All people are united in their desire for satisfaction and happiness. Happiness is the motivating force behind every person's whole being. It is the perfect good which satisfies all human desires. So how do we get this happiness?
Ayurveda builds happiness and mental well-being by nurturing your body. But it lacks a model to assess happiness and pinpoint mental health problems directly. Charaka, the father of Ayurveda, includes a chapter on mental health. But his chapter bears little resemblance to Ayurveda's rich use of doshas, tastes, gunas, and elements to assess imbalance. Further, his model for happiness is based on self-denial and renunciation, instead of nurturing. So his model left me hungry for something a bit more positive and similar to Ayurveda.
Reaching into Ayurveda's history and origins, I discovered a mental health model from the Greeks, a culture that communicated with India in antiquity. My Ayurvedic teacher taught me about this similarity between Greek and Ayurvedic medicine. So, ancient Greece was a natural place to find clues to the puzzle of happiness.
Delving into the ancient Greek model for mental health & happiness, I stumbled upon the very rich and ancient tradition of the virtues. Some of the greatest minds of western civilization throughout antiquity and the medieval period spent their lives in developing the virtues. The virtues are natural, systematic tool for pinpointing mental wellness issues.
This model is so fruitful that Joyful Belly is now offering a certification course in virtue psychology alongside our Ayurvedic courses.
Happiness according to the GreeksAccording to the ancient Greeks, happiness comes from living according to design. The world was made in a certain way. You can't fight reality and expect to be happy. When you operate against truth, you fight an impossible battle that leads to hopelessness and confusion. To be happy, you need to know who you are and how to fit into the reality around you. The study of virtue is the study of the attitudes that will help you live in this harmony with creation.
Virtue gives you the right amount of acceptance and love for things as they are. And, they give you the right amount of fortitude to make the world a better place. The study of the virtues leads to right relationship with the world.
The Greeks wondered, "What attitudes and habits make someone truly happy?" The study of the attitudes and habits that lead to happiness is known as the study of virtue. The Greek word for virtue, arete (rhymes with great), actually means excellence of the whole person. Arete has the sense of reaching one's full potential. When you study virtue, you study yourself not only as you are, but who you are meant to be. It is the study of the habits and temperament that aid fulfillment, satisfaction and happiness.
Growth in virtue has many benefits. One, the virtues create a healthy perspective of reality. Two, they help you diagnose character strengths and weaknesses. Three, they pinpoint how to grow in excellence and wisdom.
What are the cardinal virtues?The Greeks identified 4 cardinal virtues, including prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude (See Plato's Republic Book IV, 426-435). These 4 categories of excellence weren't picked at random but describe our basic relationships to events around us. They are cardinal because they lead to many other virtues. Here's what they mean:
The virtues are very basic, but profound, just like Ayurveda. Like Ayurveda, the virtues are a practical tool for everyday people developed thousands of years ago. Like Ayurveda, development of virtue is cultivated through habits. The study of virtue will give you a firm grasp of reality, and the ability to respond well to everyday circumstances.
As Ayurveda is the study of bodily habits, the virtues are a study of personality and emotional habits. Ayurveda focuses on the temperament of the body. The 20 gunas in Ayurveda (heavy, light, sharp dull, hot, cold, etc.) are the qualities that make the body healthy & well. The virtues focus on temperament of the mind. The virtues are qualities that make the mind health and well.
Ayurveda balances the gunas to maintain a healthy body. Similarly, balancing the virtues maintains a healthy mind. If a guna is in excess or deficiency, it creates imbalance. Similarly, if a virtue is in excess or deficiency, it creates imbalance. The models share so many analogs, that the study of the virtues is a fitting complement to the study of Ayurveda.
If you want to have a good life, you must seek out a path to get there. You must ask yourself, "What kinds of happy choices put me on the path to the perfect good?" To help you answer this question, Joyful Belly is offering a course in virtue psychology starting in January.
Ayurveda is the art of living. It describes the lifestyle, diet and herbs that are good for life in the body. The study of the virtues is the study of what is good for life in the mind. Together, Ayurveda and the virtues will keep you happy, healthy, and well.
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About the AuthorJohn Immel, the founder of Joyful Belly, teaches people how to have a healthy diet and lifestyle with Ayurveda. His approach to Ayurveda exudes a certain ease, which many find enjoyable and insightful. John also directs Joyful Belly's School of Ayurveda , which specializes in digestive tract pathology & Ayurvedic nutrition. John and his wife Natalie recently published Explore Your Hunger: A Guide to Hunger, Appetite & Food.
John's interest in Ayurveda and digestive tract pathology was inspired by a complex digestive disorder acquired from years of international travel, including his public service work in South Asia. John's commitment to the detailed study of digestive disorders reflects his zeal to get down to the roots of the problem. His hope and belief in the capacity of each & every client to improve their quality of life is nothing short of a personal passion. John's creativity in the kitchen and delight in cooking for others comes from his family oriented upbringing. In addition to his certification in Ayurveda, John holds a bachelor's degree in mathematics from Harvard University.
John enjoys sharing Ayurveda within the context of his Catholic roots, and finds Ayurveda gives him an opportunity to participate in the healing mission of the Church. Jesus expressed God's love by feeding and healing the sick. That kindness is the fundamental ministry of Ayurveda as well.
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