La dolce vita, la belle vie, la buena vida – in different languages, cultures and times, the question of what it means to live well has challenged some of the world’s greatest minds. Aristotle once said the good life was spent in contemplation, exercising reason and acquiring knowledge; today, Kanye West insists it’s drinking champagne on private jets and watching the money pile up: “If they hate then let ‘em hate. Welcome to the good life.”

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Wherever you fall on the spectrum, the discourse around pleasure is too often wrapped in the language of guilt. But satisfaction, in its many shapes and forms, is surely the best indicator of a life well lived. There are the transient, often shallow indulgences, which are sometimes succeeded by feelings of emptiness. Then there are the more profound, slow-burning comforts – the ones that continue to kindle a sense of contentment long after they come to an end.

The good life is often thought of as synonymous with a life lived in accordance with nature. In Costa Rica, with its misty rivers, lush jungles and laid-back coastal towns, locals have a phrase to describe their country’s commitment to living life to the full: ‘pura vida’. This positive attitude can be applied to the act of travelling, whether it’s adopted by newlyweds exploring the idyllic islands of the Maldives or intrepid holidaymakers who have managed to make it to Belize, where spectacular underwater wildlife swarms around the world’s second-largest barrier reef.

Within a more urban environment, it can be challenging to find peace of mind. Today, more than ever, people turn to travel for a sense of release. During a ten-day silent meditation course in Chennai, Monisha Rajesh was taken aback by the physical reaction she experienced while learning to free her mind of distractions. The practice heightened her senses and, when she left, she did so with her appreciation for the world renewed.

But the stimulation of large cities can also provide great scope for inspiration and creation. Tara Lynn, who is both a model and an advocate for positive body image, has recently moved back to New York. She explains that making a conscious decision to raise her son in the city rather than visiting for work “has made everything sparkle with possibility”. Meanwhile LA-based Yael Aflalo, founder of fashion brand Reformation, designs on-trend clothing with eco credentials. She explains: “You can look really good, and feel really good about who you are.”

Cities which support a more laid-back lifestyle strive to strike the right balance. Rio is surrounded by the world’s largest urban forest, and a connection with nature runs through the city, inspiring its inhabitants. Meanwhile, Barcelona’s Mediterranean climate and fertile cultural scene has drawn back native entrepreneurs from long stints abroad. Having lived in LA, London, New York and Shanghai, the team behind Casa Bonay, Barcelona’s hottest hotel opening, present an authentic portrait of the city through a collaborative model which showcases local brands and homegrown talent. “We want to connect with people in Barcelona today,” says Inés Miró-Sans, the hotel’s 31-year-old co-founder.

A sense of community, of belonging to something outside of the self, can enrich our life experience and end up driving positive change. Thanks to its history of diversity, Kerala has a legacy of multiculturalism and open-mindedness which makes it India’s happiest and most liberal state. And in the eco-village of Matavenero in northern Spain, photographer Kevin Faingnaert was struck by the residents’ commitment to a common vision: “These are people who have shied away from the hustle of modern efficiency and consumption in order to exist in a self-sufficient and environmentally conscious manner.”

For many synonymous with relaxation, a good wine is the result of a slow process that requires real respect for the land. After visiting some of Tuscany’s vineyards, Meg Abbott writes from Florence: “It’s hard to imagine a city that better encapsulates dolce far niente, or ‘the sweetness of nothing’, the inimitable Italian mentality of pleasure for pleasure’s sake.” Life here is about enjoying good food, good wine – and good company.

For Anna Del Conte, the 91-year-old doyenne of Italian cookery, good food means eating according to region and season. Over lunch with the culinary legend, Guardian Cook Editor Mina Holland learns that Italian recipes hinge on the availability of high-quality fresh produce. She writes: “The ingredients themselves – and the place, people, climate and culture that produce them – are far more important than the actual cooking.” The pleasure the two food writers take in each other’s company is palpable and the result, I’m sure you’ll agree, is a pleasure to read.

It can often appear as though we are expected to earn the things that make us happy. But why should we not say yes to a second helping, have an extra glass of wine because we feel like it or stay up talking all night instead of getting eight hours’ sleep? Enjoyment in all its forms can play its part in a good life. Pleasure and its pursuit deserve to be shared – and celebrated.

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