« The Happiness Lab with Dr. Laurie Santos

Happiness Lessons of The Ancients: Aristotle

2020-09-14

He gave us biology, physics and drama... but Greek philosopher Aristotle also thought deeply about how humans can flourish and live happy lives of virtue.

Yale professor Tamar Gendler tells Dr Laurie Santos about Aristotle's wellbeing insights and how he recommended taking daily "baby steps" towards becoming the sort of happy, moderate person we aspire to be. A kind of ancient "fake it, 'til you make it" ethos.

Learn more about your ad choices. Visit podcastchoices.com/adchoices

This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
Pushkin, this so did the happiness lab is brought to you by the house of should now create of the iconic J, twelve sports watch, we humans were already pretty complex creatures, but living in the modern world has added a ton, more complication to our lives and past episodes of the happiness lab. We ve looked at the effects of things like jobs, school grades, smartphones and even alarm clock on our well being these days. We have so much going on so many things demanding our attention in so many competing desires and emotions that, even if you know what you're supposed to be doing and often feels like it still hard to stay on track,
it's a bit like being a charioteer holding the reins of two powerful, but mismatched horses. You know but want to reach a happy place, but each of the steeds keeps going off in different directions. Its exhausted, but you'll only reach her desire destination. If you can get the horses to work in harmony and pull together now, I know what you're thinking chariots wayward horses, What's that got to do with me navigating the modern world? Well, even though the science of happiness relatively new academic field. Most of the ideas underpinning all this research are far from recent thinkers The loss of hers and spiritual leader stretching back thousands of years have figured out many important while being lessons that are not only hugely relevant for all of us today, but are backed up by the modern science, and that includes my seemingly weird metaphor about the chair. And so in this many season at the happiness lab and want to explore some of the wellbeing concepts. The ancient philosophies and great religions got right old school
that are borne out by the science and I have personally helped me in my own quest to be happier so welcome to happiness. Lessons of the ancients with me, the doktor lorries, Aristotle. He is absurd. It seems fine. This is to market. By now it professor of philosophy and cognitive science at Yale University. One, two, three ok and the volume still looks, ok and also one of my oldest and dearest friend, says that work on ok mom. I talk pretty much every day, so it's a little bit. We are to be recording one of our conversations for you all and thanks to social distance We can't even me in person right now light if I so tomorrow is getting a crash course on how to use one of my spirit ok, let me do them another five and she's taken to podcasting like it. Opera. I am totally ready to go hello tomorrow,
which is a super popular class at Yale, it's called philosophy and the science of human nature. Her class looks way back in history to find philosophical solutions to the problems we all face today. The idea that the most interesting answer to the question that you're trying to ask would be given by somebody who happens to be on earth with you right now is a real mistake. Sometimes the most interesting answer is something that somebody gave two thousand years ago or on a completely different continent or in a completely different. Text. The story of the chariot and the uncooperative horses is an analogy. I find really useful. When reason tells me, I should be shooting for my happiness goals, but my
desires. Doubts and emotions keep pulling me off. Course, it's a powerful analogy, and it comes from the work of ancient greek philosophers. One of the areas to MAR teaches intercourse. There was a period about twenty five hundred years ago in ancient Greece, where a whole bunch of really smart people directed their attention to a set of really interesting and important questions, and society structured itself in such a way that those individuals were given the freedom and the leisure and the luxury to think about those questions as their profession. What they did for their job with about. What does it mean for human beings to flourish and the community of individuals talking to one another about that question meant that they made more progress on it. Then other people have at other times, and so it's a great luxury to be able to help ourselves
to their wisdom, city, we're gonna, focusing on one of the ancients who, in my view, is really considered her, the father of positive psychology, this field of the science of well being and that Aristotle so give us Aristotle, wanna one who was Aristotle, and why was he so important? So Aristotle was a guy from the countryside, he didn't come from Athens and his parents died when he was quite young, so he was an orphan and when he was seventeen he was brought to Athens to study in Platos Academy and she liked school so much that he stayed there as a student for another twenty years and Aristotle was just one of the greatest Polly Math,
