Saturday, December 31, 2011

What Aristotle Knows About Happiness and New Year's Resolutions

Image: Google

Hello Optimists,

I'm really not one to make resolutions for the new year. I'd rather be a "let's do it now" kinda girl. But, I read a great article today that really got me thinking about how we can start off our new year with some goals in mind that are a bit different than what's usually on the list.

The article I read was about getting rid of unhealthy vices, finding your virtues and starting good habits using Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics as a reference. I was intrigued by the reference that "Aristotle claims that virtue and vice are up to us", so I thought I would read a bit more into his piece to see how the decisions we make could impact our lives.

After a quick Google search to find the full text, I knew there was no way I was going to read all 10 Books in the collection. So, I gave it the old "college try" and pulled it up in SparkNotes.

I know, I know. You can stop rolling your eyes now. I admit this is a total cheat and I too am a little disappointed in my unwillingness to delve into a fabulous ancient Greek philosopher's text. Maybe next time, when I have a good 6 hours to devote to it!

Despite popular opinion, you really can get some good info from SparkNotes, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that Aristotle's writing in this essay has a lot to do with finding happiness. In fact, he cites happiness as our highest goal in life and explains how to find our path to reach it. 

Without getting too philosophical on you here, Aristotle's main point is to help us find out what our life consists of, to teach us how we can learn about the good things in life, what makes them good, and how we can build our world around that. 

So, with the new year coming at us fast, I wanted to tie in a few of the lessons learned here through Aristotle's piece and help us create positive New Year's Resolutions that will last. While we may have the usual "lose 10 pounds", "find a new job", or "cut out fast food" on our list of resolutions, here are a few more to consider:

  • Develop good character. "Ethics" descends from the Greek word ethos, meaning “character.” Let's take a good assessment of our ethics to create a fresh, new approach to living our lives.
  • Spend more time with friends. According to Aristotle, happiness is a public affair, not a private one, so with whom we share this happiness is of great significance.
  • Do the things that make you happy. Aristotle treats happiness as an activity, not as a state, and makes the point that happiness consists of a certain way of life, not of certain dispositions. 
  • Remind yourself of the "why" everyday. Contemplating things in life and being fully aware of the things around us is one of the points Aristotle makes in Ethics, and it's really important for us to remember. Reminding ourselves of why we like what we're doing (or why we don't like what we're doing) can help us stay on a path to happiness. 

If any of you have read the full text, I tip my hat to you, and welcome you to share more of your insight here. It's just a bit too much for me to tackle all at once! 

I thought this quote from Ethics would be a good end to the post, as most of you will likely be ringing in the New Year with friends and family:

 Between friends there is no need for justice, but people who are just still need the quality of friendship; and indeed friendliness is considered to be justice in the fullest sense. It is not only a necessary thing, but a splendid one.

Wishing you a happy start to the new year!

Keep Smiling,


  1. Thank you for sharing this great post! I will definitely be looking to do what makes me happy this new year. Happiness is contagious and it spreads best from yourself.

  2. Great post. I'm in the process of reading Nicomachean Ethics right now. Only on Book IV, but it's a great read!

  3. @Patricia: Thanks! Glad you liked it!

    @Ashley: You're so right - happiness IS contagious! That's one thing I don't mind spreading...or catching :)

    @Unknown: Wow - I'm impressed that you're reading Ethics! Hope it gives you great insight on life and happiness.


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