Archives For The Good Life

RobinWilliamsJoyLike many, I was shocked by the news of Robin Williams’ unexpected death. He had an award-winning movie career; he lived in a mansion just north of the Golden Gate Bridge, and he knew he was responsible for millions of laughs worldwide for the last 35 years.

Why would Robins Williams committ suicide? Why would someone of his success and fame do such a thing?

The “why” questions always come up after the news of suicide. I certainly wrestled with these “why” questions for many years after my father committed suicide at a similar time in his life. Like Williams, he seemed to have a lot going for him, so why result to suicide?

These lingering “why” questions inspired me to write a book on topic of “What is the Good Life?”. By no means do I feel like I reveal secrets within the book that can treat someone with serious depression. However, I feel like these bits of advice are helpful reminders for most of us to find the joys in life that gives us great satisfaction with our lives.


1) We’ll all face rough times; we must embrace them. Times of intense struggle and pain are usually when we grow the most. The ones who seem to enjoy life the most are ones who have gone through life’s valleys and have learned to overcome those with the help of friends.

2) Create something. Paint a watercolor landscape, write a poem, start a new business, play with your nephew’s Play-Doo. It does not matter what, but find something that will give you joy by creating it. Also, it certainly helps to create things that help others.

3) Build a team. We’re not meant to go through life entirely alone – especially in times of depression. One secret of those living “the Good Life” is having a strong network of family and friends who they can count on during times of hardship.

4. Connect with something greater than yourself. Passionately pursue something that you believe is greater than your life. Some people do this by finding God. Others take a week off work to help hundreds of disaster victims in Haiti. Others do scientific research. The trick is pursuing something that will inspire you to make a difference within your own lives and to help others.

Most of us have been impacted in some way by friend or family member who has committed suicide. Even so, the unexpected news of Robin Williams’ death has troubled many. Just one is example is how numerous suicide prevention hotlines around the U.S. have had a record number of calls in the last 48 hours.

Instead of seeing Robin Williams’ death as jarring news or something that greatly upsets us, let us be mindful of the joy we can find now. Let us look back of the contentment of the accomplishes of our life. And, focus on securing a hope for great things to come.


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Dallas Willard

Personal Reflection

I found Dallas’s answers compelling, but even as a religious person myself, I was somewhat shocked that Dallas put so much stress on the teachings of Jesus as the foundation of the Good Life today. Dallas is a philosopher who has read thousands of books of all genres; certainly there are books of philosophy and psychology that touch on the same principles that would be easier for modern readers. “There is no other book or philosophical teaching that compares?” I asked.

Again, he answered my question with another question. “Nick, what has been the most influential speech in history?”

I was stumped. I was recalling several speeches from American history including MLK’s “I have a Dream” and JFK’s “Ask not what you country can do for you.” But, I knew these only touched a small slice of people in whole scheme of human history. I thought back to the Bible. “I guess it would have to be Jesus’ teachings.”

He said that I was correct, more specifically, the answer is the Sermon on the Mount. No other speech has had the same massive influence. Nearly every society of the Western world for the last 2,000 years has been impacted by its message and the actions it has inspired. This fact has helped him trust in the Bible to be a source of knowledge that guides him through life’s complicated paths. He believes that everyone, not just professors like himself, can be positively impacted by following its timeless truths.

Looking through a Philosophical Lens

Though Dallas’s ideas were more religious than most that I interviewed, I hope that they did not come across as if it were my attempt to preach on what faith you should ascribe to. What I was hoping to do with this entry is to show an answer to the Good Life question looking through a philosophical framework. I found it interesting that Dallas came to conclusion that life must have a spiritual component by examining it from his philosophical framework.


Superficiality is the curse of our age.  The doctrine of instant satisfaction is a primary spiritual problem.  The desperate need today is not for a greater number of intelligent people, or gifted people, but for deep people.

–Richard Foster

I  know the power obedience has of making things easy which seem impossible.

–Teresa of Avila


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Dallas WillardThis week, we received the news that Dr. Dallas Willard had passed away. As a philosophy professor from USC, Dallas influenced millions through his books and teachings on topics of spiritual formation, particularly myself. Spending some time with him in the summer of 2010 was actually one of motivations for me writing The Good Life Crisis. 

Having not written an blog post for some time, I thought it would be fitting to restart by posting the chapter in the book devoted to my interview with Dallas. I hope his ideas will be as instrumental to you as they have been for me.

