Book Review: How to Be Alive: A Guide to the Kind of Happiness That Helps the World By Colin Beavan

How to Be Alive is an inspiring book for those who are looking to make positive changes in the world and in their lives.  The changes concern our personal relationship with the world:  what we buy, eat and wear; whether our work is meaningful to us and good for the world; and how we relate to our neighbors and communities.  Because the author, Colin Beavan, believes that we make our own lives better as we seek to improve our world and our communities, he describes his book as being about “each-other help” rather than a self-help.

Beavan explains that many of us look at the world around us and are overwhelmed by the problems we see.  Often, we believe that the problems are too big for us to solve, and that our actions are too small to matter.  In addition, we believe that living a life that is better for the world means sacrificing our own happiness.  Therefore, we focus on what he calls “standard life approaches” to make ourselves happy, following career paths that other people think we should follow and seeking rewards that others tell us we should want.  However, these standard life approaches seldom make us happy.  They often involve seeking things we are supposed to want, such as material success and fame, but do not fundamentally make our lives, or the world around us, better.  According to Beavan, we make a difference by seeking that which makes us truly happy and provides meaning in our lives, while ignoring societal pressure.  While helping others, we help ourselves---and no great sacrifice is needed. 

Basing his recommendations on scientific studies that examine where people find meaning in their lives, Beavan proposes a process called “life questing,” during which questers work toward living in alignment with their values and spending time on things they are passionate about. He suggests starting small by taking action related to an issue the quester cares deeply about:  buying healthy local food at a farmers market and cooking with friends, or making new connections through buying and learning about fair trade coffee, for example.  The small steps, he argues, both help us become happier and help make the world around us better because we are relating to the world in a way that reflects our values.  They provide us with the tools and motivation to make larger steps if we wish to.  Our life questing efforts, he explains, tend to snowball in a positive way. 

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