A few weeks ago, we spoke about finding the good. If you have not yet read that post, go read it then return here.
To live a good life is to live a life morally guided by virtue. Don’t be misled by virtue’s connotation of excluding anything fun because that is not what a virtuous life really entails. Virtue is not living some unattainable self-righteous abstract belief where you believe your way of living is better than everyone else’s method, virtue just means finding the right balance for every situation.
Virtue is a journey toward excellence and like any other journey, excellence is about choosing the right and wrong thing and sometimes what may seem like a bad action is actually the most appropriate action. According to Carl Jung, one of the greats of modern psychology, we all have an underlying shadow, composed of the parts of our self which we repress and are not willing to let out. This shadow should be allowed out once in a while or it runs the risk of being let out as a major catastrophe. We often project aspects of our shadow upon others and become upset at them for the parts of us we are not willing to face. When we project our faults upon others, it creates problems that if we simply let our shadow out every so often would not grow from a tiny snake to an overwhelming dragon.
Let the snake out but keep it on a leash. If it gets carried away, pull it back in. It’s not about never letting your dark side out, but about letting it out and controlling it. After all, being weak and submissive is not a virtue, it is something people should be afraid of because once a weak person gains an ounce of power, watch out because they will become dangerous. On the other hand, a strong and authoritative person has the strength to get what they want and control their power. Strong people get what they need to feel as if they are striving forward and will not have to unleash a fire breathing dragon on the world to get their way, they live in the middle, the golden mean.
Aristotle like many other philosophers understood the best way is generally the middle way, this is most commonly seen in Buddhism as The Way. The Way is the path between too much and too little of anything in life. While millions of Buddhists were living this way in the East, on the other side of the world, Aristotle was referring to this same concept as The Golden Mean.
The Golden Mean is going through life with the right amount of excess, not too much and not too little. It is finding life’s mean or average for any given situation. The concepts or traits that are averaged are known as virtues. Virtues exist on a spectrum and the key to living a virtuous life is living one with the right amount of a given virtue for a specific circumstance.
The virtue courage for instance if gone too far is rashness and may get you killed for no good reason, but if not taken far enough leaves you living as a coward. The best result is to live somewhere on the spectrum where you are courageous enough but not an idiot, putting yourself and others in harm’s way for no reason.
The act of attempting to find the right balance of these traits is living a life of eudaimonia or what I refer to as a vigorous life. A vigorous life is pushing yourself to improve physically, emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually. The struggle to find the right balance of these virtues is demanding, and the process of knowing you put in a hard day’s work making yourself better by actively trying to find the virtuous mean will bring you fulfillment.
Understanding where you want to live on the spectrum will vary between situations and will not be easy to answer. These are choices which can only be improved upon by engaging in experiences. Reading about virtue as you are here teaches you what a virtuous life involves, but to get better, you must engage in life. Experiences are how you will figure out how to get better, observation, trial and error, mimicking, and other aspects of experience I mention in my Path to Fulfillment are how you will gain a stronger understanding of how to live a more purposeful life.
Surround yourself with people you respect and learn how they are living then emulate their choices. Sitting around thinking about how you want to live is not living and will not make you better, going out into the world and living vigorously is the only way to improve and live the good life.
If you enjoyed learning about virtue and the good life, you may enjoy my new book A Vigorous Life: A Guided Journey of Purpose and Fulfillment available on Amazon where I dive deeper into concepts such as virtue and happiness.