A Lesson in Philosophy

I first met Dallas in Washington D.C. when traveling with him to Maryland’s Eastern Shore for a conference on science and faith. On our two-hour drive, I was able to ask him about the Good Life, and it was as if he already had a lecture prepared on the subject.

When I asked him about the Good Life, he noted that it’s one of the best questions we can ever ask as humans. However, he thought it was “too big” of a question. To adequately answer this question, he said we need to break it up in four other questions (leave it to a philosopher to answer your question with more questions):

  • What is real?
  • Who is well off?
  • Who is a good person?
  • How do I get to be a good person?

I’ll try to provide you with a response to these four questions as eloquently as he communicated them to me during our drive.

What is real?

Dallas admitted that this is a profound question. Even more importantly, it is question that no one has any authority to answer. He asked me if I had ever heard of a Department of Reality at a university. I told that we had some pretty eccentric professors at Yale whose research was in obscure fields, but they were not bold enough to work in “reality studies.” He admitted that the same was true at USC. He then told me that this leaves the question open for anyone in academia to pursue (science, politics, religion, etc.).

Dallas told me that this first question pivots on answers to other fundamental questions such as: “What can we count on?” “What is at stake in life?” and “What are the things that guide our lives?”

Dallas’s personal answer does not rely on his philosophical research, but rather on his religious beliefs. He said that he views the spiritual dimension of life as the highest realm of reality. Therefore, the thing which is most real to him is interacting with a God who can reveal truths to us through life events and Scriptures. Under his view, what is at stake in our lives is having the chance to have eternal life with a God who wants to have a relationship with His creation.

Dallas briefly mentioned other popular views of reality. One could believe in a power-based version of reality in which life is about gaining the most money or power within one’s society. Or, one can take a scientific materialism view that leads people to believe that we are just a bunch of atoms that have coalesced by chance to produce this thing called life. He admitted that he is a philosophy professor, so he lets others decide what version they think is best for them.

Who is Well Off?

Dallas quickly noted how one’s answer to the second question is totally dependent on one’s answer to the first. Since his version of reality is based on theological beliefs, his answer is “anyone who lives interactively with God.” More specifically, he was referring to those who want to accomplish the will of God and want to have an eternal relationship with God that will start here on earth. He calls this “living in the Kingdom of God.”

Who is a good person? 

Again, this question is totally dependent on the previous question. For Dallas, he recognizes that we all have faults and will always make wrong choices. Since we will always make mistakes and cannot change our condition, a good person is one who accepts God’s invitation on how to have a good life. Basically, a good person is one who has found their purpose in life and has committed to pursuing things that are greater than their individual existence.

How can I be a good person?

Before he gave me his answer, I told him that this question sounded the same as #3. He assured me there was a slight nuance between the two. He noted that this fourth question emphasizes action. This idea of “action” and “doing” has been a major theme within his bestselling works.

Dallas believes that many of his fellow Christians leave out the action component of following Jesus’ teachings. Their actions do not reflect the type of life that Jesus taught about. He says that many religious people only have belief; they incorrectly believe they are good people because they have recited a specific prayer or belong to a church. However, their beliefs are not true convictions because they do not produce action.

The strength of a man’s virtue should not be measured by his special exertions, but by his habitual acts.

–Blaise Pascal


Go to Part 2 >>


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happiness 3Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.
— Aristotle

Love is the joy of the good, the wonder of the wise, the amazement of the Gods.
In many other entries, happiness has been a common theme in our conversations about the Good Life. In the hundreds of interviews that I have done, many people assume that happiness is the standard for judging whether someone is living the Good Life. When they tell me of a time when they felt they were living the Good Life, they usually revert back to a time when they were “most happy.” Their answers seem to imply that if you are happy, or happier than others, you must be living the Good Life. But is this correct? I don’t want to pick a philosophical fight with Aristotle (see quote above), but I disagree.

My disagreement with the Aristotelian notion about happiness being humankind’s ultimate aim is more of a matter of semantics. Happiness is a loose term that we use to describe a wide range of positive emotions. I believe it takes a stronger word to describe what the people in this book have when they describe their perspectives on the Good Life. What these people have is what I call “joy.”

To provide you with a better understanding of joy and how it relates to the Good Life, I ask that you be willing to travel back in time with me to meet an expert on this topic.

