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Wellbeing / Work life balance

Don’t let the ‘goods’ life outweigh the good life

As profound as it is, spending 48 hours with my three-year-old daughter was the best way to appreciate this crucial life lesson. Here’s what happened.

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I was in the middle of an executive coaching session one afternoon and my client (we’ll call him Simon), a highly paid senior executive, had spent close to 30 minutes telling me about what he does, how much money he earns and how he has “millions stashed away after years of earning a seven-figure salary.” But upon asking him about his family and relationships, all he could tell me were the facts.

“I find your question difficult to explain in any further detail,” he said. “As I explained, I have a wife and three kids.”

We both fell silent.

Soon enough, tears began to well in his eyes.

“How distorted have my priorities become?” Simon went on. “I can tell you about what I do and how much I earn, but then I say ‘I’m married with three kids’ like I’ve ticked a box and I can’t think of anything else to say.”

"Can we become so transfixed on the ‘goods life’ that we fail to see that the ‘good life’ is right in front of us, literally staring us in the face?"

I have had a number of variations of this conversation over the years and it begs the question – are you focused on the good life or the goods life?

The good life is about meaning, pleasure and purpose and the goods life is all about money, status and power. Sure, you can have them both, but you don’t ever want the “goods” to outweigh the “good”.

Rather than explaining these two ways of life using the latest research in applied positive psychology, the best way to explore it is through the eyes of my three-year-old daughter, Mikaela, who – every moment of every day – lives out the good life.

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Following that very same coaching appointment I arrived home to be greeted by Miki who was ecstatic at the thought of “watering her begetable garden with daddy.” As each plant was sprayed she gave named them out loud: “cawwots, snow peas, tomatoes, spwing onions, stwabewies, lettuce, cucumber…” Such a simple pleasure – spending time with her in the garden.

The next day, after playing in a park on the swings and smelling the flowers, we spotted a group of elderly Chinese women practicing Tai Chi. At the end of each song Miki clapped and said “beautiful dancing, beautiful dancing”. She didn’t see people out of time, or frail or slow – she saw six people having a great time with music and fans. 

With the action-packed weekend over, I had just bathed Miki and was putting her pajamas on when she whispered, “Daddy, I’ve got a secret for you.”

“What is it?”I asked, leaning forward.

“You’re my best friend,” she said.

With this, my weekend’s lessons in happiness through the eyes of a three-year-old escalated to a crescendo. Can we become so transfixed on the “goods life” that we fail to see that the “good life” is right in front of us, literally staring us in the face, just waiting for us to slow down and take notice? I wonder if Simon has heard anyone tell him he’s their best friend lately, or even “I love you”?

Simon earns more than $1 million a year – yet in his own words he confessed, “I have nothing in my life that really excites me.” Perhaps Simon needs to build a veggie garden, or learn Tai Chi, or maybe, just maybe – Simon needs to notice that the “good life” has been staring at him all along.

Maybe Simon needs to simply hang out with a three-year-old – or his own children – for 48 hours to appreciate what he’s got right in front of him; to see the beauty in nature, the connection through community, the joy of sitting on a swing and climbing up a pole, the rhythm and melody in music and dance and how the good life doesn’t cost money – it just requires a little time and effort to appreciate what we already have.

Do you sometimes let the ‘goods’ life outweigh the good life? What life lessons have you learnt from your children? 

Andrew May

is the CEO of The Performance Clinic and is recognised as a leading performance and productivity expert.

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