Jonah YapCreative Nonfiction (3) Mr. GermanJanuary 23, 2018The Principles of Leading a Good LifeIt would not be an exaggeration to suggest that the meaning of human’s life is the theme that authors have explored for a considerable time.
What is even more important is that there is no definitive answer to this eternal question. There are numerous approaches to what one can call a life well-lived. Some of them tend to put emphasis on similar aspects while others contradict dramatically. David Foster Wallace in his “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again” addresses this question when reflecting on his experience aboard a cruise ship. Cheryl Strayed explores the same theme in her book Wild while recollecting her life-changing journey. Jon Krakauer also examines this topic in his Into the Wild while retelling the life of Chris McCandless. Although, the three authors write from three different perspectives, they agree that a life well lived has three elements: when a person is not limited by their desire of conformity, when a person enjoys themselves, and when a person’s life is simple yet fulfilling.
Despite the three authors describing situations that are different, they all manage to conclude that people should refrain from conforming with social norms in order to live a good life. Wallace points out that during his cruise experience he was able to do “something that an ordinary person haven’t done in a long, long time: Absolutely Nothing” (Wallace 278). He claims that most people believe that the best vacations consist of activities that an average person rarely does. For example: eating out, dancing all night, playing with friends, and so on. That is why when he was doomed to enjoy all these activities, he could not stand this environment.
Though he was able to experience what most would consider an enjoyable time, he felt like his experience was limited by this predetermined image of happiness and as a result he was unable to enjoy himself. Despite having a completely different experience than Wallace, Strayed was able to come to a similar conclusion. She writes that while walking through the wilderness, she understood that the “undesecrated beauty of the wilderness meant she too could be undecesrated” (Strayed 143). The key point here is that the wilderness is largely regarded as the opposite of the civilization. That is why if she were to conform to the ordinary ideas of happiness and leisure, she would have never gone into the wilderness. However, it is exactly because she did not comply with what was expected of her, that she was able to find her true self. Krakauer presents a situation that is somewhat like that of Strayed and comes to the same conclusion as the two authors before.
In a letter addressed to a friend, Chris McCandless points out that many people avoid experiencing an adventure of going to unexplored locations because “they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservatism” (Krakauer 57). He points out that those three elements “security, conformity, and conservatism” is what holds people back and prevents them from experiencing real life and, therefore, living a good life altogether. All three authors, despite describing different circumstances, suggest that to live a good life and be a good person one should find one’s true self and stop following others blindly.Though the three authors would disagree on what it meant to enjoy one selves, they all managed to conclude that the ability to enjoy oneself in a given circumstance is paramount in leading a good life.
While aboard the cruise ship, Wallace suggested that he was not have happy aboard the ship because “the atmosphere there was sybaritic and nearly insanity-producing” (Wallace 290). He claims that although he could enjoy most luxuries and pleasures, he still was not enjoying himself. This is an indication that the kind of life that he was living at that moment was not a good one; because it is not the amount of pleasure or the ability to relax that enables a person to lead a good life, but it is instead one’s ability to enjoy themselves in a given environment that allows one to lead a good life. Strayed expressed a similar idea while reflecting upon her trip. She shows that she decided to go on such a long journey because of “a yearning for a way out, when actually what I had wanted to find was a way in” (Strayed 290). Strayed initially saw her trip as an escape from her life, but when the climax of her journey drew near, she realized that it was actually an introduction to a new lifestyle by finding something that she enjoyed doing.
Both Wallace and Strayed acknowledge that it was not an escape that they had been looking for, but it was instead a way to enjoy themselves that they had wanted. Krakauer shares these ideas as he also believes that discovering that enjoying life is how one can lead a good life. Regarding an image McCandless took before passing, Krakauer writes: “He is smiling in the picture, and there is no mistaking the look in his eyes: Chris McCandless was at peace, serene as a monk gone to God” (Krakauer 199).
Despite having been put through numerous hardships, and understanding that his life was over, McCandless was able to die at peace, knowing that he had lead his best life. McCandless knew he had lead a good life, which is what prompted him to smile indicating that he had fun and enjoyed himself. Even though the authors wrote about varying circumstances, all three authors came to the same conclusion that one must enjoy themselves to lead a good life. Finally, the three authors insist that the quality of life of a person is not connected to the number of pleasures that one experiences; that is why a simple life is surely a good life.
Wallace describes the cruise “like a palace: it would look like a kind of floating palace, majestic and terrible” (Wallace 352). Typically, palaces are seen as a symbol of wealth and luxury, an area where one can be pampered to their heart’s content. However, for Wallace this “floating palace” was like a living hell for him. Despite having what would conventionally make most people happy, he felt that he had experienced a forced happiness. Therefore, a good life is not one where a person is treated like a king but rather the fact that one is grateful for it. That is why throughout the essay, Wallace speaks with a tone of resentment towards the magazine that sent him on the cruise and the cruise itself; he preferred the simplistic nature of staying home over the overly-complex pampering offered by the cruise. As a result, Wallace concludes that a simple life is a good life.
During her journey, Strayed concluded that all the problems that she had been experienced in her life could easily resolved and that she did not require luxuries to be happy. Her experience showed that it was her who was complicating her life. As a result, she was “amazed that what she needed to survive could be carried on her back … that her complicated life could be made so simple” (Strayed 92). To Strayed, the idea that everything she needed to survive could be carried in her backpacking is a refreshing idea. She had spent the moments leading up to her journey going on benders, harming herself and those around her. It was these actions that had complicated her life, and now that she is in the wilderness, alone, she is able to truly reflect and come to the realization that the simplistic lifestyle is the better lifestyle. McCandless writes that he experienced “the great triumphant joy of living to the fullest extent in which real meaning is found” (Krakauer 37). Just like Strayed, he was able to rise above the problems that he faced during his journey and make the simplicity of life his joy.
He understood that a good life is the one that is not burdened with problems and worries, and that after being isolated from the world that he experienced the “triumphant joy of living to the fullest extent”. All this leads to the understanding that a simple life will necessarily be a good life because it will not be spoiled by problems and worries.Having examined all the points that were mentioned in the paragraphs above, one is able to come to the following conclusion: although the three authors had completely different experiences, they all were able to develop a similar approach determining what is a good life is and how one could attain it. Wallace, Strayed, and Krakauer state that it is essential for a person to start living a good life by rejecting the unnecessary norms created by society.
Secondly, they point out that it is paramount that to lead a good life, one must enjoy the environment that they are in. Finally, all three authors agree that a simple life is also a good life. Works CitedKrakauer, Jon. Into the Wild. Villard, 1996.
Strayed, Cheryl. Wild: a journey from lost to found. Atlantic Books, 2015. Wallace, David Foster, “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again.” A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again. New York: Back Bay Books, 1997.