Across the Ocean and Across Time

The next person I want to introduce you to in our Good Life tour is the British author and professor C.S. Lewis. Even though Lewis died thirty years before I was born and lived over 5,000 miles away, I feel that I know him better than any of the others I have interviewed for this project.

I got to know Lewis through my studies at the University of Oxford. During this time, I participated in a program that was directed by a dean of Oxford who happened to be one of C.S. Lewis’s last graduate students. The highlight of my program was taking a course in which I analyzed nearly all of Lewis’s writings. During my year-long stay in England, I literally got to follow in Lewis’s footsteps by going to his favorite pub, visiting his personal home, and joining the same literary society that he and his colleagues started in the 1930’s. At the end of my studies at this academic paradise, I not only knew enough about Lewis to write a book inspired by his ideas, but also I felt that I had gotten to know him as a mentor and friend.

Lewis’s Legacy – The Books that Bear his Name

Today, Lewis is best known for being a spokesman for the Christian faith after going through a period in his younger years as an outspoken atheist. As a teenager, he encountered a brilliant teacher at his boarding school who was an atheist. The intellect of this teacher inspired Lewis to turn away from the teachings of the Church of Ireland that he was taught as a child. Later in his life, Lewis met several other Oxford professors and British intellectuals such as J.R.R Tolkien (author of the Lord of the Rings trilogy) who had many compelling arguments for their faith in God. These discussions led Lewis to believe that Christian and theist worldviews presented the most accurate picture in which to understand life.

Even though Lewis wrote many best-selling works on the Christian religion, he admits that he was no saint. He spent the majority of his life as a bachelor and enjoyed spending time with friends in Oxford pubs. At the pubs, the guys would have a beer, smoke a pipe, cuss, and get so rowdy that they were occasionally asked to leave by the owner. Though Lewis had plenty of fun at the Oxford pubs, he also used these social spaces to host a literary society called the The Inklings. By gathering many brilliant minds together on a weekly basis, Lewis was able to get feedback that helped  produce many bestselling works.

Lewis was also known by those in Oxford as being a kind-hearted man. He gave nearly all the royalties from his book sales to local charities and to the widows of Oxford. He rationalized that he was a professor and should live off his teaching salary, so he found joy by giving his additional income to those in need.

Continue to Part 2 on C.S. Lewis on the Purpose of Life >>

C.S. Lewis on Joy


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Reflections on the Good LifeA Beautiful Example
As someone who is devoted to her Catholic faith, Mary agreed with her father’s ideas that the Good Life comes from a commitment to sacrificing for the sake of others. However, instead of emphasizing the truth element, she (like a true artist) emphasized the role of beauty.

Mary said her view of the Good Life is shaped by the example of Mother Teresa. Mary admired how Mother Teresa saw beauty in the lives of orphans in India, the same kids who were overlooked by the rest of society. Recognizing this beauty caused Mother Teresa to love them, and love of this type was powerful enough to transform thousands of lives.

Seeing it First-hand

Shortly after talking with Mary about how Mother Teresa sacrificed all that she had to care for the sick and orphaned, I had the opportunity to travel to India. Along with my friend Harsh, we visited Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity organization in downtown Calcutta. My work schedule prevented me from going through the orientation process for volunteers, but I was able to meet with the sisters and donate a pair of shoes to the kids at the orphanage.

The lady who received my gift was an American nun named Lucy who once served at a convent only 25 miles from the area where Mary and Dr. Hurlbut live. Witnessing the gratitude on Lucy’s face was enough to show me that she is truly happy with her life in Calcutta. She told me about her fond memories of living in beautiful California, but she admitted that she rarely misses the conveniences of American life since she now experiences the joys of giving.

In a similar manner, I saw Mary enthusiastically giving her time to show love to her three siblings. Though her brothers and sisters are not in need of clothing, food, and medicine like those in India, these children respond to love in the same way. Despite having to spend the majority of her workweek with high school students, Mary enjoys spending as much time as she can with her family.

