Self-growth, self-improvement, self-esteem, and motivation articles, books, videos, coaches, e-books (including mine) inundate the Internet. They offer advice on how to live better than you are living now.
Good advice, but oh, so contemporary.
Sometimes it’s more interesting to read philosophy.
One time a Korean medical doctor hired me to write an article explaining acupuncture for American magazine readers. He fed me the information but it took me three weeks to figure out how to start the article. Finally, I realized I had to go all the way back to Plato and Confucius. Through them, I could demonstrate how Western and Eastern philosophical contemplation led to two completely different branches of medicine.
So, let’s consider the elements of the good life according to Aristotle. I bet you can relate-even if you don’t know who he is.
1. The Contemplative Life. You know Plato’s old line, “An unexamined life is not worth living.” If you have read this far you carry his contemplative streak. You ask the big questions. You ask why. Good on ya, as they say, down under.
2. The Active Life. A given. We can’t think if we don’t move and put some oxygen in our brains. Besides, life is meant to be lived.
3. The Fatalistic Life. We tend to think of fatalists as pessimists who assume they have no free will, no control over their lives. Everything is written in the stars–or someplace. But Aristotle has a different take. To him, a fatalist is resigned to the facts of life. He accepts the fact has he no control over the weather, his president, or his hard drive. This acceptance makes for a good life.
When the fatalist loses his job, his car, his key to the club, he doesn’t mourn. He says, “I gave it back.” He recognizes the transitory nature of everything. Some of us have to get ancient to get to that point. I met a woman at a writers’ conference who had just moved out of a fourteen-room mansion into a two-bedroom condo. “I gave it all back,” she said.
It is a good life when we accept what is inevitable. You know your car is going to die someday, among other beloved flora and fauna.
4. The Hedonistic Life. Delicious sounding, isn’t it? Slightly naughty. You thought a hedonist was an irresponsible, party-till-I-die kind of person, I bet. Not according to Aristotle.
Hedonism implies desire. Desire implies want–unsatisfied want. That’s no fun. According to Aristotle, a true hedonist trods a narrow path between the pain of unsatisfied pleasure and pleasure. He’s not going to pine over the Queen of Sheba when he can have the Queen of Next Door. He leads a peaceful life, getting his pleasure in a protected context.
5. The heroic and saintly life. If you find joy in helping others you know you are no better than the sloths you grew up with. You know what sustains you and it is beautiful and you don’t deserve the accolades people throw at you. It’s your good life. You don’t expect anyone else to get the same pleasure out of it that you do.
Sister Theresa never thought of herself as a saint. She just thought she was living a good life. The firefighters in every city do not think of themselves as heroes. When one dies trying to save a life, he probably thinks, “Damn, I goofed,” not “They’ll bury me a hero.”
What we choose to do in life is programmed early. Our judgments of ourselves and others are hardwired, too. Personally, I measure my own self-growth by the wonderful decrease in my daily judgments of others.
I think Aristotle would say, if he knew the lingo, think about your life, live your life, expect bad weather and enjoy it, give up what you hang on to, seek pleasure safely, not excessively, and do what you do for its own sake, not for some ridiculous pat on the back.
Then again, I may be right.
I will now drink a toast to your good life with a safe amount of Hedonistic Port.