Issue 68: The Good Life

Where can happiness be found?

Does happiness come from within or without? How can we find meaningful and ethical work? Where can the good life be found, and what does it look like?

The philosophers of the ancient world, particularly Plato, Aristotle and later the Stoics, emphasised the importance of Eudaimonia. Often mistranslated as happiness or wellbeing, it might be better understood as the kind of life that we can reflect upon when on our death and say that it was ‘well-lived’.

For many, this sense of flourishing comes through choosing the right vocation, adopting the mantra of ‘Do what you love, love what you do.’ Yet paradoxically, a large body of empirical research shows that we aren’t all that good at predicting what will make us happy. And what happens when people simply don’t have passions that fit the world of work?  

Our ability to envision the good life for ourselves and what it might look like has led many renowned thinkers to advocate a detached perspective, with Nietzsche, Camus and others advocating that we view our life as if it were a work of art. But while an aesthetic approach to our lives sounds attractive, might it simply lead to superficial and unhelpful answers to our problems?

Pleasure and intimate connection can offer a more direct route to fulfilment, with research showing that sexuality in its various guises has a vital role to play in well-being and happiness. But why does it still give us so much pause and room for self-doubt? Can’t understanding our desires and the complexities of sexuality provide an opportunity for knowledge of oneself and our embodiment in the world?

In this issue of IAI News, we embark in search of The Good Life. What does it mean to live well? And how does one become that person?

Are we you as good as you think?
Christian B. Miller, philosopher at Wake Forest University
Why do strangers help in one situation and simply ignore someone in need in another? Drawing on psychological research on moral behaviour to show why sometimes we act morally and sometimes we don’t, philosopher Christian B. Miller recommends steps we can take to strengthen our moral character.

The science of good sex
Zhana Vrangalova, psychologist at New York University
Uncovering the assumptions and testimonies behind what good sex is, NYU psychologist Zhana Vrangalova is interviewed on the ins and outs of what makes for good, fulfilling sex, scientifically.

Life as a work of art
Bence Nanay, philosopher at Cambridge University and University of Antwerp
“Like all works of art, life also demands that we think about it”, wrote Albert Camus. A pleasing sentiment, but not a particularly helpful one to making sense of life realities, says Cambridge and Antwerp philosopher Bence Nanay.

Can we reinvent ourselves? An existentialist view
Kate Kirkpatrick, philosopher at University of Hertfordshire
The ability to reinvent ourselves, usually the hallmark of pop culture icons, implies that we have selves to reinvent and that we have the power to reinvent them. However, not all existentialists agreed about the truth of these claims, argues Kate Kirkpatrick.

What is the meaning of life?
Steve Taylor, psychologist at Leeds Beckett University
Many of us may feel that life seems without meaning, but the experiences of those who undergone traumatic or life-changing events and emerged with a renewed affirmation in life’s purpose should give us pause, according to neuroscientist Steve Taylor..

How to choose your dream job like an effective altruist
William MacAskill, Co-founder and President of the Centre for Effective Altruism
Since passions and interests aren't a good predictor for long-term job satisfaction, writes effective altruist William MacAskill, choosing to focus on doing good will lead you both to developing a rewarding career and a positive impact.

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