Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Four Cardinal Virtues and Happiness

I've pointed out many times that people in the past where just as smart as us, they had just as much experience in life (sometimes a lot more than many people), some of them were very thoughtful, and that human nature does not change. So it is a very good thing to look at the conclusions they came to about the problems all of us face.

To ignore what they found as irrelevant ("Things are different today") is the height of ignorance and arrogance.

One conclusion they drew is that the Four Cardinal Virtues (the word "virtue" means "powers of man") are necessary to a successful and happy life. Those powers are Courage, Bravery, Justice and Self-Control.

Here are the Four Cardinal Virtues:

Prudence - ability to judge between actions with regard to appropriate actions at a given time.

Justice - the perpetual and constant rendering to each one his right.

Temperance or Restraint - practicing self-control, abstention, and moderation; tempering the appetite.

Fortitude or Courage - forbearance, endurance, and ability to confront fear, uncertainty and intimidation.

The Roman philosopher and statesman Cicero wrote this about the powers:

“Virtue may be defined as a habit of mind (animi) in harmony with reason and the order of nature. It has four parts: wisdom (prudentiam), justice, courage, temperance.”

St. Augustine, writing about how the four powers applied to the church of his time, said this:

"For these four virtues (would that all felt their influence in their minds as they have their names in their mouths!), I should have no hesitation in defining them: that temperance is love giving itself entirely to that which is loved; fortitude is love readily bearing all things for the sake of the loved object; justice is love serving only the loved object, and therefore ruling rightly; prudence is love distinguishing with sagacity between what hinders it and what helps it."

I'd say the Four Cardinal virtues are at least the minimum qualities a person should have.

Recently I ran across a study about Self-Control. The title of the article: People With a Lot of Self-Control are Happier.

Imagine that. Those four powers were analyzed by the Greeks, and are at least 2200 years old and probably more. They made their way into Christianity, which is why many people think they are religious values. They're not. They're good practical values for living a life of eudaimonia (another Greek word that means "well-being" or "flourishing" and which made it into the Declaration of Independence as "pursuit of happiness." You achieve it though arete, or excellence).

Here's what the study found: "The more self-control people reported having, the more satisfied they reported being with their lives. And contrary to what the researchers were expecting, people with more self-control were also more likely to be happy in the short-term. In fact, when they further analyzed the data, they found that such people's increased happiness to a large extent accounted for the increased life satisfaction."

The opposite of self-control is impulsiveness, and impulsive people often end up in jail ("I didn't think about what would happen") or poor. And drug addicts. They can't delay gratification and seek immediate pleasure.

At first the researchers thought these people would lead lives of self-denial and little pleasure, but they found the exact opposite.

The nature of pleasure is something to look at. The first time I began to think about the nature of pleasure was in college, when I took in a class in Buddhism from one of the top Asian philosophy professors in the United States.

He pointed out than when the Buddha said things were impermanent, he was talking about the fact that pleasure goes up and down - you seek it, you are satisfied and satiated, it goes away and you seek it again (Freud noticed the same thing). People try to cling to that pleasure, which always evaporates. This is why the Buddha said, "Life is suffering."

He said the way to get around this was to meditate until you entered a state of immense and perfect bliss, with great clarity of mind. In that state you ceased to cling to things. It has nothing to do with an emotionless state of no desire.

As an aside, I've had people tell me "That's not Buddhism and the Buddha didn't say that!" when they got their knowledge of Buddhism from Hermann Hesse's Siddhartha and some Bantam New Age books.

However, to be enlightened you generally have to mediate for several years (sometimes more, sometimes less). And what does it require to do this? Self-control and courage.

Actually you have to have all four virtues. If you don't have one you don't have any of them, because they are all related. This isn't just a theory; I've seen it myself among people I know.

Unfortunately the Four Cardinal Virtues aren't taught anymore, not by parents, not by schools, not by churches. And that's a shame, because they are an essential knowledge that these days is sorely lacking. And we pay for it.

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