Meaningful RelationshipsProductive WorkCreative Self-ExpressionCivic EngagementHealthCore NeedsFreedom to Make Choices

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Pilot Conversation #50: California

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Pilot Conversation #36: California

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Pilot Conversation #74: Minnesota

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Pilot Conversation #69: Louisiana

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Pilot Conversation #41: Maine

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Pilot Conversation #83: National

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Pilot Conversation #56: Maine

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Pilot Conversation #82: Minnesota

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Pilot Conversation #36: California

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Pilot Conversation #43: Maine

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Pilot Conversation #99: National

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Pilot Conversation #69: Louisiana

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Pilot Conversation #17: Pennsylvania

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Pilot Conversation #58: Wisconsin

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Pilot Conversation #78: Illinois

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Pilot Conversation #34: Minnesota

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Pilot Conversation #14: California

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Pilot Conversation #99: National

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Pilot Conversation #53: Maine

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Pilot Conversation #73: Minnesota

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Pilot Conversation #4: South Carolina

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Pilot Conversation #34: Minnesota

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Pilot Conversation #53: Maine

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Pilot Conversation #73: Minnesota

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Pilot Conversation #98: California

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Pilot Conversation #76: Michigan

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Pilot Conversation #36: California

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Pilot Conversation #41: Maine

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Pilot Conversation #74: Minnesota

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Pilot Conversation #69: Louisiana

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Pilot Conversation #68: Nebraska

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Pilot Conversation #17: Pennsylvania

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Pilot Conversation #43: Maine

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Pilot Conversation #36: California

Insight: What are the perceived meanings of a "good life"?

We cannot rehumanize our schools without understanding how we think about what it means to be human - individually and in community.

While our focus was on learning how to evolve school post-pandemic, in our 100 Days conversations the first question was not, “how would you change school?” Rather, we ask participants first to root in their own values, dreams, and beliefs by asking them to consider what makes a good life for them, and what makes the kind of thriving community they would want to inhabit. This was intentional - without shared visions for our lives and communities, we cannot know how to start working together constructively. 

As Robin D.G. Kelley notes, “Without new visions, we don’t know what to build, only what to knock down.” While we do want to change schools, and perhaps even knock down some of the current structures and approaches that are harmful, ultimately positive change doesn’t come from the tearing down process but from the building up together process.

When we asked about a good life, participants did not linger too long, if at all, on traditional metrics of success like prominence, fame, money, career success, or power. Instead, a good life for participants was multifaceted: they talked about meaningful relationships with family, friends, and community, productive work, creative self-expression and the development of a sense of individuality, civic engagement and world-making - getting to work with others to influence the community and world they live in, being healthy - in mind, body, and spirit. 

Perhaps proving themselves collectively as wise as Aristotle, participants also identified two preconditions to enjoying these elements: the freedom to make choices in their lives; and ensuring that basic needs of safety, food, housing, etc., were met. Aristotle asserted that no person could experience true well-being if these two preconditions were not met by their context.

The following information was analyzed from conversations between students, educators, families, and community members across the United States.

Conversations

117
+

Voices

510
+

States

37
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Click on the highlighted words to hear participant voices.

Meaningful Relationships

The aspect of a good life that came up most frequently across the conversations was meaningful relationships and a sense of community. At times this was described specifically as having a strong social support system and people to lean on, but it was also described simply as the need for belonging and both loving and being loved came out strongly. Participants talked about the importance of family, both immediate and intergenerational. Friendship was also discussed in depth - close friends and wider community acquaintances.

Productive Work

A second key part of a good life for participants was productive work. Productive work isn’t necessarily the most highly paid, flashy, nor one’s primary source of purpose - but it is work that offers financial stability - enough money so one can consistently pay the bills. In addition to allowing one to satisfy their basic needs, productive work in a good life at the very least doesn’t feel like it is killing one’s soul, and at the best aligns with one’s strengths, interests, potentially their passions and ideally is “good work” useful to the world beyond one’s self.

Creative Self-Expression

A third key component of a good life is creative self expression. To participants this means being able to develop a sense of self-awareness and express their individuality in a way that feels authentic to them. It means being able to grow and change over time, exploring new opportunities and ways of being but staying true to oneself throughout. Many participants expressed that this aspect of themselves included a desire to live lives of meaning and purpose - lives they could be proud of when they reflected back near the end of their lives. Justin, a participant from California, “...at the end of my days, I want to be someone that I can be proud of. I want to feel like I’ve at least made an impact and made a change.”

Civic Engagement & World-Making

The fourth part of a good life that participants discussed was being part of making their world with others - aka civic engagement. This took many forms. Politically in a democracy this meant getting to participate in the political decisions that shape our lives and having a voice and collaborating with others in the community to work on and organize around the issues that matter to you. Additionally, participants talked about world-making and civic engagement as the desire to have a positive impact. This included helping other people, broadly helping out in the community, and being able to contribute to projects that had a purpose beyond oneself and not feeling like, “everything is about you.”

Mental & Physical Health

Health was the fifth key component to a good life. Participants consistently expressed that without health, the rest of the aspects of a good life were hard to truly enjoy. Health was broadly defined - it included physical health, but participants also talked about mental and emotional health as being just as important for a good life. This included ideas of cultivating healthy attitudes, dispositions, and skills, such as gratitude, equanimity, and joy.

Having Core Needs Met

Participants talked about the fact that these components of a good life are incredibly important, and, kind of like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs - if a person’s basic needs for safety, food, water, and shelter are not met - or people you care about cannot meet these needs - then it’s difficult to pursue fulfilling the rest of what makes a good life.

Freedom to Make Choices

Finally, participants also talked about freedom as a precondition for living a good life - in particular, the freedom to choose, the freedom to pursue opportunities and passions, the freedom to move around, and the freedom to fail and make mistakes. The preconditions and components are overlapping, because some freedoms depend on having sufficient resources for choice.

Questions to Consider

For Policy Makers and Activists

  • Before we start making decisions, we need to listen to one another. How can we host conversations like this in our own communities?

For Educators

  • Students are not prioritizing the same issues being identified by schools. How can we listen and learn from the people in the classroom?
  • What would a classroom dedicated to forming a "good life" look like?

For Young People

  • A "good life" isn't necessarily what's popularized in the media. How can we guide our lives toward something meaningful to us?

Organizations Working to Make Change

Curious how we came to these conclusions?

Learn more about the analysis process at 100 Days of Conversations:
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