Was Aristotle Right About Happiness?
I taught a class for adults at a local college on core values. I asked how many people liked philosophy. Few hands were raised.
Then I said this: “Allow me to offer this definition of philosophy: philosophy is the focus on the proper relationship of man to man, man to the earth, and man to God. Now how many are interested?”
Most hands shot up.
So be patient with me as we now turn to philosophy. Let’s look at Aristotle, first. Some feel that Aristotle’s book Nicomachean Ethics is the best book ever written on the subject of happiness.
Aristotle and Happiness
The ideas of the Greek philosopher Aristotle can still help us create better lives and communities. Dr. Edith Hall, a professor of classics at King’s College London, recently wrote Aristotle’s Way: How Ancient Wisdom Can Change Your Life. She wrote an essay for The Wall Street Journal in 2019 that explains many of the premises from the book. It states in part:
Aristotle’s ethical system — as described in his major treatises, the Nicomachean Ethics and the Eudemian Ethics — revolves around the idea that the goal of human life is happiness…For him, happiness was an internal state of mind…
Real happiness, Aristotle believed, comes from a continuous effort to become the best possible version of yourself. Like his teacher Plato and Plato’s own teacher, he subscribed to the ancient proverb engraved over the oracle at Delphi: Know thyself…
Aristotle does not teach, for instance, that anger is a vice and patience a virtue. Rather, he believes that when we feel anger in the right amount, at the right time and toward the right people, it is virtuous. Without it, we wouldn’t stand up for ourselves or for important principles. Failing to feel anger when we are wronged is a vice, but then so is excessive, misplaced or gratuitous anger…
Good Aristotelians acknowledge both their best and their worst moral characteristics and work continuously at self-improvement. They try to develop habits of generosity, honesty, responsibility, integrity, fairness, kindness and good humor [emphasis added].
Note the emboldened words. These are mentioned by Dr. Hall (and extrapolated from Aristotle’s philosophy) as “habits,” but they can also be core values. Or they can be part of larger core values. “Honesty” may be viewed as part of “integrity,” for instance.
If you can turn a core value into a habit, you are on your way to living a successful and purposeful life. If you honor them in your daily decisions, actions, and goals, you will be on your way to realizing fulfillment and peace of mind. These are other words for happiness.
In my life, it didn’t take long to find that focusing on my core values worked. I could see that my life had changed dramatically. (I wonder what those chaps sitting around the Lyceum in Athens would have thought?)
There’s something inside you that knows when you’re in the center, that knows when you’re on the beam or off the beam. And if you get off the beam to earn money, you’ve lost your life. And if you stay in the center and don’t get any money, you still have your bliss.
— Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth
In my next two blogs, I discuss why everyone should become a philosopher.
We look at the case for reading philosophy made by the guy who may have done more than anyone to popularize philosophy today: Ryan Holiday. He focuses on what was once a little-known branch of philosophy: Stoicism. He makes a strong case for adopting the tenets of this philosophy.
This is the twenty-first blog on this subject. Each blog can stand alone or can be viewed as a comprehensive look on the why and how finding and living by your core values can change your life. Dramatically!
If you want to read my other core values blogs: https://medium.com/the-innovation/your-core-values/home.
As a reminder, the actual step-by-step process of how you can discover your core values will only be covered in chapter 2 of my book, published January 12, 2021 — A Fool’s Errand: Why Your Goals are Falling Short and What You Can Do About It.
If you’d like me to email you the first chapter, please add your email here: https://mailchi.mp/592c9a435a29/a-fools-errand. (Until then, I promise to share with you the power of core values via blogs taken from my book 2–3 times per week.)
 Aristotle. The Nicomachean Ethics. Translated by David Ross. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.
 Hall, Edith. Aristotle’s Way: How Ancient Wisdom Can Change Your Life. New York: Penguin Press, 2019.
 Hall, Edith. “Aristotle’s Pursuit of Happiness: The Ideas of the Greek Philosopher Can Still Help Us Create Better Lives and Communities.” The Wall Street Journal, January 31, 2019. https://www.wsj.com/articles/aristotles-pursuit-of-happiness-11548950094.
 Campbell, Joseph with Bill Moyers. The Power of Myth. New York: Anchor Books, 1991.