bankers in the history of western civilization, in addition to the work that he did in philosophy he's the inventor of physics, ass, a field of biology, ass, a field. He was a great theorist of poetry, a great fears of drama and theatre, and one of the major activities that he undertook was to try to figure out what a well lived human life might look like and so he came up with two concepts that I think are super important when we try to think about happiness in the modern day, and so one of these concepts was way called EU diamond IA like what is you diamond? He heard yes, so you, Diamond NEA has, as its middle word, the word diamond or spirit, and if you, when the his dark materials books, which are a wonderful series of children's books. You ll notice that the Spirit Animal that people have in those books, called their diamond, so you
I'm more NEA, is roughly spiritual, flourishings. Spiritual, well being the swine. Of what some traditions call the human soul. What you I call the human mind or human spirit and so we think of you diamond yeah, we think of Sir Spiritual flourishing, but the way Aristotle thought of you diamond you. I was a little bit different than we often think about happiness. These days, right, like it wasn't really happiness in the moment, was kind of a bigger, deeper, almost like moral happiness right, you might think of two distinct, no of happiness. There are many, but here are two one is what we might call hedonistic happiness, the indulgence of short lived pleasures so pleasures of eating or of sex, and that's an important part of what it is to be a human being taking pleasure in the physical world around you, but
startled was interested in a richer and more robust and more lasting notion of what happiness would be not just short lived, hedonistic, pleasure, but long lived thrive and he had a picture that there was a certain functions, for which human beings were ideally built. So just ass, the function of a knife is to cut well, and the function of a paper weight is to hold down papers. The function of a human being is to be able to express virtue and reason that he is to participate in the things that are the highest form of the good in the world, and so you diamond NEA, is a kind of thriving that involves spending as much of your time and as complete of your active
in a state where you are doing things that are good, that a virtuous than a pleasurable to you, because you have turned yourself into someone who takes pleasure in. Virtue, and so you diamond NEA. In contrast, the hedonism is a kind of lasting, rather than short, lived pleasure. In a so cool called Aristotle, came up with this so long ago. Right because this is what's being borne out in a lot of the modern science happiness right beyond this podcast. We talk a lot about data suggesting that your circumstances, don't necessarily make you happy. You know you could be. Rich and have the opportunities to engage in all kinds of hedonistic pleasure, but a lot of folk self report that that leave some kind of empty that they're kind of missing something and so Aristotle was kind on top of a six year two thousand years ago, right what it's really interesting that each era.
Uses, a particular mode of understanding as its best way of making sense of the world. And one of the things I try to teach in my course is that there's lots of methodologies to coming to the same insight and so neuroscience gives us one way of looking at what is it for us to be in a state of happiness or harmony and behavioral. Psychology gives us another way of testing and measuring that and literary representations. Give us another way of identifying this and the kind of work that Aristotle did us. Speculative systematic Phyllis Sophocles exploration of what he observed, in those around him is a method,
energy that very often brings us to the same sort of insights that we might get from literature or neuroscience or behavioral psychology. I think those the fact that you need to do that kind of philosophical inquiry for these insights as import and right, because another thing that comes up on this spot is that we often have incorrect oceans at the kinds of things that make us happy right. When we do a super fast introspection, we can think. Oh, I just want all the hedonistic pleasures and some good food and Saxon nay stuff to watch on Netflix. But in fact, if you really do a deep dived. That seems to be not what works. I think the idea that the This gives you one kind of information, but that trembling a lot of surface phenomena and then looking at what lies more deeply behind them gives you a deeper understanding, is an incredibly important in sight and a lot of what the philosophical work that happened in ancient Athens twenty five hundred years ago does is to say, don't
