Archives For Nick

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 willardWhile at our conference at the Chesapeake Bay, I asked Dallas if he could elaborate more on how belief should inspire action. He did so by giving me a simple example. He pointed to the chair I was I sitting on. “Nick, did you believe that chair was going to support you before you sat upon it?”

“Um…yeah. It looks to be a sturdy wooden chair with four legs. I don’t see why not.”

“So, when you decided to come over here to talk with me, you did not hesitate to sit upon it. You trusted it would support you, so you took action.” He explained how this should be the case with individuals who follow spiritual teachings. They should hold a belief so strongly that they do not even have to consciously think to act on it. Dallas fears this is not the case for many fellow Christians because they see Jesus as either a magician who can cancel all their wrongs with a snap of a finger, or an ancient sage-like figure who presented a wispy notion of good moral behavior.

Dallas believes Jesus’s teachings represent more than this – he believes they are the wisest instructions for us to use in making decisions. He believes we should trust in these teachings to the point that we know they will lead us to the Good Life if we take action on them.

The Kingdom Principle

Now that I have given you some of Dallas’s theological beliefs and the philosophical framework in which he broke down the question, I want to give you the exact response that he gave when I reconnected with him at a recent event at Stanford University. He said, “The Good Life is those who live in the Kingdom of God.” By “Kingdom of God,” he is referring to those who recognize they have an eternal destiny if they choose to use their range of influence to bring God’s will into society.

Dallas noted that the phrase “the Good Life” has been used routinely in our culture to the point that it now lacks the meaning that philosophers imply when they use the term. For example, he referenced the former slogan of Sears: “The Good Life at a Great Price.”

“This leads you to believe the Good Life can be purchased,” Dallas stated. “But this is not the case. The Good Life is not a commodity that is attained by human work.” The Good Life is something we obtain by discovering the truth. John of the New Testament tells us ‘There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear.’ “That is the Good Life,” Dallas explained. “Life in the Kingdom of God where there is no fear and a complete hope for an eternal future.”

The world can no longer be left to mere diplomats, politicians, and business leaders. They have done the best they could, no doubt. But this is an age for spiritual heroes- a time for men and women to be heroic in their faith and in spiritual character and power.

— Dallas Willard

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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


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This is a excerpt from a great article that I read on the New York Times. Enjoy!

Happiness and the Good LifeAs soon as an American baby is born, its parents enter into an implicit contractual obligation to answer any question about their hopes for their tiny offspring’s future with the words: “I don’t care, as long as he’s happy” (the mental suffix “at Harvard” must remain unspoken).

Happiness in America has become the overachiever’s ultimate trophy. A vicious trump card, it outranks professional achievement and social success, family, friendship and even love. Its invocation can deftly minimize others’ achievements (“Well, I suppose she has the perfect job and a gorgeous husband, but is she really happy?”) and take the shine off our own.

This obsessive, driven, relentless pursuit is a characteristically American struggle — the exhausting daily application of the Declaration of Independence. But at the same time this elusive MacGuffin is creating a nation of nervous wrecks. Despite being the richest nation on earth, the United States is, according to the World Health Organization, by a wide margin, also the most anxious, with nearly a third of Americans likely to suffer from an anxiety problem in their lifetime. America’s precocious levels of anxiety are not just happening in spite of the great national happiness rat race, but also perhaps, because of it.

Continue reading at the original post >>

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cartoon-meaning-of-lifeThe meaning of life is that there is meaning.

Many will say—”life is too complex, too big, too random to have meaning”. I completely understand the rational and perspective behind such a statement. This person would propose that within the grand scope of the universe life is far too complex to give one specific meaning, and that with one ultimate answer there would no longer be any mystery. With such an answer life itself and its many pursuits would end.

Nonetheless, I’d like to propose a very different perspective on the actual meaning of such a question, and why this question is even asked at all.

In order to understand the meaning of such a heavy and complex question, you must first understand and accept that no one has the answer; yet, the answer lies within everyone and everything.

Continue reading at this article’s original post. The author Arman Assadi is a friend of mine from Google who has a lot of great perspectives on many things in life. Be sure to read through and subscribe to his blog.

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CommunityGivingBackAmong the World’s Most Famous

When I met Greg, he was preparing to travel to Southern California to attend TED Talks, an annual conference that brings together the world’s greatest minds to present “Ideas Worth Sharing.” Celebrities, heads of state, noble prize winners, and managing directors of major philanthropic efforts are the type who appear on the exclusive list for this famous gathering.

