The ocean seems richer than in the heat of summer, clean and nourishing. The water is still warm; its translucent green gradually blends with the dense grey sky.
I could feel the oncoming season of fall.
My worries wash away as I dip under; I forget why I was anxious in the first place. The natural world puts life — our physical, earthly, human one — into perspective.
I find joy observing our world with my own two eyes, lost in thought, like thinkers of the past. Many found happiness just wondering, an activity not needing anything more than space to breathe and time to do it.
This is how they learned: by studying the planet, not merely existing in it.
We may be breathing, our body may work, our eyes may function, but to foster a curious heart and soul which search for meaning and connection — that is to live.
I sit on the beach and watch the waves, ruminating on the theories of philosophers who changed how I see the world because of the words they set down.
These men and women were no different from us. They lived in a different time and perhaps a different place, but they too wondered: what makes life worth living?
When I pop in my headphones on a walk and listen to a philosophy course, I consider what’s being said. I then try to imagine the world through that lens. This is what learning should be, not needing to be anything more than food for thought, which brings me a day, a month, or more likely, a lifetime of joy.
When we take a course, when we study, when we read simply to enjoy a new subject, then under the surface what we learn seeps into our being.
The effort we make to continually grow changes who we are, even if it’s just in that month or two while we’re taking a course or reading a book for fun.
Aristotle’s Highest Good
The Greek philosopher Aristotle lived in the 4th-century BC during the golden age of Greek philosophy.
In Nicomachean Ethics, he argues that all human action has some final purpose. For example, in school perhaps we view learning as tedious and anxiety-inducing because it’s a means to an end.
We study solely to pass a test. At least I did, and it didn’t always work out.
Yet, he argues, there must be some final purpose for living, some meaning in it all. If there were no end, then human action would be meaningless. We’re always chasing, chasing, chasing — for what?
Aristotle argues that human life is not meaningless; he discusses what he calls the “highest good.” This highest good, he states, is happiness (eudaemonia). We desire happiness for the sake of being happy and nothing more.
What is happiness, and why does it elude us the most when we believe it should be the most attainable? We buy new things to make us happy; we search for a new relationship to fill a void, assuming now, we will be satisfied.
But we’re not, and that’s what hurts the most. Aristotle argues that happiness takes work within ourselves; it shouldn’t take external goods.
He argued that a life spent primarily examining the world brings happiness. Studying nature inspires us; it grounds us; it makes us realize what matters.
What matters isn’t what we’re perpetually chasing — money, status, material things.
It’s what we already have — a mind to think with space to do it, a connection with another soul, a repeating breath, which rises and falls and sustains our thoughts, until we are no more.
Aristotle & Plato
Aristotle was a student at Plato’s Academy in Athens. Both Aristotle and Plato believed a life spent thinking critically is the most joyful life of all.
Of course, these men were philosophers and loved nothing more than discussing what it means to live. Naturally, they would say a life spent philosophizing is the most joyful life.
Still, we can take lessons away from their sentiments on what creates a good life. Aristotle was intensely interested in the study of nature with nothing more than the naked eye. This love of nature differentiated him from Plato.
Aristotle is considered a theoretical philosopher, where theory comes from the Greek word theoria, meaning “looking at.” He attempted to see the whole world as it really is.
He didn’t have satellite images or telescopes; he saw what he saw, and with his genuine curiosity, changed the way human beings thought about life for thousands of years.
If, for a day, I might see the life within a flower from the perspective of Aristotle, then taking a Greek philosophy course is worth it.
The Love of Wisdom
Philosophy often leaves a negative impression on students in school. We’re asked to learn just for the sake of passing the exam at the end of the quarter. But one shouldn’t study philosophy to remember the facts. What good does that provide? Philosophy (philosophia) translates to the love of wisdom.
So shouldn’t philosophy be studied for the pure sake of enjoyment and providing views unlike our own? If one loves wisdom, they seek all of the different aspects which make life an enriching journey.
I’m not writing about this now for a grade. I’m writing about philosophy because I’m fascinated by these historical figures and how they thought.
I’m doing this because I want to; I’m in search of wisdom.
When I look up and wonder what’s truly taking place amongst the atoms and molecules that give color to the sky, I forget, at least for a moment, about my worries.
When I take a walk without my phone because I need some time to breathe, I forget about my daily checklist.
I’m captivated by the natural world, our home, with its beautiful colors and sights and smells, with its people I love and am lucky to call my friends.
To study the world makes life worth living; to learn for the pure sake of enjoyment is, perhaps, reaching an end — happiness in itself.
What fascinates you? What interested you in high school or college, but you never got around to taking that class? Once we graduate, the real learning begins.
I based this article on an Intro to Greek Philosophy course I took through The Great Courses. I didn’t take any philosophy classes in college, and in a way, I’m glad I didn’t. I know that what I learn from these classes is supplemental to real-life experience. That eventually comes to us all, but we must be open to it.
Experience is like the sun; life needs it to survive, see, and grow, just as we need experiences to grow as people. The facts and textbook material are like the stars, nonessential but illuminating, offering a new way to look at the galaxy.
To be a student of life is to keep an open mind and let the facts come and go. What stays with you is all that matters, a new way of thinking that may make you happier than anything ever could have.