deluded by this particular momentary sets. Look instead at how these things pattern, together and you will have a deeper understanding of what matters to human beings, and so Eric although using that same approach, came up with a different concept that I think is important for a modern science and happiness, which is a kind of different thing that we get wrong, which is how our knowledge can help us and how we get to know about happiness, and this was his idea of four niece S. So what was this concept of friend? He says so friendly Sis is often translated as practical wisdom to understand what that means. Think about the contrast between what we sometimes call the theoretical what we call the practical or the difference between knowing that something is a case and knowing how to do something. So, if you're trying to figure out how to do something like throw a baseball or play the piano or respond
calm and temperate fashion. When you're, under a situation of agitation, you can have a theoretical understanding up. You can understand lots of things about the physics of baseball's or about the acoustical properties of a piano You can read a therapy book and understand what it is when people respond calmly, that's theoretical wisdom, but the theoretical wisdom doesn't give you the capacity to engage in the action you want to engage in In order to do that, you actually need what Aristotle would call practical wisdom, a kind of skill, the skill that comes from practising the activity about which you want to make progress and so Aristotle really thought that you diamond here isn't just kind
something that we are born with or something we can kind of get to. Theoretically, he really thought it was something that you get to in a skill based way right, so Aristotle thought the strategy by which we gain this kind of deeper thriving. The spear actual well, being the? U dime. India is the strategy of making ourselves into the kind of people who are virtuous and who take pleasure in virtue. So it's a kind of self education project of building up in yourself, the kind of soul you want to have you make herself into the person that you want to be an Aristotle, is really aware of the way in which that can be self reinforcing. You want yourself to become a particular kind of person, you practice being that
the person and doing that kind of activity, thereby becomes pleasurable to you, there's something- that's also really nicely borne out in the modern science in one of our podcast episodes. I interviewed a scientist Sonia Lieber Mirsky in her book. The how of happiness is this wonderful quote that your Did you learn a violin by playing it or just as you can have put a lot of work into raising a child? If you want a bump your happiness levels. You actually have to put the work in and that work is it just kind of theoretical? work it's actually engaging with it in a real way and actually building up your happiness. It kind of like a skill set like from the ground up. So the quote that you gave from son. You Lieber Mirsky is actually a direct reference to Aristotle who famously says that we become builders by building and we become harvests by playing the harp, and then he,
sorry to say that, just as the way you learn to be a builder is by building buildings and the way you learn to play, the harp is by playing the harp. So too says Aristotle. We become just by doing just actions camper it by doing temperate actions brave by doing brave actions. That is the way that we come to have practical wisdom is by practising the skill that we want to cultivate, soda it becomes natural to us and Aristotle also have good ideas about which particular kinds of actions. We should want to practice right like what are the kinds of actions that will actually make us a virtuous and therefore spiritually, happy person one week. Back from the brick wall dive into that specific ways. The Aristotle thought we could achieve happiness and what will see is that he devoted to hold chapters to something you might not think is that
the happiness. Lab will be right back twelve the conic Chanel watch with a timeless along a contemporary watch. Inspired by the sleep lines of race, cars and refined, silhouettes yachts from the Americas got a revolution. Twenty first century watchmaker. Today's J Twelve is reinvented, while preserving its iconic identity, equipped with a self winding caliber twelve point, one movement. It offers precision and performance like never before to learn more about the G20 watch, visit, Chanel, dot, com, social distancing art it. We ve all been doing a lot of online shopping for friends and family
This may have changed around us, but our inner drive to be there for the people we care about, runs deeper than ever weave donated to mutual aid funds and bail funds and causes we care about. When we come together as a community, we empower ourselves to make meaningful change. Our normal has changed and we're all finding new ways to connect and continue supporting one another. We started social distancing when we spend time with friends and explore local cuisine and we're doing more to support an advocate for under, represent two meetings, so what we need more than ever is an easy way to support each other from afar, the paper sending and receiving money has never been faster or easier stay connected with the people. You love quick.
