Highlights from How to Live a Good Life

When I read  book I really like/enjoy/benefit from, I feel compelled to share it with others. One way I can do that here is to share with you the passages that resonated with me the most — the ones I literally ran over with my bright yellow highlighter.

I’ve been a big fan of Jonathan Fields, the founder of Good Life Project, for a while. We have a similar outlook on life, and yet I always learn something when I experience his work. He’s not only written a few great books, he has one of the few podcasts that I’ve kept in my playlist for multiple years and still listen to every episode.

Jonathan’s latest book is called How to Live a Good Life. It’s part how-to manual, part memoir, and all good advice. If you’ve followed my work for any length of time, I know this book will resonate with you, too.

My Top 10 Highlights From How to Live a Good Life

“For years, if not decades, we’ve been living with an undiagnosed condition: Reactive Life Syndrome. Living each day not by choice, but by default.”

“If you don’t have your health, we’ve all heard, you don’t have anything. You can’t buy your way out of a tumor. Or depression. Or illness. Or pain. You can’t feel alive, happy, and joyful when your body is abandoning you. And you can’t drink in all that life has to offer when your body is limited in its capabilities. Not only that, but a vital body is the vessel for that three-pound bundle of consciousness called your brain, the thing that processes whether you’re living a good life or not. The thing that feels and chooses, that controls your organs, systems, and movements. There is a powerful feedback loop between your mind and body.”

“By the time we reach adulthood, we’re so distracted by the pull of speed, connectivity, expectations, and rules, we lose the ability to see and experience what’s right in front of us. We become 99 percent unaware, and in doing so we lose the ability to choose and to act rather than react. By the way, those who tap into that 1 percent, who are awake and aware, not only tend to own their own lives but end up running the world.”

“There is a certain heaviness that seeps into every part of life when you walk through each day trying to be someone else. The energy put into hiding who you are and then building any number of alter egos to satisfy society’s expectations of who you are eventually becomes crushing. You may be able to keep up the illusion of survival or even joy for a short time, but in the end it always drags you down. The longer you wear the mask, the harder it is to keep up the facade, to muster a modicum of civility, let alone joy. At some point, you have to choose. Will you continue to hide, living under the weight of expectation, or allow yourself to be seen?”

“It’s stupid to be safe. Because ultimately, usually whatever that is, wherever you don’t want to go, whatever that risk is, whatever the unsafe place is, that really is the gift that you have to give. . . . And whatever you think is just going to be pleasing, and whatever you think will make people like you, that’s not your gift.”

“Life’s greatest moments live in the space between desire and attainment.”

“There is no perfect moment. No time when you will know enough to guarantee you will get what you want. No time when you’ll be 100 percent sure that you’re ready to have a child, fall in love, take a job, move cross-country, build a business, show your work, stand in your truth, pursue your dream. Still, at some point, imperfectly informed, with butterflies in your belly, you’ll still need to act.”

“Simple truth: fast and busy are a choice.”

“Rolling breathlessly from one digital dopamine hit to the next isn’t a sign of being alive and informed. It’s not a sign of being connected and engaged. It’s a sign of being a digital junkie.”

“Real happiness comes not when you choose to be happy, but when you discover the things that will make you happy and then do them.”

More highlights below…

BONUS HIGHLIGHTS

Ok, there are WAY more great quotes in this book than just ten. As usual, when I find a book I love, I have a very hard time picking my top 10 favorites, so I’m including the rest of my highlights here.

“I came to understand that we are all capable of contributing to the world in a way that makes a profound difference. A rare few go big. Make the big gesture. Take the big risk. Expose themselves on a grand scale. Create and then ride the big wave. But most of us, myself included, take a different yet equally valid path. It’s the path of the ripple. Simple actions, moments, and experiences. Created, offered, and delivered with such a purity of intention and depth of integrity and clarity that they set in motion a ripple that, quietly, in its own way, in its own time, expands outward. Interacting with, touching, mattering to people we’ve never met in ways we never conceived.”

“Complexity is a leech on my soul. I want to do epic things. I want to “go big.” I want to matter. But I also want to be able to breathe. And sleep. And allow as often as I incite. That’s where the ripple comes in. It gives me a way of thinking about making meaning (and money— hey, I’m a realist) on the scale that supports my good life while keeping it simple. Instead of a company, I’ll write a book or give a talk. Instead of a large organization, I’ll license my ideas. Instead of having to be in the middle of everything, I’ll surround myself with people who are natural-born complexity sponges.”

“Exercise and movement. There are perhaps no better therapies for nearly everything that ails us.”

