Brief History of Good Life Seminars

The Good Life Seminar began as an experiment by Jim OToole a decade ago. Jim, a professor at the Marshall School USC, was in charge of seminar programs at the Aspen Institute. He asked if I would help him update the classic Aspen Seminar originally conceived by Mortimer Adler of the University of Chicago.

Adler's root stock was excellent: classical readings in philosophy, poetry, drama. In the hands of top grade leaders and willing seminarians the results could be life bending. And, when I was at ATT, I went and it helped me to redirect my life.

Jim's question to me was: could Adler's root stock thrive in different soils and climes like Northern California? Our first effort was at Cavallo Point, a lovely resort in Sausalito overlooking San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge. We shortened the time and grafted on subjects like psychology, science, and contemporary poetry, drama, and essays.

By recruiting another Aspen veteran, Pete Thigpen, the transplant continues today. Gradually early devotees helped shape and refine the seminar to focus on great content and to explore the richness of learning itself.

Now the seminar is thriving in the rich soils of Bath, England with Tony Bury, an early pioneer leading the way. Learning partnerships around the world are functioning happily and new varietals like a shortened version for young men are beginning to be tested. A small group of volunteers are helping veteran Good Lifer, Lad Burgin, create a Good Life website and blog, the medium for this brief history. Other important and informal efforts like creating learning pathways for refugees are being guided by self-forming learning groups.

The entire small enterprise is based on a fundamental belief that learning as a well-conceived and shared activity will bring us to a good life and help us to maintain it.

 John O’Neil, Feb. 2, 2017