And securely send money to friends and family. Just about anywhere in the world start a money pool to split the bill. Go in on a gift or fund raise for a good cause, support the places and causes you care about. Most make touch freak. You are cold payments at your favorite local restaurant for farmers, markets donate to a local non profit for support a cause from across the countries. Pay pal is making it easier to basically quickly and easily download. The Paypal have today terms and conditions apply, So people listen to the podcast, hear a lot about the kinds of things they can do to be happy that are borne out by modern science when Aristotle, I thought about a spiritual. While being this idea view Dimona, what are the kinds of things he thought we should be paying attention to what other sorts of actions he wanted us to engage with, so he was really
interested in developing character. That was what he called moderate in exile Thirdly, the right ways- and he viewed virtues that help us thrive as being cases. Behaviour that are intermediate between two extremes. So it's easier to think about this in the case of something like this four rates where you have an extreme of being a coward. You have an extreme of being reckless and in between those two things- is bravery which Aristotle thinks of as the perfect moderate virtue or with regard to your character, you could be somber or you could be a buffoon or you could be somebody with a good sense of humour, and I love this the middle way, because it fits with some of the things that we talk about on the palm cast, which is this idea that
yeah you gotta take baby steps towards the sorts of actions you want to engage in to become happier right. If I tell you that in gratitude is really important, for example, you don't want is so double down and gratitude that you're, stressing yourself out then gauging, in virtue, but almost inner in a moderate arrest, her baby step sort of way, and the nice thing about thinking of virtue as the middle way is that you always know what the next thing to do is, if your aiming to be brave, we're cowardly person. You don't have to get all the way over to bravery. You just have to take a small step towards bravery. And you're moving to the middle. So, by giving us a centre to move towards, we can make progress without being overwhelmed, that the prospect of what it is that we need to change which
need to change a little bit and then the next day, a little bit more and as Aristotle likes to point out, this becomes self reinforcing. He says, abstaining from pleasures makes us become temperate, and once we ve become temperate were more capable of abstaining from pleasures it similar with bravery. Habituation in standing, firm in frightening situations, makes us brave, and once we ve become brave, were more capable of standing firm, So if you want to be a brave person act, the way a brave person acts and you will manifest bravery and we'll be reinforced in your experience about how pleasurable and possible it is for you to act bravely so yourself
talked a lot about different virtues and that's one of the reasons. His book was really a book not about happiness or you demoniac, but it was a book about ethics right, so so talk about this important book and and why it was so powerful and western thought sure this is a book call the nickel making an ethics, and it's a book in which Aristotle tries to spell out what Is it to live a virtuous life. But his notion, virtue is really broad one. He means not just a life that is a moral life, but a life that for the individual brings them this you die money, a thriving and happiness and that for the society contributes to a society, in which there are striving and happiness. So this is a book about how to live. Well me really how to live. Well, happily, and how to live well in a way that is part of
Harmonious society were all are in a position to thrive, and this is where I think Science really backs Aristotle up bright, because one thing we know is even if you're just shooting for the happy life. The data really suggest that, you want to do is to live a moral life. You want to live a life for your doing nice things for other, as you want to live a life or you're, really feeling connected to other people where you're doing something that is a job that gives you meaning so in some sense even if you were just shooting for the Eudaimonia part, you get these other two parts as well. All right! That's exactly right! Aristotle thinks that human beings are creatures where it's possible to become someone in whom what gives you pleasure is causing other people to thrive and do well so for Aristotle, healthy, thriving virtuous, individual is a person who takes pleasure in other also having lives that are filled with meaning who takes place
You're in being a situation where the those around them are also doing well. And that's one of the reasons that Aristotle devoted to hold chapters in this important book, something that we might not think about when we think about virtue and ethics necessarily right. So it was a lower those two chapters about yeah. It's a great questions. So this book, which has ten chapters there were ten papyron scrolls, on which the book was written, devotes chapters eight and nine to the topic of friendship. Things friendship is incredibly important throughout our entire lives. He says the young need friendship to keep them from error. The old need friendship to care for them and to support the actions that fail because of weakness and those in their prime.
Friendship to do fine actions, for they are more capable of understanding and acting when two go together and his idea. Friendship was in part Very kind of you know he'd mystic pleasure. You know you get some utility out of it, but he also sought that friends could affect our happiness in a deeper and more meaningful way as well. Actually he'd distinguishes three different kinds of friendship, there's a kind of friendship- relatively shallow kind of friendship which his friendship based on utility. I'm France with you, cause get something out of it in your friends with me. Cause you get something out of it. There's a second kind of flame, which is a little bit richer, which is a friendship based on pleasure where I enjoy your company and you enjoy my company, the kind of friendship that Aristotle is really interested in, is a friendship, that's based on
mutual appreciation of one another's deep values and whereas the first two kinds of friendship, accidental their limited in depth they dont last a long time a friendship fits based. Deep appreciation of how my being in your presence, makes me a better person, and your being in my presence, makes you a better person is a kind of friendship, that's lasting and it fits with Aristotle's general picture that what we want to do is to get ourselves into self reinforcing cycles, we're we're doing something that works and because we're doing it and it works. We keep doing so. Aristotle calls of and a second self, and he thinks that one of the ways in which we can help ourselves cultivate practical wisdom is by finding friends who support us in that activity.