After the conference, I followed up with Greg to see if there was something he learned about the Good Life he could share. He admitted that his major highlight was leaving the conference feeling inspired to change the world. After hearing many great ideas and success stories, he admitted to having the feeling of “I could do anything.”

Greg knows he is in a position in his life where he is not required to work as hard as he did earlier in his career. Having 20+ years of experience in prestigious companies could land him a 9-to-5 job that would allow him to enjoy a great lifestyle in San Francisco. However, part of him is challenged to find a deep-rooted passion to do something very meaningful others, even if it will require him to work incessantly. He noted that after TED he is inclined to say that the Good Life is found in the latter option in which one is pursuing their passion.

Another aspect that Greg enjoys about the TED conference is the community. He loves reconnecting with people and seeing what they have done since the previous year. He admits that some of the conference has turned into a business-style networking, yet he said that most in attendance are predominately committed to establishing genuine friendships with others whose passions are to support great causes.

Ideas Worthy of More Discussion

To recap, I wanted to highlight how Greg’s description of the Good Life highlights many aspects that others have discussed in their Good Life answers. His answer includes the following key ideas:  giving back to society, pursuing your passions, learning by using your creative and analytical talents, finding a sense of simplicity and contentment in what you have, and creating community.

I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it’s not the answer.
— Jim Carey

Life is a gift, and it offers us the privilege, opportunity, and responsibility to give something back by becoming more.
— Anthony Robins

Curiosity has its own reason for existing. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery every day. Never lose a holy curiosity.
— Albert Einstein

The more credit you give away, the more will come back to you. The more you help others, the more they will want to help you.
–Brian Tracy

You learn something every day if you pay attention.
— Ray LeBlond

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CommunityCommunity is at the Heart of the Good Life

Another major aspect of Greg’s Good Life is having a sense of community. I met Greg at an upscale wine bar and restaurant that was converted from an old industrial garage. He said he frequently stops by this place to visit with his neighbors. Even if one of his neighbors is not there, he feels that he will be able to have great conversations with anyone there because of his knowledge of many diverse things.

Greg wishes that he had the sense of community within his neighborhood like he saw on the TV sitcom Cheers. He knows that this is very hard to accomplish in a city like San Francisco where most people are very career-focused and usually do not have the time to build strong relationships with neighbors. Even though Greg knows that establishing community does not come easy for someone like him who lives in a fast-paced city, he keeps it a priority to cherish the time he does have with the friends who he is able to see on a frequent basis.


Giving Back

I asked Greg to elaborate more on what he has learned from having a career of giving back to society. He said that he has come to understand that philanthropy is hard work; it is not a matter of giving money to a great cause. Rather, it is something that must done with a passion because making a difference in today’s world is something that can only be accomplished with a willingness to being extremely devoted to creating a positive change.

Based on his emphasis on how the Good Life is found by constantly learning, it was not a surprise to learn that one of Greg’s favorite areas to give back to society is by supporting educational programs. He explained how he has supported many efforts to develop the STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) throughout the world. However, he said it is his personal mission to add an additional A to the acronym to make it STEAM so that Art is a critical part of everyone’s education.

Greg has found that being open to artistic and creative activities has helped him in many avenues of life. Nowadays, Greg serves as an angel investor who awards money to young technology companies in exchange for a percentage ownership in the company. Like most angel investors, he meets prospective clients at coffeehouses to better know them and to learn more about their ideas. His favorite meeting spot is a boutique coffee bar on the roof deck of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA). He instructs these clients to meet him on the first floor where they precede to climb to the coffeeshop, passing by galleries of modern masters. By the time they are settled to talk business over coffee, they are in a creative and open mindset that makes for great conversation.

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The Good Life PhilosophyThe Good Life Starts in the Mind

Like many others in this project, Greg attributed the Good Life to starting in the mind. According to him, the Good Life begins with our mental efforts to enjoy what we have and our efforts to appreciate life in new ways.

Greg admitted that he did not like the phrase “life-long learning” because he feels it is too commonly used. However, he noted that keeping his mind active and experiencing new things has attributed to his success in his career and his overall satisfaction with life. Greg feels that many others in our society miss out on the Good Life because they get their degree or find a steady job, and they cease to have the motivation to keep learning. Greg implied that the Good Life is more readily found by constantly using our minds to discover new ways in which we can experience things such as beauty and truth.

