In 1932, Scott and Helen Nearing left New York City to settle on a rundown farm in Vermont. Their aim was to live more simply and deliberately in the same spirit as Henry David Thoreau when he moved to Walden Pond.
But unlike Thoreau, who finished his experiment and moved back to the city, the Nearings stayed in the country. First in Vermont and then in Maine.
The Nearings divided their waking hours in to three 4-hour blocks of time.
The first four hours were devoted to "bread labor" —those activities that provided food and shelter.
Four hours were dedicated to service activities that benefited the community.
The final four hours were focused on leisure. Those activities included recreation, study, writing, and music. In other words, activities that were inherently good for their own sake ‒Supreme Goods.
For over fifty years, the Nearings focused on perfecting their way of living, which they called The Good Life.
The term The Good Life originated with Aristotle.
He never explicitly defined it.
I like it that way. The meaning of The Good Life is ambiguous, open-ended.
Like the Nearings, we must discover for ourselves our own Good Life.
Aristotle provided some hints, though. First, by defining what The Good Life is not.
Some people suppose that it is the function of household management to increase property, and they are continually under the idea that it is their duty to be either safeguarding their substance in money or increasing it to an unlimited amount. The cause of this state of mind is that their interests are set upon life but not upon the good life;
And even those who fix their aim on the good life seek the good life as measured by bodily enjoyments, so that inasmuch as this also seems to be found in the possession of property, all their energies are occupied in the business of getting wealth."
Despite what the commercial world would have us believe, The Good Life does not consist of wealth.
There is a phrase in sports called the sweet spot. It is the location on a racket, bat or club that maximizes the distance, power and accuracy of the ball when it makes contact.
That is the technical definition. But to truly understand what hitting the sweet spot means you have to experience it. It is perfect bliss.
If Aristotle had played baseball, he might have said, "Living The Good Life is like hitting the sweet spot."
Instead, his term for sweet spot is virtue.
Virtue for Aristotle meant to take actions and have feelings that were not excessive or deficient but hit the mean ‒ the right amount at the right time in the right manner for the right reason.
This mean that Aristotle speaks of is often called the Golden Mean
Aristotle gives three requirements for living a life in conformity with virtue. A life of hitting the golden mean or sweet spot. In short, The Good Life.
The Good Life requires knowledge, skill, and practice. That's why the Nearings experimented for 50 years trying to perfect their good life. It takes more than 10,000 hours as I described in this essay I sent to subscribers of my weekly newsletter.
Once we have knowledge, we have to overcome our fear and choose to act. We can't hit the sweet spot unless we swing at the ball. And we have to be taking swings for the right reason. Not for fame, glory or wealth, but for the sheer joy of playing the game and striving to hit the mean.
Aristotle writes "a good general makes the most effective use of the forces at his disposal and a good shoemaker makes the finest shoe possible out of the leather supplied him."
We work with what we have. We start where we are now. We don't wait for our circumstances to improve.
A Good Life is not a life without misfortune or trial. We can hit the sweet spot amidst adversity.
"The happy man therefore will possess the element of stability in question, and will remain happy all his life; since he will be always or at least most often employed in doing and contemplating the things that are in conformity with virtue.
Yet, nevertheless even in adversity nobility shines through, when a man endures repeated and severe misfortune with patience, not owing to insensibility, but from generosity and greatness of soul. And if, as we said, a man's life is determined by his activities, no supremely happy man can ever become miserable."
Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethics
A happy life, a good life, a life of hitting the sweet spot, adhering to the mean is not a function of what we have.
It is determined by our activities and choices.
-J.D. Stein | January 2014