What is good? Joy and the well-lived life

"Look at the birds of the air,” Jesus said to the crowds gathered around him (Matt. 6:26). I’ve been looking at the birds lately, and it strikes me that today our lives are more akin to the frantic scurrying of rats and the disciplined marching of ants than to the contented and joyous singing of birds. In some regards, we humans are more like rats and ants than like birds.

But there’s more to today’s dearth of contentment and joy than just the elements of human nature. Cultures of postindustrial societies encourage and reward scurrying and marching more than they do rejoicing. They reach into what seems like the most intimate regions of our hearts, and by affecting our desires and our sense of responsibility, they disturb the peace of contentment and suppress the buoyancy of joy.

The joy we seek is the crown of the good life. It sums up what I call the affective component of the good life, or at least it does so in the Christian tradition (other religions and religious traditions have analogues to it). Two other formal components of that good life are circumstantial (life going well) and agential (leading life well).