Feeling overwhelmed? Why Greek philosophy still holds value – even in the 21st century

In today’s world, life seems to be hectic and chaotic, comparable to a constant race. We tend to juggle between various inner and outer expectations, such as being a good partner, friend, child, employee, eating healthy, doing sports, reading books, engaging in a type of creative activity, meditating, having a successful career and at the same time maintaining our sanity and being happy. All of these expectations can not only make us feel overwhelmed, but may also make us feel like a failure. Slowing down and reflecting on philosophy might not so much as cross our minds, but it could help us find some of the answers and the purpose that we crave so much.

Aristotle believed that a man can only achieve true happiness by using all his abilities and capacities. According to him, three forms of happiness exist and in order to achieve happiness, one would need to find a golden mean between a life of pleasure and enjoyment, a life as a free and responsible citizen and a life as a thinker and philosopher.

In order to achieve this, we should seek to be virtuous. Aristotle defines virtue as a disposition to behave in the right manner, also identified as a mean between extremes of deficiency and excess (vices). For example, there is a middle between being a coward and not stepping in to defend someone and to be stupidly courageous and put oneself in harm’s way. Between being overly greedy and too generous by spending money, time or anything else that we in reality can’t afford. Becoming virtuous means knowing how to act at the right time, in the right way and in the right measure. Once we are able to find this Golden Mean in our actions, we become more comfortable and at ease knowing we are leading our lives in a way which maximizes our happiness, taking the right decisions and course of actions in every situation. 

This of course would be in the “perfect case scenario”, which brings us back to the illusion of becoming the flawless human who does not make any mistakes. But even while making mistakes, the knowledge that we are doing our best to develop and improve ourselves can already have a major impact on our growth, our comfort with ourselves and our mistakes, as we tackle them as an opportunity to improve and learn rather than only failures, like black stains on a white board.

So as we’re living our lives of extremes and constant moving, cruising through the day on autopilot, barely giving ourselves the time to reflect upon our day, perhaps some light reading of Greek philosophy is just what we need.

Sarah Ebling

          Sarah Ebling holds a professorship in Accessibility Studies at Zurich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW) and is a senior researcher at the University of Zurich. Her research focuses on natural language processing in the context of disabilities and special needs, specifically, sign language technology and automatic text simplification. Her groups’ contributions involve artificial intelligence techniques with a strong emphasis on user involvement. She is involved in various international and national projects and leads a large-scale Swiss innovation initiative entitled „Inclusive Information and Communication Technologies“ (2022-2026; https://www.iict.uzh.ch/).