In our day to day lives, many of us are preoccupied with completing the tasks on our never-ending to-do lists. Life quickly passed us by but we rarely take the time to reflect and contemplate on the deeper questions of our existence. When asked what do we want to get out of our lives, many will respond with the vague answer “I just want to be happy.”
However, when pressed on what this exactly means, we give generic answers that lack any real substance. Happiness is often conflated with pleasure and feelings of contentment. What comes to mind is the smiling couple we see in Hollywood romances or the slick well dressed business man racing down the street in a flashy sports car.
We soon realize that the excitement and rush that we get from pleasure quickly fades.
Trying to pursue a life dedicated to pleasure is like running on a treadmill. It always leaves us dissatisfied and desiring more.
The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle had a different conception of the good life which he called eudaimonia. Although loosely translated as ‘happiness’, the term points to something akin to human flourishing. Eudaimonia, is not a temporary fleeting experience, rather it is a lifelong project. It is the result of working towards self-actualization and realizing your full potential.
Human wellbeing requires us to strive for excellence as well as pursue and cultivate virtue. Just as an athlete who wants to improve their performance needs to train, a person who wants to become virtuous must to perform virtuous acts. For instance, someone who is courageous is an individual who acts courageously whereas an individual who is humble is one who exercises restraint and avoids egotism.
It is through acts of goodness, virtue and excellence that we experience contentment and happiness.
As ‘social animals’, Aristotle argued that we ought to utilize our distinctive talents and gifts to benefit our broader community – to enhance the common good. One’s role as a human is not only to act upon your gifts but to contribute to the flourishing as society as a whole. This view differs from individualistic versions of the good life which can often focus on satisfying a narrow set of materialist desires.
In the final analysis, Aristotle’s view of a life well lived requires active participation and the development of habits to be the best version of ourselves.
So, what is your idea of the good life?
Let me know in the comments below.
You can view more of my writing on my personal blog at A Life of Virtue: Philosophy as a Way of Life – In Search of Inner Freedom
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