Alan Alda reflects on living a meaningful life

Alda has centered listening as a priority in his eighties.

It’s easy to overestimate others’ happiness. We see what someone presents publicly, and assume that’s their entirety. Especially when considering someone famous, it’s easy to project our hopes and desires and assume they have it all. Look at the house! Look at their wealth! But what does it actually mean to “have it all”?

Alan Alda is seemingly the image of success. However you measure success, the guy has it. There’s his acting career, in which he’s starred and written for one of the most successful TV shows in history. After M*A*S*H he switched to directing, and guess what? He was successful at that, too. He’s got what appears by all accounts to be a successful family life as well, maintaining his marriage for more than sixty years while prioritizing his children over anything career-related. Then there’s also his track record as a tireless Equal Rights advocate, spending decades campaigning and affecting real change in the world.

But rather than look at his accomplishments as an indication of a meaningful life, Alda looks back to the existentialists he studied in college. “They said the meaning of life is the meaning you give to it,” Alda said in a 2020 interview with Suburban Life Citizen. Well into his eighties, Alda continues to push forward rather than coast off his past.

“Life seems to be a lot more fun if you have a purpose,” he says. The meaning he’d like to give his life is “to be helpful, where I can.”

While Alda acts less and less each year, he’s shifted to being helpful in other ways. He uses his podcast, “Clear + Vivid” to provide his audiences with new perspectives.

“I have this radical idea that I’m not really listening unless I’m willing to be changed by you,” he says.

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