Aristotle* believed the aim of life is to be happy. But there’s a catch – to be happy, you have to be good. Fortunately, Aristotle wasn’t asking for perfect virtue. Instead he recommended a happy medium between opposites, believing neither extreme to be ideal.
So for instance, we should aim for:
- -Neither shame nor hubris, but healthy self-respect
- -Neither punishing self-discipline nor laziness, but concerted effort
- -Neither asceticism nor overindulgence, but moderation.
Aristotle disagreed with Socrates, who thought knowing what was right automatically leads to doing right. For Aristotle, you can know what you should do and still not do it.
More important than individual actions is how you live your life as a whole. Being on a virtuous path – one of balance and moderation – is the way to long-term happiness.
Happiness strategies inspired by Aristotle
Being good: You can develop virtues, or personal strengths, by choosing a balanced approach. Take the example of getting fit. Some people join a gym, work out like maniacs till they get injured or can’t face another grueling workout, and then hang up their lycra for life. Consider adopting a more sustainable regime – and sticking to it.
Lifestyle: You can work excessive hours, earn an enormous income, and be wastefully extravagant. But you’re more like to find happiness by working, earning and spending a little less.
Pride: Are you incapable of saying or hearing a good thing about yourself? Or is there an unending stream of air from your lips to your trumpet? Aim for self-respect instead. A good way to respect yourself more is to do those old-fashioned, decent things – like being considerate of others when you use your mobile, throwing litter in bins, giving your best at work and being liberal with please, thank you and sorry.
We can get caught up in extremes – eating a cabbage soup diet all week and then finishing an entire box of Krispy Kremes; watching daily re-runs of Law & Order and then staying up all night to meet a deadline; regularly snapping at a loved one and then overpowering them with affection when they threaten to leave.
Instead, consider Aristotle’s encouragement to cultivate virtues and aim for balance. It’s a great way to put the happy into happy medium.
*To learn more about Aristotle, you might like to read The Passion of the Western Mind: Understanding the Ideas that Have Shaped Our World View by Richard Tarnas.