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For some time now, I’ve been pondering the significance of the American Dream in our pursuit of happiness. I’ve often wondered how much our adult happiness depends on making our childhood dreams come true, given how little we knew about what we should be dreaming about as children. I’ve been thinking about whether or not our aspirations lead us to turn inward, toward our families, and whether or not we view turning outward, toward our communities, as a hindrance or a slowing down of the process of achieving our dreams.
Darwin explains that these emotions are motivated by natural selection’s action at the level of the individual. My offspring inherit my genes. It’s easy to get stuck in the rut of prioritizing my immediate family’s well-being over the welfare of my neighbors. As a mother of a 3-month-old infant, I can relate to this sentiment. There is an undeniable biological element to my retreating inward to shield my child from harm. My passion for my child is all-consuming. When I go to bed at night, I tell myself, “Well, I kept this human being alive today. That seems like a sufficient amount. The term “own” is used loosely, but we do look out for our own.
Finding the Good Life
Finding The Good Life through one’s own efforts is a good starting point, but I don’t think it’s the final destination. When other people are happy and healthy, I am happy and healthy. Darwin would concur with this interpretation. Darwin recognized that it is at the tribal level that civilization thrives. Collaborative groups who look out for one another have a greater chance of success than those who operate independently. No single human being has ever been able to successfully hunt a large predator. Personal and social flourishing depend on being part of a strong community.
The best way to turn a diverse, disconnected group into a team is to get them to build something together, as Jonathan Sacks points out. Through communal experiences, we grow in virtuousness, fortitude, and dedication to the common good. We all know each other on a local level. It’s civilized life with a face. It’s not a governmental body. Whoever we pay to ensure the safety of others is not responsible for this. It’s the effort we put in individually and collectively. I’ve witnessed it in many settings, including sports teams, classrooms, churches, community groups, and vacationing groups. The antidote to isolationism is fellowship.
How do you define a life well-lived?
Things I kept to myself are still bothering me. I’m taking it as a friendly prod to slowly reintegrate myself into the group and find out how people are doing.