“Moments of adversity, when things get hard and you need to be able to push through, rather than run, exist in nearly every part of life. If you run and hide every time you bump up against one, you end up closing the doors to what are often the most beautiful, though challenging, parts of life.”

“Over the next 24 hours (and hopefully beyond), any time you find yourself thinking, “I’m not good at this, I can’t do, I don’t have the capacity to [fill in the blank],” add the word yet to the end. Remind yourself that your ability to do almost anything is about your willingness to invite, engage with, and learn from challenges and tests. The faster path to improvement and success is to embrace rather than run from adversity. Think about every opportunity to do something you can’t yet do, to learn something you don’t yet know, as a gift. A success catalyst.”

“The question you always need to ask when thinking about belonging to a new group is whether the value of what you’re being asked to give up is exponentially exceeded by what you’re going to get in return. If the answer is yes, lean in. If it’s no, run like hell.”

“Spend more time looking into someone’s eyes than you do looking over their shoulders.”

“What if you don’t so much have a passion or purpose as much as you pursue something, or a bunch of things, with passion and a sense of purpose?”

“Rather than working entirely on the job of fixing what’s wrong in our life, Seligman argues, if we understand our strengths, then build as much of our life as possible around them, much of what’s wrong seems to fall away. We feel like we’re tapping the most essential positive parts of ourselves to contribute to the world in a way that makes us feel immensely satisfied. We begin to become our strongest, most aligned, best selves. We come alive.”

“Epic is as much the ripple as it is the wave. But the way we talk about it, the way I’d framed it, implies the only way to live an epic life, to contribute meaningfully, to matter, is to go big. Not only is that wrong, but for many it’s crippling.”

“In order to fill our Connection Bucket, we need to find and be with “our people.” Those we can love and those who’ll love us back. Those we can befriend and play and laugh with. Those who will serve as a source of acceptance, allegiance, and belonging. In other words, those who just plain get us.”

“There is no magic to awesome outcomes. Whether we’re looking to build a great career, a great relationship, great health, or a great life, it’s all about consistent action over time. It’s about coming back after things blow up, over and over and over.”

“We are wired to focus on the sucky side of life. Scientists call it the negativity bias. We latch onto the stuff that goes wrong and refuse to let go, sometimes for years. Meanwhile, the stuff that goes right we barely acknowledge. This can lead to a pretty warped situation. From the outside looking in, we’re living awesome lives and everything seems to be going right. But from the inside looking out, all we see are the stumbles or negative experiences. The drag can become obsessive and even, poorly handled, pull us toward not just pessimism and compulsion but anxiety and depression.”

“Most people will find you interesting if you are deeply interested in them. Stop thinking about what to talk about; start thinking about what to ask.”

“Here’s the thing about ideas. They’re worthless. Okay, so maybe they’re not worthless, but they don’t matter unless and until you do something with them.”

“Picasso said it beautifully: “To know what you’re going to draw, you have to begin drawing.” Get out of your head. Draw. Play. Move. Love. Hug. Ask. Write. Speak. Test. Make. Build.”

“Leaving anything, even something you hate, will cause a certain amount of pain and disruption, both for you and for anyone else who counts on you. The more you’ve built around the money and security of your current career, illusory as both may be, the more the pain of blowing it up. Few people are willing to endure that, no matter how much the pain of staying eats at their soul. So they just sit tight and suffer.”

“As author and visionary thinker Derek Sivers offers, ‘If information was the answer, then we’d all be billionaires with perfect abs.'”

“The single most powerful driver of action and success is social support. Put another way, we need people to keep us accountable to even the most enjoyable actions in life. And not just any people; we want people who are along for the ride, on the same great adventure as us. People who get what we’re doing because they’re doing it, too. Together we provide love, support, accountability, celebration, insight, and belonging.”

“You’ve been busy, so busy, you really must be important. You’ve gotten so much done. But you can’t remember a thing you’ve accomplished. You feel like your checklist for tomorrow is already longer than what you started with today. And very little of it is meaningfully connected to anything you care about.”

“When we were kids, we ran around all day, climbed, danced, rolled, threw, caught, wiggled, jumped, cartwheeled, and kicked our way through the day. We worked hard, really hard, and loved it. The only reason we stopped is because we had to. Homework or dinner called us in. For those who played sports, there was the added experience of camaraderie, collaboration, shared effort, friendship, and belonging. We didn’t call it exercise back then; we called it play, and we couldn’t get enough. Our job today is to turn exercise back into play. To change repetition and boredom into novelty and engagement. To turn isolation and intimidation into friendship and belonging. To turn forced participation and futility into craved activity and transformative results.”

“Hike, ride, surf, trail run, Hula-Hoop. Join a group, team, or club. Take different classes. Whatever it is that makes you want to do more, find it, then do it.”

