Continuing our discussion of eudaimonia or how to live happy and well, let’s look at what Aristotle had to say about our needs in reaching our potential.
Eudaimonia, based on the Greek words eu (good) and daimon (spirit) describes the idea that living in accordance with one’s daimon.
When proposing this concept in his Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle said that just as every acorn has within the potential for a perfect oak tree and not a rose or a buffalo. Human eggs can only become humans and that each one is imbued with its own unique set of potentials. Some modern neuroscientists believe that we are all born with multiple generations of natural tenancies within and corrupted by the earliest years of life into disregarding them. We develop fears that keep us from our joy. But that is yet another topic for another day. For now, let’s think about what Aristotle felt we needed in order to reach our potentials, what he called “real goods”.
- Shelter: not a mansion;a dry, safe roof over our heads
- Clothing: not necessarily Gucci; just warm and preferably clean
- Food: not always what we crave; but what we nourishes
- Friends and family: not perfect; just loving
- Arts/music/literature/culture: not always a symphony; a voice that speaks to us or through us
He also understood money can be a real good though only enough so as not to become preoccupied with the struggle to support our needs, as wealth is its own distraction from what is really important. We require enough comfort to not constantly be in pain, but not so much that we become numb to recognizing it in others.
If we accumulate too much of any real good is become what he called an apparent good, something we simply don’t need. Providing pleasure without fulfillment.
We are bombarded every day with ads for apparent goods. They tell us that if we have the newest, the shiniest, the most exclusive, we’d be happier. Using the halo effect to connect a positive feeling to owning their product. Selling us apparent goods as if they were real goods. Because of this, modern life makes it harder to find real happiness than ever before. We end up striving day and day out for, and investing our energies in the pursuit of, apparent goods. Seeking pleasure and joy at the expense of meaning and purpose rather than as the result of them.
Look back to the list you made a few weekends ago. How many were real goods? Be honest with yourself. Are there things you already have enough of and yet still want more? Why?
Did you want your own tiny apartment so you could practice baking bread for your neighbors and paint in the afternoons or a large house to show off to your family over the holidays? Did you want an Insta-worthy tour of Europe or a road-trip with friends? Do you need a new pair of shoes or did you see someone else wear them and feel a twinge of envy?
Why do you want the things you want? What do they provide you with that feeds your soul’s potential? Continue to meditate on that and be willing to admit mistakes. We all make them. After all, we are humans not actual oak trees.