This year I don’t have any goals or resolutions. I just don’t like that approach as it always leaves me feeling like I didn’t do enough. It’s even worse, though, to look back at a year in which you didn’t set any goals at all and feel like you did nothing, which is what I ended up doing in 2015. It’s not true that I did nothing, but since I had no path to follow, it felt in a way as if I had not taken a single step.
So this year I am going to have a theme. Themes, to me, are guidepost ideas that I will use to keep me centered on important ideals and values that I want to live more completely. My theme this year:
So, this big wonderful word is from ancient Greece and means happiness, but in the sense of the kind of happiness that comes from living a good life. I like to think of it as flourishing. My guide in seeking eudaimonia is Aristotle, who believed that happiness comes from three things:
Virtue (knowing what it right, character traits like patience, temperance, generosity).
Practical Wisdom (knowing what is required to do well and meet goals and succeed).
Moral Strength (having the will to use your knowledge, virtue, and practical wisdom most of the time).
Most people I know have some virtue and some practical knowledge but everyone i know (including myself) lacks moral strength in some areas. We know what it takes to succeed at business or weight loss or training for a race or saving money for that vacation but the temptations of modern life always drag us away from our path. The donuts someone brought into work, the impulse shopping, the desire to binge watch something on Netflix instead of going for your run, all those things in the MOMENT feel good but in the long term do not serve us and lead us away from flourishing. We are not living a good life if we constantly give in to temporary pleasures that are not in our own best interest. And yet our modern culture is fixated on temporary pleasures, so it takes a lot of energy to avoid them all.
Another point to make it that Aristotle recognized that happiness is a temporary, fleeting feeling and can change from moment to moment, while eudaimonia is a characteristic of your life in sum. You can’t flourish one moment and not the next. Also, humans flourish when they are living in their true nature as humans, just as animals flourish when they are living their true animal nature (hence, why animals in captivity, despite having no stress over acquiring food or safe shelter often do not flourish but instead become mentally ill). Aristotle thought that a human’s most true nature, what set it apart from all other animals, was reason. So eudaimonia comes from using reason to act according to your virtues. That’s pretty simple, right?
Here are Aristotle’s virtues, which are always the mean between two vices. For example, courage is the mean between rashness and cowardice.
Liberality (open-mindedness, charity)
Magnificence (spark, radiance, zest)
Now, back to me and how I am using this as my theme for 2016. Aristotle pointed out that through habit will begin to act our virtues automatically, rather than through force of will. One of my favorite quotes ever is from Aristotle:
We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is an act, but a habit.
My focus this year is on recognizing ways in which I frequently lack moral strength and make impulsive choices that are not in my overall best interest and to work on making better choices more frequently. Some of these are very small things, like staying on a low carb diet or exercising every day. Some of them are bigger, like not believing my own thoughts (try this for a day and you will see how many of our thoughts aren’t actually based in reality) or how I react when I feel anger. But they are all worth practicing and I look forward to using eudaimonia as my guide this year!