So I want to be brave ice They too you, my virtuous deep friend, let's go on bravery together. And I reinforce your bravery. You reinforce my bravery. I get an extra self to help me. Main committed to what I want to do, not just theoretically but practically, not just in my head, but Also, in my actions- and this too fits with lot of what we know about the science of habits right. You know when you're trying to stick to a new virtuous habit or even to some habit that will improve your happiness. Say you want to exercise more. You want to meditate are right in your gratitude journal, one the things you can do from the habit. Literature is defined social support right. You find a friend whose good at that who you can kind of say I have been a do this with you, and then you do that together, which is funny to tell you to mark, as you
My my exercised buddy, my hiking body, might yoga bodies Hooker, whether it really for that generates lorry lorry is the person. In fact, when lorry had broken leg, I discovered that my second self had stopped taking, and so my first self stopped taking so was a great relief to me when you're like got strong enough again for us to work together. But yes, this idea that one of the ways that you can stick to your commitments is to surround yourself by others who are also committed to those things is part of really ever Wisdom tradition, so, in the buddhist wisdom tradition, there's a notion that they call right association that is surround yourself by others who are also committed to this path. Towards spiritual enlightenment and almost every religious. Tradition, involves communal activity of a kind that says put yourself in a setting were others are also trying to pursue that kind of stuff.
Your transcendence, and in fact that was actually the inspiration for one of the requirements. They serve happiness practices that I did with my class. One of the things I asked my students to do is to take what I call a string state where you hang out with a friend and you both try to pursue some virtue that you want to get better at some strength that you want to enhance, but ideas to do it with somebody else and in fact there is evidence from Solomons Group, that this active can doing a strength date with somebody can gonna be given a boost to your, while being so you the scholar Aristotle for some time now have you been following the middle way using his insights to go after your own? You dimona pretty much everything that Aristotle. Instructs us to do is a part of my own attempt at self improvement. The recognition that what I needed to do to change a bad habit was just to move a little bit towards a better
version of it was an incredible relief to me, as I found myself, feeling overwhelmed by changes that I want to make and the idea that, in order to become somebody who had virtues that I wanted all, I to do was start acting. If I already had those virtues, was announced evidently liberating and transformative for me about the friend part and for Almost every change that I wanted to make the Illustration that I had a second self available. Help me? Do that, most often in things at home, that partner was my spouse or one of my children, but for the Big changes that I wanted to make in my life, my friendship actually with you Laurie
was one of the factors that really enabled me to make those changes and I feel like. The combination of Aristotle's wisdom from twenty five hundred years ago, and your friendship, from one and a half decades has been key to allowing me to thrive and flourish, one that is sweet. You say and right back at you because I feel like when I think about the people who are your pleasurable friend We are friends of utility versus the ones that are real friends of meaning friends. I get me towards virtue. You are right up there to the I thank you and I just mean. Ought I hadn't? Really? It really has been fifteen years. That's. Disturbing, but it makes the thing, Timor has taught me about Aristotle, have helped me a ton in my own quest to be happier and more virtuous things like the need to take action to become the person you wanna be, and the fact that all those tiny baby steps matter alot
But of course one of bestowed isn't going to be enough to explore everything. The ancient Greeks thought about achieving happiness, so hope. You will join me in Timor again next time when we entered few to a different greek thinker, Plato and his advice or how you can control than for strong chariot and keep talking If you ve enjoyed the show I'd, be super grateful if you could spread the word by leaving rating and interview it really help other listeners find us and don't forget to tell your friends. The happiness lab is currently produced by Ryan Delete, the show was mastered by Evan Viola and our original music was composed by Zachary silver. Special thanks to the entire Pushkin Krim, including meal about colleague, legally or any other fain, take a weisberger. My agent bendings
the happiness lab is brought in my Pushkin industries and me doctor lorry centres.
Transcript generated on 2020-09-14.