How to define a life well-lived

sunset on a tractor

“Far and away the best prize that life offers is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.”

— Theodore Roosevelt

How does one define a life well-lived?

There are many people who would base this answer on the amount of money one has in the bank, or the framed diplomas on an office wall. I remember having a long conversation with my father near the end of his life, and his statement, “I was lucky enough to do exactly what I wanted to do in my life,” is what stays with me as the standard for a life well-lived.


I talked with a gentleman recently who told me he takes great pride in planting a large vegetable garden each spring and sharing the bounty with neighbors who are less fortunate. He spends his winter planning his next garden.

“There is simply nothing that I enjoy more than watching those sprouts each spring and harvesting good food later in the summer,” he said. “I will never get rich at it, but my neighbors and I will never go hungry, either.”

For some, the hard work of dairy farming is what they were called to do. My father, who came of age in the early 1950s, said he realized he was born at the very right time, as it was an era in which a man could reap rewards from hard work and constant, necessary diversification. He always felt that dairy farming was the backbone of a successful farming operation.

“The price of milk will go up and down, but it is an income that a fellow can rely on. The rest of the farming operation depends on that,” he said.

Hard work

I have been thinking almost non-stop of all the hard-working dairy farmers lately as I check the thermometer and see it barely budging over zero. If anyone deserves to be financially secure and well-fed, it is the dairy farmers of the world. There is nothing quite as grueling as the morning milking on a sub-zero day.

I remember all too well the frosty noses of the dairy cattle, our own frozen feet as we worked our way through the herd, dreaming of sunshine and balmy breezes. There is no doubt the frigid weather makes both the milking and the calving extremely challenging, but regardless of circumstances, the work is always waiting.

It takes a tremendous amount of determination to keep a successful dairy farm going, month after month, season after challenging season, year after year. I read a quote recently which describes the tenacity required of farmers. Edward Butler once said, “One man has enthusiasm for 30 minutes, another for 30 days, but it is the man that has it for 30 years who makes a success of his life.”


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Judith Sutherland, born and raised on an Ohio family dairy farm, now lives on a 70-acre farm not far from the area where her father’s family settled in the 1850s. Appreciating the tranquility of rural life, Sutherland enjoys sharing a view of her world through writing. Other interests include teaching, reading, training dogs and raising puppies. She and her husband have two children, a son and a daughter, and three grandchildren.



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