Further Thoughts

After thinking about the question, Mary added these thoughts weeks later, emphasizing that the Good Life is not always easy:

The Good Life is having the peace and stillness to listen to your heart and the courage to follow your conscience. Life if full of challenges. The Good Life is being able to take perspective that allows these challenges to become stepping stones to a greater good; to continually renew our commitments, even when we’ve failed. We should strive to transform our personal suffering into compassion…

The Good Life is trusting in the power of love, seeking meaning, and embracing both joy and suffering with gratitude while living in kindness. Even if it’s not good now, life is a journey that, I believe, ultimately leads to a good destination for everyone who seeks it and believes in the transformative power of courageous, self-giving love.  

The Good Life is a life that sustains the belief that what seems bad or hideously imperfect can be transformed into a deeply meaningful good through the grace of God and the power of Christ’s love. 

Beauty, Love, and Truth

Before I left that evening, I explained how their answers to the Good Life question seem to match my definition of experiencing beauty, love, and truth and sharing these three things with a community of others. Both the artist and the scientist agreed that they could not have said it better themselves.

Truth, and goodness, and beauty are but different faces of the same all.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson

Let the beauty we love become the good we do.
— Rumi

I cannot believe that the inscrutable universe turns on an axis of suffering; surely the strange beauty of the world must somewhere rest on pure joy!
— Louise Bogan

Love begins at home, and it is not how much we do… but how much love we put in that action.
— Mother Teresa

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Bill Hurlbut's advice A Religious Truth

When I asked Dr. Hurlbut about the Good Life, he gave me an answer that focused on truth, just as I expected from a scientist with a medical background. However, it was a religious truth as opposed to a scientific one.

He said that his version of the Good Life is summarized in the Bible when Jesus speaks to a young ruler. The ruler asks Jesus what is the secret of life, or how one can be assured of eternal life. Jesus’ first answer is to keep the commandments in scripture such as do not murder, do now commit adultery, and honor your father and mother. When the ruler says that he has done these things, Jesus tells him that he lacks one thing. The ruler has a love for money, so in order to align his heart with life’s most important things, Jesus advises him to sell all his possessions. The ruler cannot relinquish his wealth and chooses not to follow Jesus or Jesus’ plan for ultimate satisfaction.

In his interpretation of this scripture, Dr. Hurlbut said the Good Life is not going to be “good all the time.” It is marked by sacrifice and suffering in order to gain something that is much greater than one’s own life.

When Dr. Hurlbut speaks of suffering, he is speaking from the perspective of an expert; he has written extensively on the subject and seen hundreds of patients suffer through physical and emotional pain. He says, “Suffering is a journey deeper into the heart of life. You cannot make a superficial description of the meaning of life as though it is oriented around pleasure, beauty, or even fun. Life is going to be full of struggle and, for many, intense suffering… Yet, there is a deeper significance.”

Dr. Hurlbut believes we have the potential to find this “deeper significance” or ultimate meaning of life by seeing life in the context of a cosmic spiritual conflict. It is up to our free will to fight against our selfish tendencies in order to pursue choices associated with love and truth.

Cherishing Each Person 

Because of his theological views and his experience working with patients, Dr. Hurlbut has gained a high view of other human beings. He states, “No matter how bad off a person is… their life is a treasure for them, and they want us to care for them with a tenderness and a concern for their good.”

I have found this deep concern for fellow humans to be a common thread in those who seem to be enjoying life the most. They learn how to cherish the lives of others, and they find great satisfaction in providing these people with the respect and love that we all need.

Go to Part 3 >>


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The Good Life Crisis Concluding ChapterConfessions
I’ve become an expert on the “Good Life,” but even I’ve lost vision of living an ideal life while writing this book. Within the two-year process of writing this book, I’ve hurt others by making selfish interests a priority. I’ve put my job before my relationships with family and friends which has resulted in things like forgetting to return calls to my own mother. I’ve become so stressed from planning travel and attending parties that I’ve made rash decisions that prevented me and others from experiencing the true joys of life. Even though I was studying at one of the world’s best schools and working for a company that has been considered the #1 place to work, I’ve repeatedly asked myself, “Is this what I should be doing with my life?”

What is this Book is About?

I wrote a book on this subject because I knew you would have similar disappoints and questions about life. A major goal of this book is to provide you with wisdom and inspiration to experience the Good Life in greater levels each day. I recognize that this book is not a comprehensive guide that tells you an exact formula to gain the Good Life. But, I’m confident that it provides us with enough examples to spark hope that we can find the Good Life regardless of your current situation.

A Change in Plan

One of the main ideas from this book that is worth repeating is that life is tough. Yet, there is nothing sweeter than overcoming pain and hardship to enjoy how beautiful life can be.

