Do Good Habits Lead to A Good Life?
"Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” - Aristotle
Personally, this is my favorite quote by Aristotle, I just love the emphasis on consistency. Again and again, all that we read points to the notion that in order to be successful; one must stay the course, follow a routine, be consistent, etc. I hearken back to one of my original blogs, Aristotle had it right all along, no self-help books needed, the secret to the good life is to read philosophy! Seriously though, the secret achieving excellence in work and life is to do the right thing, make the right choice, again and again. So, are you ready for this exploration, here we go!
Everyone is purporting the secrets to a good life, but I always shake my head and think, Aristotle had it right all along. We give credit to self help books, entrepreneurs that made it big, celebrities that give back and all sorts of other folks along the way, but the real credit belongs to philosophers. Aristotle identified the idea that happiness is what we all seek at the onset of his examination of man. If we move from this premise that we all desire happiness for happiness sake alone, we are better able to ascertain how we should live. If happiness is the goal, it should follow that all of our activities should be in the pursuit of happiness. Now, wait a minute, don’t run in the direction of hedonism believing that you are now living Aristotle’s definition of a good life, you are not. It is a bit more complicated than that…Aristotle believes that you must first define what it means to be happy, and a little hint here, it doesn’t mean that you should pursue pleasure at every turn. Happiness is defined as the "best good” according to Aristotle. So, what would make you happy may not make me happy, does that follow then? Well, perhaps, but the real crux here is that if you pursue your life rightly, you will behave properly each and every day, thereby becoming consistent and excellent. How did he make that leap? A minute ago we were talking about happiness and perhaps you were thinking that you should forego work and relax on the beach each day, not so, says Aristotle. You need to identify what makes us human, or more succinctly put, what is the function of being human? Aristotle believes it is "the activity of the soul in accord with reason or requiring reason.” Okay, back to our beginning quote, read it again and this time, think about each word in the quote, are you able to summarize the meaning? Aristotle wants us to understand that we are here for a purpose, that we all share the same goal, happiness…however the path to truly achieving happiness begins with an understanding of our function as humans. He identifies reason as our uniquely human function, and to achieve excellence, we must learn to reason well. So, let’s go with this pursuit of knowledge and see where it leads.
I like the exploration of what makes us uniquely human because it provides a framework for our behavior. If we learn to reason well, we will do well in our personal and professional pursuits. But achieving excellence, doesn’t that seem a bit daunting? Aristotle understood that the pursuit of excellence was a lifelong activity and he put it eloquently when he stated, “For one swallow does not make a spring, nor does one day; nor, similarly, does one day or a short time make us blessed and happy.” (Nichomachean Ethics)
The point is that it takes a complete life to measure one’s excellence and proper behavior must be exhibited again and again. So, back to business for a moment; if we behave virtuously again and again, what might happen in our business relationships? How might this consistent application of virtuous behavior affect our professional associations? What sort of a world would we be living in if reliance on receiving the most virtuous and excellent dealings in business is expected? A satisfactory and pleasant business life would surely ensue. Aristotle purported that happiness requires an excellent pursuit of our function, namely reason, so it follows that happiness is derived from proper reasoning, which leads to the pursuit of excellence and by proxy, virtuous actions. We haven’t quite answered the leading question yet, it takes a while to dig through this philosophy stuff, stay with us!