My latest film, A Small Good Thing, was three years in the making. It asks: What does it take to live a good life? Is more always better? These are questions I have asked at each transition—the good, the bad, and the beautiful—in my own life.
About six years ago, these questions began to take on more urgency. On a personal level, I had found a career I enjoyed, had a family I loved, friends, and three sons who were growing into fine young men. And yet, something was missing. I found myself alone, tired, and in need of restoration more than usual. As I talked to friends and acquaintances, I heard these same complaints. People were running so hard to keep up with the pressures brought about by the financial crash, the needs of their children, and the pressures to work harder in a tough job market. No one seemed to be enjoying their lives. Given the additional worries about the growing divide between the rich and the rest, climate change, and the vanishing natural world, this question of what makes a good life took on added importance.
So, I set out to explore the latest thinking in happiness studies and went back to my college texts on philosophy and the common good. I had a sense that to be able to “lose oneself” was an element in “the good life,” but what exactly did this mean? Where did mindfulness and meditation fit into a “good life”?
America is one of the richest countries in the world and yet so many people seemed too busy, too stressed to enjoy their riches. And on the other side, many people cannot find work. And what of our vanishing natural world? I love to walk in the woods, but forests around the world are disappearing. Was there an argument to be made that “the good life” involved spending time in the natural world? What about climate change? How was our lifestyle of acquiring more material wealth in a search for happiness affecting our planet? Earning a living was critical, yet what was enough? Using one’s gifts was important, but how did that square with spending time with those we love? Freud famously spoke about “love and work” as the essence of a good life, but many of us don’t make the time for our families or friends. We talk about needing connection with each other and we think we are more “connected” than ever through the Internet—and yet, incidents of depression are on the rise. We are busier than ever and yet feel lonely and isolated. Is there a better way to live?
These were some of the issues that inspired me to make A Small Good Thing.
- Pamela Tanner Boll, 2014