little Prince)
I was inspired by an article that I had read recently in Flow magazine. German Sociologist Hartmut Rosa was interviewed about his research on acceleration of our modern society and what constitutes “The Good Life.” Rosa explained that in today’s society we are driven by competition and performance. Companies and organisations work hard towards growth, innovation and acceleration, either to take the lead or to keep up with the competition or else they fall behind. Us as individuals are also affected by acceleration. Abiding by schedules and working hard to meet deadlines while constantly comparing our efforts against our peers to assess whether we are measuring up, as a society we are obsessed with achievement and success, and never completely satisfied with where we are right now. We collectively strive for more, more money, education and greater health, believing that once these things are obtained we will transported us towards a better life, “the good life,” as Rosa refers to it. Yet while there is nothing wrong with ambition (having goals gives us a sense of purpose and helps us to grow), we constantly load up on the "to-do's" and in turn feel pressured by both external and self-inflicted time constraints (e.g. work-related demands, the pressure of saving for a house before it's too late, or, oh I have some free time, but I SHOULD go and do some housework – these are a few of my own examples!). We live in the pursuit of something better, never truly arriving inside this desirable realm of “a good life.”
If we spend our lives in the pursuit of gaining more and our focus is narrowed directly onto where we have to get to next, how do you think this will affect your own intimate experience with others and the world around you?
Through his research Rosa observed that one of the pitfalls of acceleration is that it compromises our receptivity towards the world around us – our sensing, our feeling and our engagement with not only each other but also life itself. Acceleration often leads to alienation and disengagement which can be very problematic for our physical and mental health. A very human need that’s innate to all of us is to feel connected, when this need isn’t met our subjective wellbeing declines, increasing the risk of developing mental health related issues such as loneliness, depression and anxiety. According to Rosa, the good life is felt when there is a connection between ourselves, the people around us and our surroundings, this energising alignment creating what Rosa refers to as resonance. You may have heard of the word resonance in relation to the fields of music and physics – part of its meaning refers to increased, reinforced and prolonged energy. Researchers of life engagement and resonance in a psychological sense refer to resonance as a movement towards a harmonious experience between one’s inner world and his or her surroundings. This may be losing your autonomy and being so moved by an experience that for a moment you felt completely tuned in e.g. listening to a beautiful song or performance. Or it may occur while being completely engaged with work that you enjoy and is meaningful to you. Based on his research, Rosa explains that while we can't be resonant all the time, we can increase our receptivity and openness to such moments by slowing down enough to appreciate where we are and what we have, and this could be done by not over burdening ourselves, not over-pressuring ourselves to achieve and “to-do.” Sometimes what we are in need of the most is not the next goal that we are striving for, but rather to observe and enjoy the fullness and the beauty of where we are right now.
What she teaches me…
Have you ever had the experience of coming across a new idea or learning something that inspires you and then with that newly gained awareness, you see it actively demonstrated in real life shortly after your learning, creating a light bulb moment of, “ahhh, I see it now.”
It seems to happen for me quite frequently. Only 2 days after I had read the above article I was out working in my role as a Disability Support Worker. The person that I was supporting on this particular day is non-verbal and struggles with sensory processing, that is information received by sensory neurons and transmitted to the brain is often misinterpreted, creating a lot of internal confusion, emotional overwhelm and behavioural issues as a result which can be quite challenging for her family, carers and therapists to help her work through. One of the biggest influences on creating rapport and connection between myself and this person has been music, we both share a great love for a wide variety of music and often randomly collaborate using sticks picked up off the ground for rhythm while sitting in a park together, listening to Spotify playlists.
On this particular day, carrying her communication book while walking through the main street of a busy shopping district, there was a busker playing his acoustic guitar outside one of the local stores, no singing, just instrumental. As though the music was calibrating our connection into the here and now, the person I was supporting excitedly dragged me towards a park bench nearby and immediately sat us both down. Stretching her legs out in front of her and turning her feet inwardly before abruptly moving backwards and then forwards, she was quite loud and animated in her expression of joy - her happiness completely infectious. This was her own style of "rocking out" to the music. Her line of thinking, which is always attuned to what she needs now, was that we were to stay where we were and simply enjoy. It was as though in this moment she was teaching me, in spite of all of her cognitive, behavioural and sensory challenges, that this is what life is all about.
When I did finally call it time to leave, sensing that the busker wasn't completely aware of the influence his music had that morning, we walked over and communicated to him, in the most simplistic of ways, that she “liked” his music by pointing to a picture inside her communication book. It’s in moments like these that this person makes me feel, in a way that’s very unique and special to her, completely alive.
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