After studying at a divinity school and having many “spiritual” experiences, my views on God have expanded over the course of this project. I do not have sufficient space to expand on these views in this book, but one of the major ideas that I’ve learned is that God is working to make all things good. This idea is one of other major goals for this project. We will experience life’s pains and hardships, but we should constantly strive to make all things good in our lives and in the communities in which we live.

A Life Happily Ever After

I originally wrote this concluding chapter by writing a summary of all the advice from each individual chapter. You can still read that chapter at:

May your life be filled with beauty, love, and truth, and a community of others who will want to share the joys of these things! I hope this blog, book, and my every day actions will help you achieve the life you have always wanted.

Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.
– Teddy Roosevelt

For I must tell you that we artists cannot tread the path of Beauty without Eros keeping company with us and appointing himself as our guide.
— Thomas Mann

The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen, nor touched … but are felt in the heart.
— Helen Keller

For every beauty there is an eye somewhere to see it. For every truth there is an ear somewhere to hear it. For every love there is a heart somewhere to receive it.
–Ivan Panin

 The Good Life is about experiencing beauty, love and truth, and sharing the joys of these three things with others and God.

— Nick Shelton, after years for searching for the Good Life



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sunset_moonThe Good Life is about experiencing beauty, love, and truth and sharing life’s joys with a community of others.

I came up to bat with adrenaline rushing through my veins. It was a moment every baseball player lives for. It was the second to last inning in the Georgia high school state championships. My team was down by three. I was batting with the bases loaded and one out. A home run would give us the lead and allow me to be the hero that would led the way to a win.

Before leaving the dugout, I picked a different bat than the one I usually used – this one was the biggest we had. Normally, it was a bit too heavy for me, but for this situation, I wanted the best for hitting homeruns. As I walked out toward home plate, I looked out into the crowd of over a thousand. It seemed like everyone from my hometown was there. “Come on, Nick!” They shouted. “You can do it!”

Since I was a little kid, I had dreamed of being in a moment like this. But, none of that was going through my mind right now. Nor did I think of the thousands of hours of practice I spent training for this sport I loved. My mind was only focused on hitting that small white ball as far as I could.

I kicked my cleats in the red dirt to get a good footing. I knew the pitcher was struggling to throw a strike, so I was ready to pounce on the first pitch that was close.

The first pitch came sailing high – just where I like them. I swung as hard as I could, but I missed by a couple of centimeters, hitting the lower portion of the ball. The ball flew up fifty feet then fell into the crowd out of play. All of the fans let out a huge exhale. I heard whispers of: “Wow, I’ve never seen him swing that hard,” and “If he would have hit that solid, it’d been out of the park.” I tried to maintain my concentration, getting ready for the next pitch.

When the next pitch came in, I again swung with all my might. This time the pitch was low and outside, too far for me to reach. I nearly fell down trying to chase it. Bad decision.

Now, I had dug myself into a hole. One more strike, and I would let down the team. I had to at least get a hit to keep our hopes alive.

The pitcher then threw three consecutive balls, hoping I would commit the similar mistake again. I restrained, setting up one last pitch. I took some time to pace around to get all the butterflies out of my stomach. I reentered the batter’s box, part of me in fear that I’d fail; the other part of me anxious to be the hero.

The last pitch came right down the middle of plate. My eyes grew wide, but as I decided to swing a bit of fear hit me. This time, I took more of a relaxed swing to make contact with the ball, but the bat did not strike the ball squarely. I again hit the ball up in the air, this time to the direction of the second baseman who was able to catch it for an easy out.

My hopes of being the hero were dashed. Our team was unable to mount a comeback, and we saw our opponents celebrate triumphantly on our own field. For the weeks that followed, I could not help but to blame myself for the loss and ask: “What if…” What if I swung harder on this last pitch? What if I’d have practiced more that week?

I Sure Am Lucky

I started this book by providing you a glimpse of a Hawaiian vacation that felt like paradise to me. To give you a better understanding of my view of the Good Life, I knew it would be appropriate to end this book with a story that highlights one of my moments of disappointment and loss.

Though I have taken a bit of an arrogant tone describing all the amazing things I’ve been able to do recent years, I want to conclude this book by emphasizing how I have had my greatest education into the Good Life by experiencing struggle, hardship, and loss.

