This post is too big for me to write.
But it’s also one I need to write, so I’ll just do my best, maybe I’ll make a book about it someday. No promises.
I write to you of The Life Fantastic.
It’s a term I’ve coined for something I’ve thought about much, but which is also still forming in my head. However, I’ve found writing is often the best way of getting things out of my nebulous head-space and into more concrete, understandable terms.
The idea comes from a coworker, one I’ve mentioned briefly in a previous post. Every time anyone asks him how he’s doing, without fail he will answer, “fantastic, as always.”
This response has baffled me. How can one always be fantastic (and not be a fox in a Wes Anderson movie)? In general, I’m a pretty positive guy, especially when I’m around others, but there are many days when life does not seem so fantastic to me. I mean, every day can’t be sunflowers and birdsong, right? Some days are hard, sometimes the world feels heavy.
What exactly does it mean to live the life fantastic? It’s a way of viewing the world along with your own life and circumstances. It’s finding contentment, fulfillment, goodness in (even in spite of) everything. Some may call this the abundant life.
Much of this comes down to attitude and I believe attitude is a choice (though it often doesn’t feel like it). Some well-known people have said much the same:
“Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.”
“Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.”
- Charles R. Swindoll
“The pursuit of happiness is a matter of choice...it is a positive attitude we choose to express. It is not a gift delivered to our door each morning, nor does it come through the window. And it is certain that our circumstances are not the things that make us joyful. If we wait for them to get just right, we will never laugh again.”
- Charles R. Swindoll
Why, even Barbie signs off her YouTube vlogs with PACE: positive attitude changes everything.
Alright, so attitude is important, I think most people can agree on that. I even wrote a post about having the right attitude as a creative. But I also believe The Life Fantastic is more than just an attitude, it’s a state of being, if that makes any sense.
Galatians 5:22,23 comes to mind, with its list of the fruits of the Spirit:
And, at the end of the list, it adds something of a side-note, “against such there is no law.” No one can keep these things from you, there is no law which prevents you from obtaining them.
I’ve heard some people teach that really the whole list is a group of subcategories under the first one: love. I think of a line from a song by Sleeping At Last, “that we may fall in love every time we open up our eyes.” A continual state of being in love.
Such a life feels right to me and, in concept, sounds so easy, yet, when put into practice, immediately appears impossible and far off. Can one ever reach it? Indeed, it seems like such a life is in contrast to the way most people live. As Louis CK said, “Everything is amazing and nobody is happy.”
I read an article stating depression and an anxiety are at an all time high in America. Surveys are showing: “Mental illness is on the rise. Suicide is on the rise.” This does not bode well for us. I won’t pretend to fully understand how we’ve gotten here, but I know we can’t keep on this path. There has to be another way.
None of this is new and we’re certainly not to first generation to struggle with such things. Following his immense success as an author, Leo Tolstoy went though a stage in his later years where he faced an existential crisis and, during it, suffered from anhedonia: the inability to find pleasure from activities usually found enjoyable. He recounts the experience and his internal struggles in his memoir, “A Confession.” In his musings, he found it remarkable there were people who faced the same difficulties he did, yet somehow found hope and purpose:
“In contradistinction to the way in which people of our circle oppose fate and complain of it on account of deprivations and sufferings, these people accepted illness and sorrow without any perplexity or opposition, and with a quiet and firm conviction that all is good. In contradistinction to us, who the wiser we are the less we understand the meaning of life, and see some evil irony in the fact that we suffer and die, these folk live and suffer, and they approach death and suffering with tranquility and in most cases gladly…
In complete contrast to my ignorance, [they] knew the meaning of life and death, labored quietly, endured deprivations and sufferings, and lived and died seeing therein not vanity but good…”
A while ago, I heard a story from a missionary (I can’t recall which country they were in) who met a most remarkable woman. She was an elderly lady, poor and lived alone. As a result of her faith and the restrictive country where she lived, she had been sentenced to clean the sewers every day for the rest of her life. The missionary was amazed to find, despite all this, she was the happiest woman he’d ever met.
I think about people like that and wonder why I’m so quick to get bummed about stupid things like an offhanded comment someone made or my internet bill going up. I don’t have to look hard to find times when I have not embraced The Life Fantastic. But there are other times when I’ve been surprised by my response, when I’ve found joy and peace despite unfavorable circumstances.
To live this way, to have such a view requires a creative outlook because it is certainly not the norm. It means looking beyond how things are on the surface and finding beauty, hope and a deeper meaning even in the worst of times. A big part of this comes from the ability to look outside your own life—your wants and needs—to both recognize and meet the needs of others, to reach out and make a difference for someone else.
As I said, my thoughts on this aren't yet complete, I'm still discovering what it means to live such a life and how it can be done, but that's a part of it too: continual discovery, constantly learning and growing. I don’t know if I’ll ever fully get there—perhaps some splendid far-off day—but The Life Fantastic is my ever-present goal, my endless aim and I wonder if it is yours as well.
A. P. Lambert