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Re-thinking our understanding of a Good Life.

In my last blog I suggested that we need to start to think imaginatively as individual’s, and as a community, about what we think a ‘good life’ in the twenty first century might look like. This was in response to the idea the only valuable endeavour that we can pursue is that of employed work, and that in the words of the OECD to take time out from employed work was to ‘be a drain on the economy’.

This raises the question of the role of paid work and the value we place on that work in our lives. It is in fact a very complex issue. Apart from basic survival, having the resources to pay for food and shelter, work can provide an enormous amount of pleasure, satisfaction and a sense of belonging. It can also be dangerous, monotonous, demeaning and boring. But irrespective of whether you are one of the lucky people who do something that they love or not, work is only a part of our lives.

This leads to the more important question. What value do we place on the various different aspects of our lives? How we can have the advantages of working and still have time for the other important aspects of our lives such as our families, friends, personal development, physical well being and creativity? Eudaimonia is the Greek word for ‘flourishing’ and two and half thousand years ago Aristotle and other philosophers argued that the purpose of philosophy was to determine the best way to enhance human flourishing.

In this context it is heartening to see that at least some of our politicians are not locked into the idea that the only value we have as members of the community is to be part of the workforce. Recently the leader of the Australian Greens Party, Richard Di Natalie chose his address at the Press Club to raise the issue of the current work day week. He has opened up a discussion we need to have, pointing out the fact that ‘nearly half of the Australian workforce has trouble flourishing because they cannot work the hours they would like’. This includes those that are working too many hours, and those who cannot get enough hours. In other words some of us have no time and some of us have very limited resources. Both of these situations undermine human flourishing and happiness.

His argument is that we need to re-think the number of hours we believe should constitute a working week, recommending either four days or six hours for five days. To do this we would not only need to think imaginatively, we would need to re-think what we value about our lives. Some of you will have heard the term ‘work/life balance’ but I think that The University of South Australia’s Centre for Work + Life got it right when they called their regular survey of the Australian workforce, ‘work-life interference’. Framing the idea this way enables us to start to think about where we want to locate employed work in the priorities of our lives.

As individuals we can start by rethinking our own values about what is important to us. Philosophy can help us to sift through our often contradictory ideas and order them so they are more aligned and authentic. If you have a clear idea of the priorities in your life you have a better chance of thinking imaginatively about how to achieve the balance you want. Philosophy can help you question the assumptions that form the basis for the way you look at your life.

Communities are made up of a collective of individuals. When we all start to look at our lives in a different way and when we start to talk to each other about what we have discovered works for us, we have a chance to give others our wisdom, and for them to use it to enhance their own thinking, and imagine how their lives could be better.