What’s the new ‘good life?’
You know who I am?
I’m a regular American, just trying to have my version of the good life.
I grew up in a 1960s suburban development of ranch houses, Cape Cods, and split levels. They were modest homes, not cookie-cutter monster houses. It was a blue-collar neighborhood, with most of the dads working at the production facilities of Kodak and other significant Rochester businesses.
We numerous Baby Boomers inhabited a kid-friendly paradise of woods, fields, and hills. There was even a creek, which in the parlance of everyone in that neck of the woods was a “crick.”
We rode our bikes with abandon. We played at being medieval knights or any number of scenarios from other times and places. We had pitched neighborhood battles over the usual childhood nothing-burgers. We played baseball and board games. We sledded for hours.
There were jobs. I don’t remember any of the fathers not working. Even the occasional mother had a job secretarial, most likely. Certainly, the post-war decades were a time of rigid expectations for family life and gender roles. Maybe now the good life offers more career options for both men and women.
On the other hand, maybe we’ve traded one set of rigid expectations for another. It’s assumed that men and women can handle the same jobs, but those jobs aren’t worth much unless they’re steeped in high-tech gadgetry and performed by technicians with specialized training. But aren’t skilled tradespeople still important too, worthy of acclaim and a salary that affords them a good living? My good life this winter alone has depended on the skills of plumbers and auto mechanics.
Here’s a question that seems to bounce around the confined spaces of modern life-what makes for a good life these days? On a scale of indoor plumbing to the latest smartphone, how do we know when we’ve hit the sweet spot? The ability to live a happy and robust life depends on having the world in a screen at your fingertips. Or so the endless stream of marketing in our environment tells us all. Sitting at a computer or scrolling through apps for hours is the modern pinnacle of leisure time. Who needs a paradise of woods and fields and streams when you can have it all in a screensaver?
I can’t claim that our accelerating trek down the digital path is linked to today’s ills, but it may be part of a compromised ability to discern and seek the good life, which may still, once the dust settles, equate to the simple, natural pleasures that have always beckoned us.
There are disturbing trends in our standard of living. Life expectancy in America is falling. College is unaffordable for most people and the debt that makes education possible encumbers graduates for decades. Health care is a fiscally bloated mess, and rare is the doctor with the will to personalize care in a system of one-size-fits-all insurance checklists. Have you had your flu shot? Please say yes so I can check this box.
The truth is, we moderns are fraught. Maybe this is the peak of an entire century of despair, beginning with “the war to end all wars.” Brutality and the advance of dehumanizing technologies and practices have chipped away at our sense of well-being for an entire century. How do we right this lilting ship?
We have the power to make some re-humanizing choices. Live simply — we can all find our way to do that. Live naturally — that may take some planning, but in ways big or small, we can make those choices too.
In a truly just world, beyond the smokescreen of Trump tweets and misguided pink-hat marches, we need to accept no less from our representative government than policies that promote the good life. Since it’s unlikely taxation is going away, then we can certainly demand better uses of the inevitable — Medicare for all and free college, for starters. At this point, anybody in either party who doesn’t support those fundamental good-life measures is not worth my vote.
Let’s start now, this month. Have a wonderful February.
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