A Dream Home

Despite how great his current life is, Greg admitted that his picture of the Good Life is not solely tied to living an exciting and balanced life in San Francisco. He admitted that his dream for the future is to build a home at Sea Ranch, a seaside community in Northern California known for its interesting architecture. Greg envisions learning more about architecture so he can help in the creation of a “writer’s cabin” where he can have a peaceful sanctuary to pursue his passion of learning new things and finding ways to change the world.

The Proper Perspective

I was intrigued by Greg’s mention of wanting to build a small cabin. My father too had a dream of building a log cabin on a small piece of land that our family owned in the Appalachian Mountains. Even though my dad had the money and could have retired at any point to pursue this dream, he never did. He allowed the pressures of his business and confusion in his personal life to cause him to commit suicide and never pursue something that was a part of his Good Life.

After having noteworthy positions with some of the world’s top corporations, Greg knows how it easy it is for one’s work to dominate his or her life. In the competitive business world, he has seen many get caught in the mentality that one must work harder and go to any length to ensure business success. However, Greg has learned that those who are living the Good Life are those who know how to put life in proper perspective.

One way Greg maintains a proper perspective in life is by taking the time to walk as much as he can in San Francisco. For his meetings and appointments, Greg tries to walk to them in order to be open to experience the vibrant activities of the city. On the night when I was speaking to him, he already walked ten miles that day. He showed me various pictures from his phone that he took from earlier, several of which were the security measures that assembled throughout the city for a fundraising speech delivered by the President.

In general, Greg implied that we should never get too wrapped up in our chores or daily routine that we forget to slow down to enjoy the beauty of life.

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Everyone things of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.
— Leo Tolstoy

The Good Life Giving I’ve received a range of opinions on what makes up an excellent experience; examples have included things such as: surfing, spending time with friends and family, and having a religious experience. But there has been one thing that everyone has agreed upon – giving back to society and doing acts of kindness are experiences associated with the Good Life. For this reason, I wanted to introduce you to someone who’s an expert on charity and philanthropy.

Greg Miller is the former managing director of, the philanthropic foundation of the world’s largest Internet company. For five years, he found ways to leverage the company’s technology and resources to address some of the most difficult problems faced by society. He has since worked as an angel investor and as a consultant for companies that want to use their resources to support charitable work.

In addition to having a great knowledge of how to improve society, Greg has had a full life of running eleven marathons, climbing Mount Everest, learning how to play the guitar and mandolin, and traveling all over the world. After he shared with me about his impressive background, he invited me to his San Francisco home to share specific advice on what the Good Life means to him.

An Amazing Life

Greg’s home is a two-story loft tucked in a narrow alley in a hip San Francisco neighborhood. The loft could be described as a dream home for many living in San Francisco. It’s in quiet spot, yet it’s in a convenient location that is in walking distance of world-class restaurants, bars, and San Francisco’s baseball stadium. It comes furnished with all the latest technology gadgets and furniture. Greg even has a well-trained dog and cat to keep him company.

When I walked into his home, my attention was immediately drawn toward the beautiful photography that lined the brick walls. “Wow, these are amazing pictures. Did you take these?” Greg explained that he did take several of them, but many of the pictures were taken by a professional photographer he admired. They were symbolic to him because they depicted scenes from his former travels.

Greg does not display these stunning views to impress others with what he has done in the past. Rather, he likes having these photos as a constant reminder of all the beauty he has seen in his former expeditions. His stories of discovering sacred mountains in Nepal and encountering packs of wild horses in Chile’s Patagonia led to a discussion on his appreciation of photography.

Greg feels photography is the perfect “Good Life” activity because it forces one to use both sides of the brain to create something that represents beauty. Greg admits to becoming more of a left-brain individual after obtaining a law degree and working with technology companies that are mainly comprised of left brain engineers. However, he feels that he has a strong creative side, and he has recently found the Good Life in activities that use both his creative and analytical talents.

Greg explained how he uses his left brain to think about the precision and technical aspects of using technology to make a photograph. However, he must also use his right brain to imagine how to compose a shot that will convey something that words cannot describe.

Photography is just one of the many hobbies that Greg has taken up in recent years that have given him a fuller picture of the Good Life. In fact, he admits that keeping his mind active and constantly learning has been one of the “game-changers” that has led to him finding the Good Life.

He recounted that his first Good Life Crisis came about when he was in his twenties. He resolved to learn something new every year of his life. Since then, he has learned to fly fish, studied computer programming, become a licensed EMT, and even obtained a motorcycle’s licensee and rode one day with the Hell’s Angels.

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