Aristotle vs. Urban Monk Round 1: Finding Bliss. Success. Love.
If Aristotle was born 25 years ago, I would probably choke him before he steals my blog traffic.
Why? Aristotle has covered an impressive array of topics in his works but I didn’t know what he was about, until I discovered his works on the Human Good.
What is the Human Good? Exactly everything this blog is about: Bliss. Success. Love.
Let’s summarise his works here, with the usual Urban Monk emphasis on practicality – so you can apply it to your own life.
By the way, this is not an in-depth look at Aristotle, who cannot be condensed into a few articles without doing him an injustice. (Just so any intellectual snobs can’t rip my article apart.) Also, this is not the end of the ego series; I’m just taking a break for a moment. Please take the time to support me by bookmarking this article at your favourite service.
A really simplified summary of Aristotle
Aristotle’s work in this specific area can be summarised into the following statements:
One: Each person has unique requirements for happiness and success. What makes one person successful and happy won’t necessarily work for another.
Two: Happiness comes from living a successful life. A successful life is one that is lived according to one’s virtues – a life of excellence.
Three: The standard “trappings” of success that everyone seeks, such as health and wealth, are not ends in themselves but rather objects that facilitate happiness.
Four: And perhaps most importantly, happiness and success is not a state you achieve and forget – the happiness lies in the doing, the continued living.
So: Let’s explore how you can apply the thoughts of one of the greatest thinkers that ever lived to get success and happiness.
Statement One – Your life is your own
The most important fact any student of happiness has to know is this: You cannot cramp yourself into another person’s definition of happiness and success, and well…expect to be happy and successful. You have to live according to your own rules. (If hurting or killing makes you happy, you have to read on to the virtues section. Then get professional help.)
“But of course I live for me!” I hear you cry.
Do you really? How many of us labour and toil to meet the standards of others? Who do you try to please in your life? Be honest, and think about this. Is it your parents? Your lover? Or maybe society?
The last one is perhaps the most insidious. Society has influenced all of us so deeply that we can’t even recognise most of it, so you have to be especially aware.
Living your personal happiness
Let’s illustrate the first Aristotelian statement with an exercise.
Step One: Think about this: What do you love doing? What is, or was your dream? What do you fantasize about being, about doing? What are you doing now with your life?
Step Two: Then ask yourself: Is it good enough? If not, what is?
Step Three: Where does the answer to step two come from? Does it come from your genuine self, or has it been implanted by your parents or society?
Let’s say that what makes you happy is your job as a bartender. You love the working hours, the alcohol, and the people you meet. If you think that is success, congratulations. But if you don’t, who told you it wasn’t?
Maybe your dad wants you to follow in his footsteps and be a lawyer. Maybe your lover defines success and happiness as having a big car and a house by the beach – which you can’t afford on your salary. Society tells you that you need a six-pack, a six-figure salary, and parties every night.
If you follow a career in law, which you do not love, you might be able to live in relative comfort – the money you can earn will see to that. But will you live in joy? And whose standard of success are you living up to? Certainly not your own, and your own is the one that matters the most.
What I’ve mentioned above might be obvious; but how many people have the courage to live it rather than talk about it? The rich but unhappy businessman – the popular but lonely beauty queen – these stereotypes are so common that they have almost become clichés. And yet nobody learns from them.
How to be true to yourself
Let’s return to the exercise above, this time, to go a bit deeper into what you want to do.
Step Four: Remember your answers from the three steps above. Go deeper. Many thoughts are so subtle or so common that you have become blind to them. Is there anything that you repeatedly fantasise about? Do you wish any aspect of your life was different or better? What pursuits do you totally lose yourself in?
Step Five: Consider your life now. How do you live it? How do you respond to the demands and expectations of others? Do you ignore them and follow the callings of your heart with joy, or do you feel ashamed? Do you waste time chasing and living a life that makes someone else happy? Do you do anything that you don’t enjoy doing? Do you ever, even for a brief moment, wish you were somewhere else?
At this stage, your fears and mental obstacles would probably be arising. Yes you have bills to pay. Yes you have responsibilities. What can you do? I’ve covered most of this in Get a Life – The Passion of you. But there’s more.
The insanity of waiting to be happy
Allow me to move away from Aristotle for a moment this section is important.
Many people seem to be constantly waiting; waiting to start living, to be happy. “I need this to happen, or need to have that in my life before I can be happy. I need him to do this, need her to do that, before I can be at peace.”
Sound familiar? This is the most common mistake and the biggest killer of joy and happiness. What are you waiting for? Why can’t you be happy now?
Trust me on this one: The only time you can be happy is right now. Don’t wait, for the future will never come. The future is imaginary. When the future arrives, it is no longer the future – it is now. Waiting is insane.
The same goes for the past. When you wish that something never happened; that he did that or she hasn’t done this, you are living in the past – which cannot be changed. Take responsibility right now for your life and your happiness, for now is the only time that exists.
The insanity of waiting to be successful
It is the same for the character traits and qualities you want to have. This corresponds with Aristotle’s concept of the Highest Good – not just any good. What do you ultimately want to have as a result of chasing your goals? Your goals are good, but what lies behind them are higher. What are you waiting for before you can develop those traits?
Do any of these sound familiar? “Once I have money, I’ll be independent. Once I have a girlfriend, I’ll have self-esteem.” Think about it deeply, don’t just read my examples. What are you waiting for in your own life?
Switch it around and develop the qualities you want to have first, and what you want will be far more likely to come.
Develop independence, and the money will come. Does that not sound logical? Wouldnt it be easier to attract a quality mate after you develop self-esteem?
The approval trap
The pursuit of happiness ties in with courage and self-esteem. You have probably realised this at this stage: One reason you are not doing what you want is your need for external approval.
You don’t need external approval. The only approval that matters is your own. As long as you are not hurting anyone or breaking the law, you don’t need approval to do what you want.
This is the start of high self-esteem. High self-esteem is the approval and validation of your own self and actions. That is all you need. Looking for it elsewhere is giving away your power – you’re giving the controls of your own life to someone else. Think about it who controls your life if you want them to approve your actions?
“But I need my parents’ approval to be happy! I need my lover to validate my life!” Do you? It is one thing to show respect or filial piety. That is to be commended. It is another to live a life under their shadows.
A break before Round 2
What are the other components to living a life of success and bliss? Loving what you do is not enough, otherwise my highest good will be sitting around playing my Xbox. Living a life of excellence will be discussed in the second part, so stay tuned.