Human flourishing involves the rational use of one’s individual human potentialities, including talents, abilities, and virtues in the pursuit of his freely and rationally chosen values and goals. ~ Edward W. Younkins

The notion of living the good life can be traced back to the ancient Greek philosophers — to Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and Epicurus. These ancient thinkers revered the concept of "eudaimonia," a classical Greek word commonly translated as happiness, well-being, or flourishing.

Now while we modern-day folk tend to think of happiness as a state of mind related to joy or pleasure, philosophers such as Epicurus thought in terms of living the Good Life — the ideal way for a person to live.

Epicurus wrote that physical pleasure and freedom from pain were significant goals for human life. Our highest pleasure — tranquility and freedom from fear — is obtained by knowledge, friendship, and living a virtuous and temperate life. “To live one’s entire life in happiness,” he wrote, “the greatest by far is the possession of friendship… a handful of true friends.”

Epicurus regarded philosophy, first and foremost, as a form of therapy for life, since “philosophy that does not heal the soul is no better than medicine that cannot cure the body.” The Good Life, thus, was a life free of mental anxiety; a life open to the enjoyment of other pleasures. (ref: Usener, Hermann. Epicurea. Leipzig: Teubner, 1887.)

A century before Epicurus, Plato and Aristotle explained eudaimonia as being a byproduct of having a virtuous character. By virtue we mean a character trait or quality that is valued as being always good in and of itself. Personal virtues are characteristics valued as promoting individual and collective well-being. Therefore, a person’s actions and decisions should be guided by consideration for the interests and well-being of oneself and other people.

Virtue is something that is practiced and thereby learned — it is habit (hexis). In the Nichomachean Ethics, Aristotle writes that there are two times in our lives when our character is shaped. The first is when we are children. At this time our habits and attitudes are shaped by our parents and our early teachers, who taught us the best they knew how based on what they learned. While these early rules and habit formations were central to our character development, sometimes these lessons were negative.

Our adult conception of the world, however, comes from within and is self-directed. Thus, Aristotle states, we need to look back at those early lessons, those habits we developed, and determine if they serve us or if they are habits that do not serve us. And then we must ask ourselves, “Is this the kind of person I want to be?”

Aristotle writes of living in the mean, in balance between excess and deficiency. When writing of courage, the strength of character necessary to continue in the face of our fears, Aristotle explains that courage is the mean between hubris (excess) and cowardice (deficiency). "The man, then, who faces and who fears the right things and from the right motive, in the right way and from the right time, and who feels confidence under the corresponding conditions, is brave."

Without courage, we are unable to take the risks necessary to achieve some of the things we most value in life. To risk asking someone out on a date; to risk showing genuine vulnerability; to risk trying an academically challenging program.

To have any single strength of character in full measure, a person must have the other ones as well. Courage without good judgment is blind. It is taking risks without knowing what is worth the risk. Courage without perseverance is short-lived; and courage without a clear sense of one’s own abilities is foolhardy.

To live a flourishing life is to live in the mean of self-love:
• Having feelings of care, appreciation, and respect for others
• Valuing yourself
• Knowing yourself — a long, often arduous, and never completed task
• Acting in ways that promote your genuine flourishing

The deficiency of self-love includes
• self-loathing
• too little self-valuing: self-deprecating
• too little self-knowledge — an unwilling or unable to look at one’s own motivations, feelings
• too little acting — not taking steps to insure one’s own well-being

The excesses of self-love take many forms, such as:
• arrogance, conceit, egoism, vanity, and narcissism
— too much caring: self-centeredness
— too much self-valuing: arrogance, conceit
— too much self-knowledge: narcissistic
— too much acting for self: selfishness

And, lastly, to live a comfortable life is to live in the mean between greed (excess) and squalor (deficiency). Living in the mean, living in balance, promotes human flourishing.

As Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” It is in examining and understanding the larger context of our lives that we can live a more flourishing life.

Author's Bio: 

Rita Schiano's program, Live A Flourishing Life™ melds her three professions — philosophy instructor, stress management instructor and trainer, and writer. The workshops and book, "Live A Flourishing Life," includes numerous thought-provoking exercises, questionnaires, and quizzes to help you dig deep into your life story to uncover and discover long-standing attitudes and habits that influence your life.