Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons,
they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs;
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals;
and everywhere life is full of heroism.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment
it is as perennial as the grass.
Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labours and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.
With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Strive to be happy.
Max Ehrmann’s famous text Desiderata (above) may guide us in a balanced approach to modern living.
The title of this piece is actually derived from the latin word desideratum meaning ‘things wanted or needed’, or a case for unpacking ‘desires.’ The closing point of the poem encourages us to be real in our acknowledgement of the world we live in [‘with all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world’], but also motivates the task: ‘strive to be happy.’
Both of these concepts have been tirelessly explored across all cultures, but this week we want to unpack it by way of the Greek…
There is much to be said for the poetics of ancient Greece. Most of us live out our lives adhering to many of the principles that originated from the culture in some capacity every day, even without our knowing it. Much of our language and modes of communication can be traced back to Greek beginnings. As can our understanding of chronology and time, and of course ways of storytelling that involve ‘the hero and the villain.’
What can ancient culture teach us about morality and living a well rounded life within a complex society?
Three of the most widely recognised thinkers who originated from Greece are Aristotle, Socrates, and Plato. Each of these men held their own mission and principles, but upon looking closer we can see that the common search behind them all was for something ancient Greece recognised as Eudaimonia, which translates as ‘happiness or fulfilment’ – fittingly, this is the end premise of Max Ehrmann’s desiderata!
Back in the days of these men Greece was establishing itself as a country of progressive civilisation, taking shape through systems that promoted equality for all. They believed this to be the consequent way to achieve the level of happiness needed for good personal lives.
In order to understand the cultural search for edudaimonia more clearly, we can turn to their practices to see how the noble values and ideals of democratic society were externalised; specifically through their approach to architecture and environment and also physical training and movement.
Architecture serves as expressive work often dedicated to the fulfilment or restoration of harmony, calm, reason and dignity. Walk in to any well designed space and you can often feel yourself being enveloped by the virtues the architect held in mind. In short, we know that environment plays a large role in influencing our happiness. Perhaps this is why one of society’s most prevalent aspirations is the desire to upscale, renovate, build, and nest in a home of our very own. Here we see in both ancient and modern times that the application of intellect and creativity served as a viable route for maintaining overall happiness.
Movement and physicality were of huge value to the Greeks. Think of flamboyant group dancing (My Big Fat Greek Wedding reception anyone?), the fascination with the muscular human physique in art and sculpture, and the fact that Greece was the birthplace of the Olympic games still running today. Even one of the biggest sporting brands in modern history derives its name from the ancient winged goddess ‘Nike’, who brought victory in both battle and athletic contests, usually through evoking flight or the moment of alighting. It was firmly believed that exercise and physical training conditioned discipline in people, which in turn produced devoted, diligent and virtuous citizens in society.
Just as one plus one equals two, what all this Greek history brings to light is a simple formula for us to follow: true virtue and happiness means striking a balance between the physical and the intellectual – so how may look for you today?
(Research reference: The School of Life.)