I have had an extremely fortunate life where I have been able to receive a top-notch education, meet extraordinary people, travel the world without a strict budget, and accomplish amazing physical feats. Having an incredible life that many envy helped create a great author bio on the back cover of this book. But, that person on the back cover is not living the Good Life and, quite frankly, I hope you hate that type of the person who seems to be perfect in so many ways.

My true qualifications for writing this book come from losing my father to suicide; considering committing suicide myself; having trouble finding a job that keeps me happy and financially stable; receiving hundreds of rejection letters from publishers unwilling to publish my books; and working until three a.m. many consecutive days thinking I had to do whatever it took to become “successful.” I’ve found out what it feels like to let down my family and the girl I thought I’d spend the rest of my life with. I’ve even struggled to believe in the God I once made a commitment to love for the rest of my life.

By experiencing tough times, I had to dig deep inside myself to learn who I really am and discover what it takes to overcome. All the previous chapters highlight how the Good Life can be found in many ways, but it takes great determination for us to develop the state of mind and passion to create similar life stories. Many of us never fully gain this commitment until we face death, intense struggle, or great pain.

I included the word crisis in the title of this book for a reason. Mainly, I wanted you to think that a Good Life Crisis is an epiphany moment that would be the opposite of a mid-life crisis. However, another reason alludes to the idea that you may have to go through a crisis or difficult times to know how great life can be.

Part II is continued here.


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It had been a long week. It was only Tuesday, but I had already had several days that seemed like nothing was going my way. As one who encourages others to live the “Good Life,” I feel especially compelled to make changes in my attitude or setting when I’m having a bad day. On this particular night, I was in great need of something to change the downward spiral of my luck and emotions.

Going on a long run has always been something that relieves stress and helps me feel better. So, I called up a friend and asked him if he wanted to run with me the next day.

Over the course of the run, we talked about how spending time outdoors helped us both to realize what the Good Life is about. My friend, who is a native of California, told me that I was in the right part of the world to enjoy nature. In particular, for runners like myself, there were hundreds of scenic races and marathons that occur throughout the year. He even recalled that there was a great marathon in Lake Tahoe that weekend.

The more we talked about running in scenic places, the more I wanted to get away that weekend. So, on the day before the race I convinced myself that the Good Life encompasses doing spontaneously things like taking a day off work to drive 200 miles to run a marathon. Since I did not train for this marathon, I had no goals for the race, except to take time to enjoy the spectacular scenery of Lake Tahoe.

The Emerald Bay Marathon at Tahoe

The marathon that Friday certainly lived up to my expectations. The race started at a beautiful area called Inspiration Point. We were certainly inspired by viewing a sunrise over the lake just before the start gun of the race.

For the first five miles, I was able to stretch out my legs and let gravity take me down a scenic bike path around the portion of the lake called Emerald Bay, aptly named for the reflection of the evergreen trees on the lake’s surface. After this stretch of beautiful scenery, I hit a flat stretch of hotels and restaurants into the state of Nevada. To keep my mind off the fact that I still had 21 miles left to run, I started a conversation with a fellow runner who was keeping at my pace just behind me.

“What time to you hope to finish in?” I asked, trying not to lose breath with long sentences.

“I usually finish around three hours and ten minutes,” said this tall runner who had a muscular frame compared to other marathoners. “But I may go a little easier since I’m running the two other marathons this weekend.”

Before hearing his response, I was feeling good about myself that I was running in 5th place in this marathon that had nearly 75 participants. However, my attitude changed after hearing that many of those I was competing against were planning to run three separate marathons that weekend. The circumference of Lake Tahoe is approximately 72 miles, so the organizers of the Lake Tahoe Marathon put on three consecutive races on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday to give individuals the opportunity to run around the entire lake. My running mate, Sam Felsenfeld, was one of the few trying to accomplish this endurance feat.

“Wow, you must be in incredible shape,” I responded. “Have you run in a lot of marathons before?”

“Yeah, I’ve run all over the country. I’ll run in at least 60 this year.”

Did he just say 60 marathons in one year? Am I already getting delusional at mile 5?

I kept pace with Sam for a few more minutes before I started feeling a bit fatigued. I decided to let him pass, but I made a mental note to catch up with him after the race. I wanted to know what made someone like him tick. What causes a man to travel around the country to participate in one grueling race after another?

