Aristotle’s Golden Mean: Living a Life of Balance.

Photo by Rekyt.

By Josh Rueff on July 01, 2013

Whoever said, “Life isn’t about the destination, it’s about the journey”- I’d like to thank that person. If there ever was a cliche I’d be willing to live my life by, it’s that one.

I’ve been thinking about that off and on over the last week, and coming to some necessary conclusions about the way I live life.

For me, life has revolved – almost exclusively – around the destination.

The results are iron-fist goals and willful success. And also impatience, exasperation, and “heart-sickness” from hope deferred.

Mark Twain wrote:

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

This is how I try to live my life. It’s a great philosophy, but without a good mindset, it can be empty and draining.

I give most of my attention to the destination – focusing on the “things I didn’t do”, and the things I need to do.

When I work out, I’m always focusing on my goal – to get huge, cut fat, run faster, lift bigger – there’s always a goal, and that’s a good thing. The bad thing is the preoccupation with the end goal – the destination – for the entire journey. As I exercise, I focus on the finish line, which becomes frustrating because the line is nowhere in sight, in fact, it’s months away!

I do the same when I go fishing. I want to catch a ton of fish. Big fish. Like right now.

That mindset just makes me impatient, and I get annoyed by anything and anyone until I actually start catching fish.

Money is the same. I work hard to make money, and there’s nothing wrong with that of course. But when “X” amount of cash is the only thing that matters, tunnel vision drains all the fun out of everything.

What if I could just focus on enjoying my workout the entire time instead of obsessing over future goal fulfillment?

If I could put the stringer full of trophy fish out of my mind for the majority of the fishing trip, what would happen? Would I focus on the variety and beauty of the nature around me? Would I enjoy talking with the people I’m fishing with?

Aristotle taught that Eudaimonia was the ultimate life goal.

Eudaimonia – if you’re not the Greek major sort – means happiness.

I’m not exactly on board with pure utilitarianism, but I don’t mind having happiness in my life – and lots of it!

In his work called Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle shows how a balanced life is a happy one. His “Golden Mean” principle represents a balance between two extremes. He believed this principle should be applied to one’s life with the utmost diligence.

Here he demonstrates the value of perfecting the Golden Mean by focusing on emotion:

“It’s easy to be angry, but to be angry at the right time, for the right reason, at the right person and in the right intensity must truly be brilliant.”

And here’s where it gets really good.

Aristotle defines happiness as a way of life that allows us to achieve a healthy and fulfilling balance of our nature, which improves our character, helps us focus on and improve other lives, and makes hardships easier to overcome. He makes it clear that happiness is not pleasure derived from having money or things. This pleasure is a mere byproduct of the lifestyle of happiness; living by the Golden Mean.

When the pleasure of the end goal becomes the main focus, we miss out on happiness.

So how would a goal look if it adheres to the Golden Mean ?

Let’s say I go fishing with my wife. Instead of, “We’ll fish here until we catch a stringer full”, the Golden Mean goal may be something closer to this:

“We’ll lounge in the shade telling each other stories, watch the ducks and geese, and wade in the water when it gets hot. Maybe even jump in for a swim. We can watch the clouds like we did when we were kids, see who can skip a stone the furthest, or take turns napping in the sun. Maybe we’ll even catch a couple fish.”

The point is to enjoy life the entire time, maintaining balance – and if we catch fish, it’s a bonus!

The Golden Mean doesn’t just work on fishing trips of course – it applies to just about everything.

Give it a shot!