Thursday, May 26, 2016
Does health equal happiness?
As someone who's worked in an ICU for years, I can tell you one thing with certainty: your health is where it begins and ends.
But does being healthy make you happy? That might sound like a silly question until you've experienced ILL-health. In North America (where I live), the conventional view is that a “successful” life is about career advancement, power, prestige, material goods, sensual pleasure and social approval.
Would that stuff 'make' you happy... and for how long? Will any of that help you when you're sick... I mean really sick?
The famous Greek philosopher, Aristotle rejected this predictable line of thinking and devoted his life to exploring the best way for human beings to live. His reasoning lead to the conclusion that true happiness is the result of something that sounds old-fashioned, even quaint: virtue. Only the virtuous life, Aristotle insisted, will lead to real satisfaction.
Where can such virtue be found? In the middle, he said, between the extremes of excess and deficiency. He gave plenty of examples. In almost every area of our lives, disproportion is the thief of real happiness. Even positive things, such as wealth, love, and even exercise - pursued immoderately - can become a source of misery.
The trick is to find the right balance.
“It is no easy task to find the middle,” Aristotle conceded... but if we don’t, we may regret it. People are often drawn to Aristotle’s ideas in the second half of life. By then, most of us have set aside our youthful fantasies about money and celebrity and are focused instead on knowledge, awareness, companionship and community. Plus, you’ve gained something you didn’t have before: perspective.
Today, Aristotle’s natural audience is mature, thoughtful people who have a healthy dissatisfaction with their current lives. They want to feel that they are not just living, but flourishing in the time they have remaining... and that time can end tonight.
Happiness, Aristotle declared, isn’t something you feel. It’s something you do.