Today is April 19 and the Navigating the Chaos question of the day to consider is “How often are you working on your well-being? With all the issues needing resolutions, questions requiring answers, and problems demanding solutions, navigating the chaos requires one to consistently work on their well-being. Any forward progress, no matter how small, requires one to engage in frequent well-being. This is even more true during periods of tremendous upheaval. In yet another example that people have been learning how to navigate the chaos for centuries ancient wisdom on well-being as a strategy can be found from the Ancient Greeks.
In Aristotle’s Way: How Ancient Wisdom Can Change Your Life, author Edith Hall examines the contributions of Aristotle (384-322 BC) Greek philosopher and polymath. Hall describes the ancient philosopher’s belief that becoming conscious of our skills, talents, and aptitudes (dynamis), and then using our resource to make the most of them (energeia) is the foundation of living a good life. The ancient Greeks called the attainment of the good life eudaimonia, usually translated as well-being or prosperity.
As John Haig wrote in a review of Aristotle’s Way in The New York Times, “There is a pernicious, but widely held, belief that turning over a new leaf always involves turning our worlds upside down, that living a happy, well-adjusted life entails acts of monkish discipline or heroic strength. The genre of self-help lives and dies on this fanaticism: We should eat like cave men, scale distant mountains, ingest live charcoal, walk across scalding stones, lift oversize tires, do yoga in a hothouse, run a marathon, run another. In our culture, virtuous moderation and prudence rarely sell but, taking her cues from Aristotle, Hall offers a set of reasons to explain why they should.”
In our social media world one could easily misinterpret skydiving, swimming with sharks, or mountain climbing as paths to well-being. Aristotle would disagree. To borrow Haig’s observation fueled by the Greek philosopher ‘virtuous moderation and prudence rarely sell, but they should.’ And you would do yourself a great service by considering this ancient wisdom. Do you really need to skydive to heighten your well-being? Why must your well-being be linked to extreme measures? If you want to do something that scares you would you not be better served by having a conversation with that neighbor you always avoid? Certainly not social media worthy but perhaps a conversation would challenge your well-being just as much as jumping out of an airplane.
Hall’s new book clears a rare middle way for her reader to pursue happiness, This prosperity has nothing to do with the modern obsession with material success but rather “finding a purpose in order to realize your potential and working on your behavior to become the best version of yourself.”
Author Ted Chiang is working on becoming the best version of himself. Chiang takes his time writing and has only published 15 short stories since 1990. Fellow author Grady Hendrix said of Chiang "Right now as a writer, what you're told is: the best way to be successful is to be insanely prolific because the more your name is out there, the more every book is an ad for yourself. And then you have someone like Ted who just sits and thinks very carefully about what he's doing, and then he does it. There is something that's very counter-cultural about him that I think is important."
John F. Kennedy summed up Aristotelian happiness in a single sentence: "The full use of your powers along lines of excellence in a life affording scope." Life affording scope. What can you afford to do right now; at this very moment to increase your well-being? My guess is it has nothing to do with skydiving.