The Search for the Good Life

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The good life is a process, not a state of being. It is a direction not a destination

Carl Rogers

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 for 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?


This article has been adapted and was originally posted on the Pointless Overthinking blog: The Search for the Good Life – Pointless Overthinking

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The Modern Alienated Individual: A Closer Look at Fight Club

From the Archive: As Christmas shopping is around the corner, another reflection on the superficiality and hollowness of consumerism.

“Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need, and the things you own, end up owning you.” Fight Club

You can view the article by clinking on the link below

https://alifeofvirtue.ca/2020/08/19/the-modern-alienated-individual-a-closer-look-at-fight-club/

A Life of Virtue: Philosophy as a Way of Life

We achieved everything we ever wanted and more. We’ve built technologies which elevate humanity to the status of gods. We’ve tamed and controlled nature to align with our needs, and built industrial playgrounds for the flourishing of economic progress and industry.

Yet underneath the bright screens, fancy clothes and luxury cars lies an individual who is deeply disconnected with the world. They pride themselves in their status but are unable to authentically connect with others. They feel like strangers in their own society, feeling the pull to conform with the latest trends in consumer products.

I do not wish to seem naïve or ignorant. I of course value the comforts and opportunities that living in the 21st century has afforded me. However, despite all this exponential progress, I think we have to remember what we have lost in modernity. With our laser focus economic growth and individualism we have…

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Rethinking Leisure in the Age of Total Work

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If you are losing your leisure, look out! –It may be you are losing your soul

Virginia Woolf

In modern society, work has come to dominate almost all aspects of our lives. One’s identity becomes subsumed by their job title. Days become filled with endless tasks and checklists. Ever increasing productivity seems to be our guiding principle. In a highly competitive global economy, efficiency trumps all other values. Technology and gadgets marketed as making our working life easier, only serve to deepen our attachment to the world of work.

In his book Leisure as the Basis of Culture, Josef Pieper coined the term ‘total work’ to describe our current situation in which a human being primarily exists for the sake of work. That is, it becomes the center piece of our lives – all consuming, all encompassing. Consequently, through this lens everything is converted into some sort of utilitarian calculus. The intrinsic value of life or of the natural world is lost to cold and disheartening economic analysis. Our social lives become a status game mediated through the prestige of our LinkedIn profiles.

What is lost in this attitude or way of thinking is an appreciation of the spontaneity, creativity and mystery of life. A deep relationship to the world, and a capacity to be filled with a sense of wonder and awe.

Pieper makes an important distinction which contrasts his conception of leisure from idleness or laziness. Leisure doesn’t imply passivity. It is not the mere absence from work. Rather it is a mental attitude, disposition or way of being in the world. He traces his ideal of leisure back to the ancient Greeks, namely to the philosopher Aristotle. The goal of this notion of leisure is to work towards a state of inner contentment. To reflect on the state of one’s life and aim to cultivate virtue and improve one’s character.

Pieper emphasizes that leisure should be seen as a state of being in which one is open to the joy of the present moment. 

Leisure, it must be clearly understood, is a mental and spiritual attitude—it is not simply the result of external factors, it is not the inevitable result of spare time, a holiday, a weekend or a vacation. It is, in the first place, an attitude of mind, a condition of the soul, and as such utterly contrary to the ideal of “worker” …….. Compared with the exclusive ideal of work as activity, leisure implies (in the first place) an attitude of non-activity, of inward calm, of silence; it means not being “busy”, but letting things happen

Josef Pieper, Leisure as the Basis of Culture

This view of leisure is not to be thought of as primarily as a rest. Recuperating from a long week at work by binging a Netflix series doesn’t fit the bill. This is because mere relaxation treats leisure as a ‘means to an end’. Rest for the sake of work. However, the individual is still confined to looking at everything from the standpoint of the working world.  On the contrary, for Pieper, leisure must be something intrinsically valuable to someone tied to no immediate external goals or aims. Something sought after as a ‘end in itself.’

So in a world of endless ‘to-do’ lists, in which each minute of our time is tracked and filled with chores and tasks, how can we embrace this view of leisure?

I think we can take inspiration from the Judeo-Christian notion of the ‘sabbath’ which asks us to set aside a day of the week for reflection, worship and contemplation. On the sabbath, production, work or consumption is prohibited. The day is meant to offer us an opportunity to break free from our identities as workers. Through this, we can bring ourselves into greater harmony in our relationships with ourselves, others and the natural world.

The idea of a ‘Digital Sabbath’ leverages this idea and adopts it to modern secular society. The goal is to avoid screens (television, cell phones, computers etc.) or at least limit your screen time for one day a week.  Think of the stillness and peace of mind you can achieve by turning off your phone one day a week. We can re-establish face to face human relationships, spend time in contemplation or immerse ourselves on long walks in nature.

Unless we are lottery winners or are lucky enough to have large fortunes, work is unescapable. However, we can always prevent it from taking over every aspect of our lives.

We need time to pursue leisure and engage in activities that provide us with genuine meaning and purpose.

If we don’t carve out time to examine our lives and our values we will simply live on auto-pilot.

Leisure is only possible when we are at one with ourselves

Josef Pieper

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