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How to Live a Good Life: Ancient Wisdom for Modern Times

“How to live a good life” is a question that has challenged thinkers and philosophers for millennia.

In a world where our worth is often judged by the number of zeroes in our bank account or the number of followers we have on social media, it can be difficult to figure out what truly matters in life.

Then, there is this insidious myth that happiness can be bought or that it’s just a viral post away.

The infamous 20th-century philosopher Theodor Adorno once quipped, “There can be no good life without a good society.” Although Adorno had probably not spent much time scrolling through Instagram or chasing the latest iPhone model, his sentiment seems more relevant now than ever.

Today, as a society, despite our ceaseless quest for ‘more’, inner satisfaction remains elusive.

To solve this conundrum, let’s do a bit of time-traveling and visit the philosophers of yore. These ancient thinkers wrestled with this very question – how to live a good life – and they have insightful perspectives to share.

1. The Wisdom of Enough – Stoic Minimalism

Stoicism offers one of the most compelling perspectives on this quest. Epictetus, the influential Stoic philosopher, once said, “Wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants.”

According to the Stoics, the art of living a good life was to focus on what we can control, that is, our own actions, thoughts, and responses.

They advocated relinquishing the illusion of control over external factors like wealth, reputation, or opinions of others.

How to live a good life

This Stoic ‘wisdom of enough’ might be the perfect antidote to today’s consumerism.

That said, this doesn’t mean we must give up our belongings and live in a cave, but rather gain clarity on what we truly need. Next time when you go shopping, pause and ask yourself: “Do I really ‘need’ to buy that tech gadget or do I want it because my neighbour owns one?

2. The Power of Now – Buddhist Mindfulness

The Buddha taught that the root of suffering is attachment – to material things, to people, or even to ideas. He advocated mindfulness as the route to enlightenment, encouraging us to live fully in the present moment.

In the age of Instagram, we are often caught between glorifying the past and fantasizing about the future. We rarely anchor ourselves in the present. Alan Jacobs in his book Breaking Bread with the Dead calls it Frenetic Standstill.

How to live a good life

In our fast-paced, future-focused world, the Buddhist philosophy teaches us to slow down and appreciate the here and now.

As the Zen proverb goes, “When walking, walk. When eating, eat.” It’s all about embracing the moment.

3. The Pursuit of Virtue – The Socratic Paradigm

Socrates, the father of Western philosophy, proposed that the key to a good life lies in the relentless pursuit of intellectual and moral excellence. For him, “The unexamined life is not worth living.

This introspective journey is not for the faint of heart – it demands humility, self-reflection, and the courage to change when necessary.

Today, instead of blindly following the trend du jour, we should remember Socrates’ counsel. Choose your own path. Ask profound questions like ‘Who am I?’ or ‘What truly matters to me?

It’s not always the easiest route, but it’s certainly the most rewarding. It can lead us away from the superficialities of social approval and towards a more meaningful existence.

4. The Joy of Connection – Aristotelian Friendship

Finally, let’s not forget Aristotle, who emphasized the importance of relationships in a good life. He posited three types of friendships: those based on convenience, pleasure, and, most importantly, virtue.

How to live a good life

A virtuous friendship, wherein we care for each other’s well-being as our own, is the rarest and most rewarding kind.

In today’s world, where ‘friends’ are often counted in likes and retweets, Aristotle’s concept is a much-needed reminder that real connections aren’t quantifiable.

They’re found in shared laughter, silent understanding, or compassionate acts – each moment echoing the truth of Helen Keller’s words, “Alone, we can do so little; together, we can do so much.

The ancient philosophers may not have had access to modern comforts or technologies, yet they seemed to possess a profound understanding of how to live a good life.

Their wisdom, distilled over centuries, offers us valuable compass points: the wisdom of enough, the power of now, the pursuit of virtue, and the joy of connection.

Let’s remember to incorporate these age-old but evergreen principles into our lives, and perhaps we might discover that the good life we’ve been searching for has been within our reach all along.

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