The Glorious Finish Line

Before I describe my post-race discussion with Sam, I first have to share how it feels to complete a marathon since it’s a part of my Good Life. The last eight miles (especially when they are up a mountain near Lake Tahoe) are torture. But crossing the finish line is pure bliss. By the time you finish, your body is releasing all of its pain-killing neurotransmitters and hormones to battle the soreness and fatigue. These natural pain-killers give you a pleasant feeling of numbness that makes your body feel like it is floating. You look back over the course that you just completed and know that you just accomplished a feat that a small percentage of the population has ever done. Just the feeling of accomplishment gives you a sense of joy.

After I spent some time enjoying the endorphins circulating throughout my veins, I stumbled over toward Sam to congratulate him on finishing fifth.

“So what causes you to do this every weekend?” I asked. “Do you just love running? Or, does it give you an excuse to travel across the country to amazing places like this?”

“I certainly love running, but I’m not doing this for the fun of it,” he said while stretching his legs. “I’m doing this for my son.” Sam pointed to the logo on his shirt that said, “Operation Jack.” Sam explained that Jack was the name of his autistic child. He was on a mission to enter marathons as a way to raise awareness about autism and to fundraise for a nonprofit doing autism research. Over the course of the year, Sam gained supporters from all over the country who were inspired by his love for his son. Numerous reporters have done stories on how Sam is combining his passion for running with his love for his family to make the world a better place for those born with autism.

The Low Points

What’s even more inspirational about Sam’s story is learning that he has not always been a runner. In fact, he admits to being in terrible physical shape in his late twenties. At one point, he could not walk around the block without getting exhausted. During this time, he admits to drinking too much and smoking a pack of cigarettes a day. He admitted that these habits were partly to blame for having a stressful work schedule and not fully addressing personal issues in his life.

When Sam’s wife saw that his cholesterol was above 300, she became worried that she could lose him to a heart attack. For his 30th birthday, she gave him an iPod to encourage him to get outside to walk. The iPod was a help, but his wife’s concern is what inspired Sam to make a change in his life.

His resolution was to start walking a four-mile loop around his house for several weeks until he worked up the stamina to jog a portion of the loop. After weeks of doing intervals of walking and jogging, Sam was eventually able to jog the entire loop. He kept pushing himself to get in better running shape until he was able to complete a half marathon a year later.

Signing up for various road races gave Sam the motivation to stay in great shape. More importantly, running would eventually turn into something more important than keeping himself in good physical health.

Nature’s Spa

As more runners crossed the finish line, a group of us decided to relax our tired legs by wading into the chilly waters of Lake Tahoe. I used this opportunity to ask Sam about what he has learned from his marathons.

“I love seeing the beauty and diversity of this country,” he said, as we inched our way into the cold water, “especially all that you get to see when you spend 26 plus miles on foot.” He admitted, however, that traveling has lost some of its fun after doing it for every weekend for the past year. He loves the area that he lived in Orange County, California. More importantly, he misses being in Orange County because this is where he has established a great “home” with family and friends.

I told Sam that I had just traveled to his hometown to visit Rick Warren’s church, something I’d been wanting to do for years after reading The Purpose Driven Life.

“Saddleback – yeah, that’s my church,” he said. Seeing that we had another point of similarity, he began talking more about what his church meant to him and how it developed his concept of home.

Overall, he said that being an active member at Saddleback Church has given him a greater appreciation of life. He loves how the church focuses on creating an environment where everyone feels welcome. This welcoming spirit allows community to develop, which he believes is where the Good Life is found.

Though sam has since moved to Colorado and cannot make many church services because of his busy  marathon schedule, he still makes it a priority to take a break from the marathon of events on his schedule and spend time with others who are committed to living a life of purpose.

The Simple Race of Life

After hearing his views on family, community, and living with purpose, I was anxious to hear Sam’s formal answer to the Good Life question. So, I asked him the question while we were icing our sore muscles.

Sam said the Good Life for him was “a simple life.”  What he cherished most about his life was being at home and spending quality time with his wife and three kids. The simplicity that he desired was having nothing that prevented him from giving love to his family. Nowhere in his explanation was finishing the Boston Marathon or traveling to scenic race locations; his answer was to have a “simple life” that allowed him to pursue what was most important to him – his family and his faith.

