Archives For Nick

C.S. Lewis on the purpose of life joy The Meaning of Life

According to Lewis, life is a journey that can lead us to the ultimate source of joy. He said we will wander down various paths and enjoy tastes of joy along the way, but our main goal should be to prepare ourselves for our true home. To use a modern example, it is like taking a long car ride to a destination such as Disney World. We should be able to enjoy the scenery of the drive and enjoy resting at fuel stops along the way. However, it would be a shame to spend too much time trying to enjoy our vacation at gas stations and on the shoulder of the highway when an all-expenses-paid vacation awaits us at our destination. The hope we have for our experience at Disneyworld should inspire us to travel more quickly and have an overall better time on our journey.


In previous entries, we have talked about the importance of “home” in relation to the Good Life. I think Lewis would agree that having a loving community that provides us with rest, hope, and joy is essential to the Good Life.

If I were to ask C.S. Lewis the Good Life question, I am sure he would respond by telling me that the Good Life comes from experiencing things which provide us with a sense of joy that could only be described as heavenly. I think he would also repeat the famous of lines of St. Augustine: “Thou hast made us for Thyself and our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee.”

What was this Entry Supposed to be about again?

I must apologize. I realize this chapter was a little abstract and probably seemed a bit like a research paper. IOther entries on happiness will be more interactive discussions with unique personalities in the next chapter. However, I wanted to be a little more academic here, so that we start formulating intellectual answers to the following questions:

  • What is my worldview toward happiness and how does it differ from C.S. Lewis’s or Aristotle’s?
  • What is more important — happiness or joy?
  •  What measurement am I going to use to know that I am living the Good Life?

To develop better answers to these crucial questions, we’ll continue to meet others from a range of different disciplines who will have many thoughts to share about happiness, joy, and the Good Life.

I sometimes wonder whether all pleasures are not substitutes for joy.
— C. S. Lewis

Joy is not in things, it is in us.
— Richard Wagner

Joy is the feeling of grinning on the inside.
— Dr. Melba Colgrove

Know that joy is rarer, more difficult, and more beautiful than sadness. Once you make this all-important discovery, you must embrace joy as a moral obligation.
— Andre Gide

The very nature of Joy makes nonsense of our common distinction between having and wanting.
— C.S. Lewis

Read the Bio of C.S. Lewis and other reflections by Nick >>
C.S. Lewis on joy

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C.S. Lewis on Happiness and the Good LifeBecoming a Child

In addition to the medieval castle-like buildings that dominate its skyline, the city of Oxford, England also boasts great walking trails. Lewis would go on these trails for hours at a time, letting his imagination go wild, thinking about things such as talking animals and magical wardrobes. Though Lewis was a serious academic who wrote scholarly works that most today would have trouble comprehending, he preferred reading and writing children’s books because he loved allowing his mind to return to the hope and dreams that he had as a child.

What is Joy?

Now that I have given you a short biography on Lewis, I want to get back to the main topic of this chapter – comparing happiness and joy. The differences in the two words are subtle, but they are worth pointing out.

Lewis defines joy as finding our heart’s deepest longing. Joy is more of a desire than a state of pleasure or emotion. According to Lewis, “[Joy is] an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction.”[1]

Lewis’s worldview hinges upon the belief that all desires must have an object to satisfy them.  He states:

“Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for these desires exists. A baby feels hunger; well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim; well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire; well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”[2]

Lewis views this “other world,” or Heaven, to be the object that will satisfy our ultimate desire.

Building on Lewis’ ideas, I define joy as a desire that produces sustained happiness to the point where you are compelled to savor it and share it with others. Joy is intense. It produces a burning sensation in our hearts that compels us to act on it. Lewis describes this deep-burning desire when he says, “Joy in my sense has indeed one characteristic…the fact that anyone who has experienced it will want it again…I doubt whether anyone who has tasted it would ever, if both were in his power, exchange it for all the pleasures in the world.”[3]

When I say, “having a passion for something,” I am speaking of a love associated with this deep sense of joy. My belief is that this joy is produced by experiencing things such as beauty, love, and truth.

Continue to Part 3 on C.S. Lewis and the Meaning of Life >>

C.S. Lewis Happiness

[1] Surprised by Joy, Chapter 1. paragraph 18.