“A recent study revealed sleeping less than six hours a day for two weeks has an effect on your brain similar to blowing a 0.10 on an alcohol test, which would make you too drunk to drive.”

“The secret to long-term success in any endeavor is not magic but sustained action over time. And we don’t do anything for long unless (1) it is easy to start and (2) we can keep doing it long enough for it to become a habit. The more we repeat something, the more automatic it becomes. And, here’s the thing: once we’ve built that basic behavior into our lives and it has become a habit, the duration and intensity often expand on their own.”

“There’s this odd irony in life. I wish it weren’t so. Every breakthrough is preceded by great uncertainty.

I believe that talent matters, but when it comes to success in nearly all parts of life, effort and a willingness to ask for help are far more determinative.”

“We choose to go fast and be busy because we think it’ll get us what we want. All too often, it doesn’t. Fast and busy makes life brittle. It makes us feel like every inch of space in life is locked in and there’s no room to move. Instead of unlocking productivity and potential, it throttles both. It deludes us into feeling like we’re getting more done faster, but in reality, we could get the same done in the same or less time with more grace by dialing it back, not forward. In the end, we’re left feeling dissatisfied and helpless to extract ourselves from the process. Except we’re not. It’s all an illusion.”

“Find the right people, then find or create a way to be with them in a setting and context that allow you to leave feeling filled up, rather than emptied out.”

“Knowing your social orientation is important in your quest to fill your Connection Bucket. It lets you better understand what types of social settings will allow you to flourish, both personally and professionally. It helps you understand which people and conversations will fill you up and which are likely to empty you out. It also gives you a much better sense of how to move into and out of social situations, how to connect with and step away from people in a way that leaves you feeling energized and connected, rather than gutted and disconnected.”

“Belonging begins with safety. There needs to be an understanding, either explicit or strongly implied, that this is a place and a relationship where you feel safe enough to be the real you.”

“We spend so much time looking into our own palms, we’ve forgotten what it means to look into one another’s eyes.”

“Having people in our lives to love and be loved by changes everything.”

“Commit yourself fiercely to doing something every day to fill your Vitality Bucket. The more optimized your mindset, the easier it becomes to stay positive and full in the face of potentially draining interactions.”

“Conversation is the gateway to connection.”

“Set your intention to give, not take.”

“Thing is, we can’t make good decisions until we know what matters to us. Until we have some sense of what’s important, what we believe, what we value. When we know these things, decisions get easier. Something’s either aligned with our values and beliefs, or it’s not. If it’s aligned, it’s a yes. If not, it’s a no. If we have two options, both well aligned, we choose the one that’s a better fit.”

“Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. For the most part, the way you become really good at something or develop some level of expertise is to work really hard at it. That level of effort is most often fueled by something internal, your spark. But on occasion, and this happens more often when you’re younger, you or those around you will notice you have a natural affinity for something. So they push you to do it more and more, until eventually you become great at it. If the early, external pushes lead to a level of proficiency that starts to light you up from within, that’s awesome. But if the only reason you’ve become good at something is because someone else forced you to— and maybe continues to force it on you— then doing more of it may not, in fact, lead you to feel better. It may do the opposite. So beware the source of mastery when you think about integrating more of what you’re good at into your life.”

“If you’ve spent your life being warned away from ever being the tall poppy or shining light in the room, going public with your great big self may trigger feelings of unease. But at some point, you’ve got to get comfortable with a simple truth: the pride that rides in the saddle of extreme competence is not, by default, arrogance or hubris.”

“If you are selfless to the point of self-sacrifice, at some point you run out of energy and resources to be able to contribute to others. Whereas people who are able to work toward their own goals, or at least keep their own interests in their rearview mirror when they’re helping others, are able to sustain their energy and their resources, and that allows them to give much more over time.”

“When we think about giving, we often think about grand gestures, setting aside hours or days to volunteer, mentor, or contribute to some person or group we want to see rise. Or we think about specific charities, foundations, and organizations to donate to. But giving even on the smallest level has power. So often, we miss the momentary opportunities to contribute, the countless moments to be generous, to help, to be of service in the moment, for a moment.”

“There’s this weird, counterintuitive thing we do when we’re working at a life-sucking job. Instead of becoming aggressively proactive in the name of making it as good as we can, we get relentlessly good at making it as bad as we can. We often have no idea how complicit we’ve become, that we’re actually a big part of the problem.”

Check out my other “book reviews”:

The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz

Start by Jon Acuff

Wellth by Jason Wachob

Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

Ordinary Superpowers by Mark Henson

Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull

Life is Good, The Book by Bert & John Jacobs

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