How to Live the Good Life with No Regrets

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“Why is This Important to You?”

Socrates believed “the unexamined life is not worth living.” He may not have coined the phrase “know thyself,” but he’s famous for traipsing the streets of Athens examining lives by nagging prominent people until he proved they did not “know thineselfs.”

So effective was he the good city-state of democracy voted to put him to death. Socrates, despite his friends’ wishes, readily agreed to drink the hemlock and thus first came into usage the phrase “good career move.”

But before he died, Socrates perfected a method that would become his lasting legacy. Used today anywhere from the courtroom, to the classroom, to the psychologist’s couch, we call it the “Socratic Method” (which just shows you how terribly dull and unimaginative philosophers can be at times).

In a nutshell, here’s how it works. Come up with a question or hypothesis and keep asking annoying questions (often the same one or of the same form) until you’ve eliminated all the wrong answers or your community forces you to drink hemlock.

Those familiar with the mystery genre of literature might recognize this as Sherlock Holmes case-solving strategy. On the other hand, those more in tune with parlor games might see the Socratic Method as sort of like the game “Twenty Questions,” except it’s a lot more irritating. Still, it’s a really effective way to discover your inner self.

Here, let me share with you an example from several decades ago.

I remember back during the dawn of the personal computer era, some smart aleck came up with this idea to create a computer program that mimicked Freudian psychoanalysis. The computer would start by asking a simple question like “How do you feel?” and then an iterative dialogue would occur. Every time the user would answer the computer’s question, the computer would respond with the same form of question. The computer’s question would essentially repeat the user’s previous answer. Here’s what it might have looked like:

Computer:       How do you feel?
User:                I feel lousy.

Computer:       Why do you feel lousy?
User:                Because I’m sad.

Computer:       Why are you sad?
User:                Because they killed Socrates.

Computer:       Why did they kill Socrates?
User:                Because he asked a lot of annoying questions.

Computer:       Why did he ask a lot of annoying questions?
User:                Because they are annoying.

Computer:       Why are they annoying?
User:                (after an irritated pause) If I told you I was lying, would I be telling the truth?

Computer:       Why are you lying if you are telling the tru-… No. Wait. You must be lying. But if you say you’re lying then you can’t be lying but you can’t be telling the truth…
User:                (Smiles deviously.)

Computer:       Daisy, Daaiisseeey,…Giiivvveee mmeeeee yyyooouuuurrrrrr aaannnssssswerrrrr truuuuuuuuu…

You get the idea. It’s definitely annoying, but it has the advantage of easily peeling away the layers of the onion until we get to the heart of any solution. And if you really want to “know yourself,” you absolutely must delve deep within your heart. (For more on this, see the August 11, 2022 Carosa Commentary column “How to be Successful: The Explosive Truth.”)

Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” He then showed us a method to examine our lives. Only by removing all those layers covering up your inner core can you discover your true purpose – the meaning of your life.

It’s hard, but it’s easy. It’s easy, but it’s hard. Later on, I’ll show you how to find your purpose with an easy-to-use one-page worksheet. For now, though, let’s continue with the basics, because once you know the meaning of your life, you’re going to want to do something with that knowledge. Something big.

Aristotle and the Good Life – “Life, Liberty, and Eudaimonia

If Socrates believed “the unexamined life is not worth living,” then Aristotle believed “the unplanned life is not worth examining,” or so Mortimer Adler would have us believe. Adler, the late American philosopher, was author and Chairman of the Board of Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, Editor in Chief of the Great Books of the Western World as well as The Syntopicon: An Index to the Great Ideas, and Editor of The Great Ideas Today (all published by Encyclopaedia Britannica). He knew a thing or two about Aristotle and, judging by his attention to great ideas, he also knew a thing or two about Something Big when he saw it.

Impressed? I wouldn’t be. And you shouldn’t be, either. At least not until you discover how this can help you achieve your lifetime dream.

It turns out, everything we know about the process of planning – strategic planning, life coaching, heck, even financial planning – we got from Aristotle.

If what you’re about to read sounds familiar, surprise! It is. It’s just that, if you’re like most people, you probably thought these ideas came from the management guru de jour.

Aristotle, ever the little scientist/mathematician he was, always had an impeccably logical approach to his reasoning. The way he figured, in the unplanned life, we don’t know what we’re doing or why we’re doing it. As a result, we don’t know where we’re trying to get to or how we’re going to get there.

In a phrase, the unplanned life is a chaotic mess. Ultimately, Aristotle believed we acted with a purpose. The unplanned life, he concluded, is not worth living because it cannot be lived well.

Aristotle stipulates that, in nearly all circumstances, we act only for the purpose of achieving some goal. The goal may be an ultimate goal, or the goal may be an interim step to get to the ultimate goal. Therefore, he determines, before we act, we necessarily must define our goal.

In other words, the end comes before the beginning. If we want to accomplish Something Big, we must first think of Something Big.

So, how do you know what your ultimate goal is?

Aristotle considered this himself. And, by saying he considered it “for himself,” he meant he considered it for all mankind. Aristotle wanted to know what the ultimate game plan of every human being should be. How did he discover this? Well, in a sort of Socrates Redux, Aristotle started with a simple statement and kept asking “Why?”

He established that our – yours, mine, your uncle’s from Toledo that smells kinda funny, and everybody else’s – singular purpose is: To Live Well.

That was easy. I guess I can stop writing and you can stop reading. Our work here is done. We’ve got our marching orders. Now, let’s all go out there and Live Well!

…you’re still here.

What’s that you’re asking?

You want to know “What does it mean to ‘Live Well’?”

Not to worry, as Aristotle would say if he were alive today (I mean, other than “What?! They cancelled Star Trek?!”) is “Yep, there’s an app for that!”

Aristotle thought that only the Right Plan would permit us to live well. The Right Plan, by definition, must (of course) have the right ultimate end. He listed three ingredients to the right plan to live well:

  1. We must be alive (we can’t live well if we’re dead) – This represents our innate physical needs.
  2. We must have the ability to freely pursue our plan – This represents our innate intellectual needs.
  3. We must pursue one thing – “Eudaimonia” or “a good life” – This represents our obligation to attain complete human fulfillment, beyond mere survival.

For Aristotle, “living well” under the “right plan” meant living a virtuous life. But by virtuous life, though, he did not mean Greek citizens must live a life where they had to forsake all worldly possessions. (Aristotle was speaking to the Athenians, after all, not to the Spartans). In identifying his three components, Aristotle did not mean to say we should have no friends, power, or wealth. Quite the contrary. He felt friends, power, and wealth only served to enhance the Greek Citizen’s ability to live a virtuous life. But, as is the wont of Aristotle, he would have advised to partake of these things in moderation.

What does this mean for you? Right off the bat, you now know the basic starting point for knowing thyself: You need to define yourself in terms of living the good life. I’ll show you how to use this simple statement as a launching point to discover the meaning of your life a little later on. Before that, though, we need to leap-frog the centuries. If Socrates and Aristotle illustrated how your brain is wired, the next few weeks will show you how your heart is wired.

In the end, unless you’re a hermit, you won’t be living well in isolation of others. So, before you can begin to achieve your Lifetime Dream, it might help you to take a step back and see what your neighbors might be thinking.

…to be continued…

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  1. […] can use Socrates’ successful strategy. Wanna know how? Read this week’s Carosa Commentary “How to Live the Good Life with No Regrets” to discover the meaning of your […]

  2. […] can use Socrates’ successful strategy. Wanna know how? Read this week’s Carosa Commentary “How to Live the Good Life with No Regrets” to discover the meaning of your […]

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