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Mike Bellah

The philosopher Aristotle saw midlife (about 50) as the ideal age, the time in life when one is most balanced between the excesses of youth and age.

 

 

 

 

Aristotle’s golden mean would bring together both positions, practicality and benevolence, a midlifer who helps others while taking care of his or her own needs too.

 

 

 

 

Aristotle would have midlifers "courageously temperate and temperately courageous."

Aristotle’s Golden Mean of Midlife

If you’re like I was, you probably think the phrase "prime of life" is relatively new, a term coined by modern Americans whose longevity and prosperity have given them an opportunity to enjoy a stage of life unknown to our ancestors.

Think again. The phrase was used by the Greeks more than 2300 years ago. In fact, the philosopher Aristotle saw midlife (about 50) as the ideal age, the time in life when one is most balanced between the excesses of youth and age. Aristotle called this equilibrium the "golden mean" of life. Following are some of the contrasts he said are mediated by midlife.

optimism and pessimism

"On the first day of life there is nothing to remember and everything to hope," said Aristotle. Thus, Aristotle taught that youth are possessed by optimism. They always expect the best. He warned, however, that expecting the best can get us into trouble, for "those who hope easily are easily deceived."

On the other hand, Aristotle would not have us too pessimistic. He said that, with all the failure and disappointment in life, it is possible to become "positive in nothing" and, thus, to "do all things much too feebly."

Aristotle’s solution is a golden mean--not naively optimistic, but realistically so, expecting life to be hard but still believing in the ultimate triumphs of good, still passionate about our beliefs and values.

altruism and practicality

Aristotle chided those who let the hurtful experiences of life make them too fearful of personal loss and thus too self-protective and "expedient." The hope and passion of youth, on the other hand, make us benevolent, willing to risk personal loss for others. Aristotle’s golden mean would bring together both positions, practicality and benevolence, a midlifer who helps others while taking care of his or her own needs too.

mirth and lamentation

The young are "lovers of laughter" and "lovers of wit," said Aristotle, while age can make us preoccupied with imminent suffering and "given to lamentation." Aristotle would combine the two in life’s prime. He would have us neither too flippant nor too serious. We need to laugh and we need to cry.

extravagance and frugality

Aristotle said that youth often spend money excessively while those who are older might pinch pennies too much. Thus he tells those in their prime to "incline neither to frugality nor to extravagance, but to the just mean." Aristotle’s ideal midlifer is able to both save and spend with passion, not so occupied with present wants that they can’t prepare for future need, and not so occupied with future need that they can’t enjoy satisfying present wants.

passion and temperance

Finally, Aristotle said we should strike a balance between passion and temperance. Youth makes us passionate, yet lacking self-control, while age can make us controlled, but lacking in passion. Aristotle would have midlifers "courageously temperate and temperately courageous." He would have us passionate about life, but not consumed with life’s passions. "Drink deeply from life’s experiences," Aristotle might say, "but know when to quit."

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