[2] Mere Christianity, Book III, chapter 10. “Hope.”

[3] Surprised by Joy, Chapter 1. paragraph 18.

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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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Editor’s Note: With the hardback edition of the Good Life Crisis being released later this month, I thought I would include one of the chapters from this edition. Be sure to check back later in the week for the other two parts.

The ideals which have lighted me on my way and time after time given me new courage to face life cheerfully, have been Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. . . . The ordinary objects of human endeavor — property, outward success, luxury — have always seemed to me contemptible.
— Albert Einstein

The Good Life Book To continue my search for truth, I decided to visit the most logical place to find a wealth of knowledge – a university. I took several trips to Stanford University to see what students and professors of this well-respected school had to say about the Good Life. Though I got a wide range of opinions by conducting interviews around Stanford’s beautiful campus, the best insights that I received were from two individuals who were able to explain how the Good Life as both “an art and a science.”


Meet the Hurlbuts

Dr. William Hurlbut is a noteworthy physician who teaches in the Department of Neurobiology at Stanford. After receiving his undergraduate and medical degrees from Stanford, he completed postdoctoral studies in theology and medical ethics. His broad range of medical expertise led to an invitation to serve on the President’s Council of Bioethics before it was disbanded by the president.

Dr. Hurlbut’s daughter, Mary, followed her father’s footsteps by obtaining several degrees from Stanford. She has also used her degrees to teach. Mary’s expertise, however, is in art. Despite the differing allegiances between two very different academic fields, Mary and Dr. Hurlbut have come to have a similar understanding of the Good Life.

I first met Dr. Hurlbut while kayaking in Maryland. He was a keynote speaker for a conference that I was helping to organize. During our free time, he joined a fellow scientist and long-time friend in a two-person kayak, and I joined a NASA scientist, and we set off to explore the Chesapeake Bay.

I make note of our first meeting to highlight how Dr. Hurlbut is one of those “cool professors” who knows how to enjoy life with friends and family. After hearing that Mary is the favorite teacher for many of her students, I am assuming she possesses these same characteristics.

The Importance of Family
             I was able to talk with Mary and Dr. Hurlbut one Friday night when Mary volunteered to babysit her younger siblings. Before Dr. Hurlbut and his wife left to catch a movie, I was able to listen to them talk about their Good Life views.
Mary made sure to introduce me to her three little brothers and sisters, who were all under the age of seven. In a sense, meeting these kids served as one of their answers to the Good Life question since having a close, loving family has been one of the top priorities of their lives.
Dr. Hurlbut specifically told me that his children mean more to him than any of his achievements in science and ethics. This led him to making the statement, “If you want to have children, don’t forget to have children before it’s too late.” He was referring to the fact that many of his colleagues and medical school students have gotten so busy with their careers and filling their lives with accomplishments and “excellent experiences” that they miss out on one of the true joys of life. Speaking from the perspective of a medical doctor, he has seen the difficulty of many women who want to start a family, but have waited until their fertility is declining due to age.

Go to Part 2 of this chapter >>

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The Good Life Crisis Dallas Willard ChapterThe strength of a man’s virtue should not be measured by his special exertions, but by his habitual acts.
–Blaise Pascal

As a distinguished professor at the University of Southern California, Dr. Dallas Willard has gained the respect of those in academia. He has also gained the respect of mainstream audiences by writing bestselling books on topics of spiritual formation and religious thought. As an author, he’s certainly in a different league than I. One of his books sold more copies in a single day than the three of mine have over the course of five years. When talking with him, I feel like I’m like the little kid in front of the Rodin statue in the side image.

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):

1)      What is real?
2)      Who is well off?
3)      Who is a good person?
4)      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 and not a preacher, 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.

While 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.”

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 old professors like himself, can be positively impacted by following its timeless truths.

Looking through a Philosophical Lens   

I do not expect you to agree with all of Dallas’s thoughts, and I hope this chapter did not come across as preaching about religion. The main purpose of this chapter was for us to look at the Good Life by answering four questions that put the Good Life question into a philosophical framework.

After talking about philosophy in this chapter, we will discuss the philosophy of happiness and how it can help us find the Good Life.

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

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

Dallas Willard The Good Life Image

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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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