The Greek Philosopher Aristotle worked out there were four aspects of human nature that we should all follow in order to flourish in life.
These were, in no particular order;
1. Caring for our bodies by eating well, exercising and getting plenty of rest
2. Finding Emotional Balance by avoiding things that make us unhappy and doing more of the things that make us feel good
3. Humans thrive in groups so we should live and socialise with others to develop our individual happiness
4. Learn, create and express ourselves
Now, it’s hardly rocket science is it? And nearly 2,500 years ago when Aristotle was alive and kicking he said as much himself. The four aspects he mentions are accessible by the many not the few. We can achieve this wherever we live in the World and regardless of how rich we are (to a degree).
I suppose what I’m trying to say is that when we look for self improvement, whether that be recovering from addiction like me or maybe somebody who has just come out of a long term relationship we could do a lot worse than to look at the philosophical teachings of an Ancient Greek with a curly beard.
I write regularly about mental health and even without alcohol in my life I still have periods of struggle. It’s no surprise that when I’m regularly exercising, getting food quality sleep and eating nutritiously I feel better mentally. I think when I first stopped drinking I naively thought it would be a significant enough change alone to make me feel so much better day to day. Sure, as the days turn to weeks and the weeks turn to months you feel and look less bloated. Your sleep improves and you have more energy in your day. Your thinking becomes less cloudy and your anxiety levels reduce – but if you continue to eat poorly and avoid exercise you’ll struggle to shift that feeling of fatigue and before you know it you’ll be substituting your once unhealthy consumption of alcohol with food equivalents. I certainly saw my appetite increase in the months after I got sober and developed a sweet tooth (which I’d never had before) – your body misses the sugars alcohol gives it.
Aristotle talks about emotional balance too. I think this is very true. Think about it simplistically for a moment. You are invited on a work night out. You don’t really socialise with your work colleagues and you aren’t a big drinker plus the function is in the City Centre on a Saturday night. You get anxious about it all week leading up to the event. You are only going because you feel obliged to go.
Now imagine how you feel if you politely decline the night out – you aren’t the only person who can’t make it. You choose to order in some food and have a night in watching a film with a friend. After all, you work hard all week so it’s a treat to chill out with your favourite food and a film you’ve been wanting to see for ages!
Whilst Aristotle isn’t saying avoid things for the rest of your life (being out of our comfort zone can be good for resilience and confidence) we shouldn’t over analyse all of our day to day life events. Most of the time the other people involved won’t care half as much as you are catastrophising and worrying about it. I’ve noticed that with me not drinking. I thought I would stand out on nights out and people would be quizzing me about not consuming alcohol but it very rarely gets mentioned – and even then I get the standard response of “Good for you, wish I had your strength”.
Humans are social animals. We have been for thousands of years. It doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy your own company or not like living alone. Aristotle doesn’t mean that. But look at it from another angle. Would you be happy without engaging with another human being all day? Every day? No contact through social media, texting, on the telephone or face to face? Control how often you socialise but make sure you do. The chemicals in your body will thank you for it.
Ever get that warm feeling when you finish a book? The enjoyment you get from successfully finishing a crossword or answering a question correctly on TV’s University Challenge? Aristotle encourages us to explore, create and learn new things. On our terms. I ran my first Trail Race last year and started Yoga classes. I began to read more often. All of those things make me feel happy.
I’ll certainly continue to bear in mind Aristotle’s four aspects of human nature as I move forward. It’s certainly one of the easier parts of Philosophy to remember!
And so I’ll leave you with one last piece of Philosophical Thinking for today whilst I’m in this type of head space. I think it is so ‘me’…
“I count him braver who overcomes his desires than him who conquers his enemies; for the hardest victory is over self.” – Aristotle