in: Advice, Character, Sunday Firesides

Sunday Firesides: The 3 Elements of a Life Well-Lived

A man in a suit stands before three scenes: a money tree, a pathway with signs, and a mountainous trail. Text above reads, "Three Elements of a Life Well-Lived." Text below reads, "Sunday Firesides.

What makes for a fulfilled life, a meaningful life?

Many answers have been offered to this question. But Otto Paul Kretzmann, a professor and pastor of the mid-20th century, articulated what is perhaps the truest and pithiest formulation of the good life.

Kretzmann said that if man is to survive, flourish, and stay sane in the modern world, he must have “something to live by, to live on, and to live for.”

Something to live on. Kretzmann may have listed this element second, but it serves as the prosaic but essential foundation of the good life. Fulfillment is hard to grab ahold of amidst a paycheck-to-paycheck existence; something above a grinding, subsistence-level income is required. Money may not directly buy happiness, but by keeping the specter of worry and stress from darkening one’s doorway and providing a springboard to interesting, adventurous, and joy-inducing pursuits, it provides the conditions that make it far easier to obtain. 

Something to live by. It’s hard to find your way without a map, a compass, a set of signposts. It’s hard to generate the force so primary to human happiness — momentum — when every decision must be made and remade from scratch. Every man needs a set of non-negotiable principles, born of well-earned convictions, to guide him. Every man needs a code.

Something to live for. Life becomes an empty slog when it consists merely of the maintenance tasks necessary to perpetuate it. A man needs a purpose larger than himself. Ideals he can never reach but finds satisfaction in striving toward. A compelling reason to get out of bed in the morning. Work that makes a difference. People who need him; indeed, having something to live on and something to live for often mean very little, unless you have someone you love to live with.

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