The Vital Connection Between Action and Reason

From Paul Bell

I lead my life with a firm belief in the eudaemonic way. The simple definition of eudaimonia is that enduring happiness and contentment don’t come from the accumulation of fleeting material rewards, and the experience of joys and pleasures, but are the result of an active life governed by reason tempered by understanding and wisdom. Eudaimonia has more to it than just being happy. It is a condition of human flourishing and living well, in which the rational activity as the product of reason should be performed well or excellently. I admit that like most important values it is an aspiration but it is an energizing, virtuous goal to aim for.

Many of us can justly claim to be active but have we used our wisdom and reason to determine which actions to focus on? Or do we allow our culture’s norms and desires to dictate many of our actions? The unavoidable finite span of life should make us think and even feel with intention when deciding upon what to do with each precious moment? Instead, so many of us seem to act as if we had an infinite life, putting so many things off for a later time. For many people the default mode is to carry on doing what we are currently doing. The best predictor of tomorrow’s behavior is today’s.

Our culture’s norms and desires have created a very believable – and in some ways attractive – game. There is a vast book of set rules, winners, losers, goal-scorers, defenders, those who sit waiting for their chance to play from the sidelines. The game is powerful and for so many of us it is addictive. The next time you return home on a Friday evening, slump down in a chair and wonder what that last hectic week was all about you might ask yourself why you play the game.

Perhaps you play the game to make a living and if you enjoy your part in the game and feel fulfilled and happy, then you probably have used a good degree of reason to select your action. However, if this is not the case then stand back for moment and realize that you do not have to play the game with such an extremely tight rule book. Your potential to survive happily in this world is almost limitless. You can base your life around beauty, freedom, adventure – in fact anything that brings you close to realizing your potential and not just the potential ascribed to you through society’s games. You can make much better use of your limited time.

As a reader of this blog, you probably use reason to determine your diet and eat in a healthy way. However, as Dr Mayer points out, that is not the case with most people. They do not use some applied knowledge or guidance when selecting their meals, they just follow blindly, without reflection the cultural norms that have created a very unhealthy population. Or their eating habits are guided primarily by hedonism, seeking out foods for transient pleasure that is gone within minutes of finishing the meal. Diet is just an example of a much wider malaise.

I realize this is all fairly obvious, but when you think hard about it, I am sure you will find that we are all guilty at times of just following the patterns and desires of our culture without using reason and a sense of this wonderful life to live well and with intent. I determined early in life that I needed freedom to feel content and happy. I needed to make my own decisions and be my own boss. Whenever I failed to use broad-minded heartfelt reason when deciding upon a possible career or action and just jumped at a well-presented opportunity in the game, I lost my freedom and consequently my happiness. I did not feel I was flourishing or living well. Admittedly it was not always easy to walk away from the game, and at times it was challenging to live with a different set of rules, but the reward was a fulfilling eudaemonic life. A life that feels complete yet still challenging, virtuous but not saint-like, self-created but filled with gratitude. A free responsible loving life where I try to practice the art of eudaimonia every day.

Paul Bell lives a life of both physical and mental adventures. He is passionate about education and has enjoyed teaching and challenging children in the outdoors, and helping large project and company teams raise their performance levels. He currently lives and adventures in the Canadian Rockies, sails the Pacific coast and finds life very exciting.