Sam’s mantra while running is: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” He combines this thought with that written in 1 Peter 4:10: “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” Using these as his inspiration, he believes he will find and share the Good Life.

A Spark for the Good Life

It takes something very special to compel a man to run over sixty marathons and thousands of miles over the course of a year. As I drove back from Lake Tahoe, I reflected on how this “something special” is a common thread in those I have interviewed for this project.

You can call it a passion, an intense love, or a “pinnacle of human emotion,” but it’s important to recognize that it’s something very powerful that comes from deep within us. When people find things that are greater than their own life (whether it be family, a sporting challenge, a romantic interest, or faith in God), they are led to finding a sense of joy that gives them a taste of the Good Life.


The miracle isn’t that I finished. The miracle is that I had the courage to start.
— John Bingham

I run because it’s so symbolic of life. You have to drive yourself to overcome the obstacles. You might feel that you can’t. But then you find your inner strength, and realize you’re capable of so much more than you thought.
–Arthur Blank

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.
—  Hebrews 13:1-2

You can check out more about Sam’s journey by reading the following blog post that he wrote about his inspirational story over the last three years. You can also learn more by visiting his page about Operation Jack.

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Over this past weekend, it dawned that I’ve come a long way in understanding the “Good Life.” The word “dawn” seems apropos to use since this epiphany came while participating in an overnight walk in San Francisco to raise money for suicide prevention. By the time that the sun came peeking out over the iconic San Francisco skyline the next morning, I realized that I’m living the life that I always wanted that would make my father proud.

An Ocean of Emotion
The event was full of emotions – there were dozens sharing how they found hope that prevented them from taking their own life; others shared how they have coped from losing a loved one unexpectedly. Hearing these inspiring stories from the 2,000+ participants reminded me of my own journey of once being a depressed teen who could understand my father’s death to being the person I am today.

I’m now a grown man who has an ideal life – I’m in incredible shape, I have a great job, and I usually have an excuse to celebrate something on the weekends. This is all great – but all the things that I just mentioned are on the surface level. My dad’s life was great on the surface, but he did not have the hope or joy to want to keep going.

Over the course of this walk, I was reminded of all the things that aren’t on the surface level that have given me a true taste of the Good Life. I’ve been able to feel love – in regards to a romantic sense to being passionate about the work I do at my job. I’m able to see and experience beauty all around me – from taking the time to admire a city mural to stopping to admire the full moon over the Golden Gate Bridge. I feel that I’ve been in a state of constant learning  – such as understanding the benefits to Yoga, to how to do public speaking, to studying psychology and how my own emotions are buried deep in my own subconscious mind.

The Stories that Touched Me
In addition to reflecting on what’s making my life meaningful, the event helped me encounter many amazing people who inspired me with their incredible stories. The night started with joining one of my good friends from Yale. Though we have been close friends for the past three years, I did not realize he lost his other brother just before we met. We had a great conversation and now feel like we have an even deeper friendship, knowing that we both have a similar scar that we can comfortably share with each other.

Then there was Dave who has recently had to have surgery of both of his hips. He relied on two hiking sticks to help him keep the weight off his legs. His doctor encouraged him to stay off his feet for any long period of time, but he was committed to walk this event in honor of his brother. His determination fueled him to complete the 18-20 mile journey.

I also met Carly who had just lost her twin sister a few months before. Though she was still grieving, she was able to find the strength to complete this highly emotional event. From the team she had joining her, I later learned that she had raised over $9,000 while still being a full-time student athlete who is in the middle of preparing for final exams.

I also met Christine who flew 3,000 miles the morning of the event. Her work schedule prevented her from taking any time off, so she would have to fly back out later that night after completing the 20-mile walk. Though it was not an ideal way to see San Francisco for his visit into the city, she said she would not miss out on participating in this annual event that rotates its location . She has successfully raised the $1000 minimum for the last 5 years since she lost a friend and considered suicide herself.

Even before the event, I was inspired by everyone’s generosity to help with my fundraising for this great cause. Knowing that I have friends and family who want to support me for an issue that I’m passionate about is something else fueling my Good Life. Thank you everyone!

The Overnight SF helped me take time to reflect on the joy I have in my life. I look forward to writing more on this blog in the future on how I’m experiencing the Good Life (and I promise to do a new post every week from here forward). I hope I’ll be able to help inspire you with the same joys I’m experiencing.

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