“We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light”
Fulfillment is something many people seek, but few are ever able to achieve. It’s unfortunate because fulfillment is such an amazing feeling — it even supersedes many other life achievements. Money, status, awards, experiences, and life events are great, but ultimately meaningless if there isn’t an intrinsic feeling of fulfillment attached to them.
Most of us never learn how to become fulfilled either because no one teaches us. Parents tend to gloss over it in favour of aiming for a stable career. Schools don’t even touch it as it isn’t a part of their set curriculum. Still, for such an important subject, there must be some way to study it.
Lucky for us, there is a man who can help us out: Plato.
Plato is one of the world’s greatest ever philosophers. Born in Athens, Greece in 427 BCE, Plato dedicated his life to one amazing goal: helping people reach a state of what he termed eudaimonia or in English fulfillment. He wrote many books on the subject, mainly discussions about how one can achieve fulfillment in their life. These discussions can be broken down into three big ideas.
(1) Think more
“The first and greatest victory is to conquer yourself; to be conquered by yourself is of all things most shameful and vile.”
We rarely take the time to think about our lives and what we should do with them. We usually just follow the crowd and popular opinions.
It’s quite interesting to observe this. If we really look back at our earlier days, how many of us have ended up in our current careers because our parents or teachers said it was a good idea? Often times, our decisions are strongly shaped by our environment and those around us. We adopt the religious beliefs, life mindset, working habits, interests, and even hobbies of the people we are closest to.
The problem is that this often ends up leading down a path that is wrong for us in careers, relationships, and values. We haven’t rationally looked at all the options. We haven’t researched or experimented with things ourselves before choosing. We haven’t taken the time to seriously consider what we truly want.
Plato says that you should “know thyself” in order to be able to direct your life in a way that is positive and fulfilling. Examine your own thoughts, ideas, and decisions. Are they rational or are they influenced by something or someone else on the outside? Do they have logical support or are you being dragged along by your feelings?
Think about who you truly are as a person and what you want. Is your current life what you want it to be? Are you heading down the right path for you? If not, how would you change it? What are the things you want to achieve and what proactive steps can you take to achieve them? Give your life a proper direction by ensuring that all that you do has a reason and purpose that you believe in.
(2) Let your lover change you
“He whom love touches walks not in darkness”
The most common idea of a romantic lover is someone who accepts you just the way you are. All your flaws, mistakes, and feelings are accepted, even understood, by this one person. We often look for people who are familiar to us. They share the same hobbies and passions, like the same things, and on a deep level, they remind us of our own families. It’s a perfect match of personalities.
Plato argues against this type of romantic love, saying that it is ultimately flawed and doesn’t truly benefit us. If your partner always accepts you, then how can they help you improve? Acceptance might feel comfortable, but it also means that your partner never helps you see and fix your mistakes. If your partner is too similar to you, then you won’t get the chance to try anything new or to see things from a different perspective.
Plato instead says that the ideal lover for you is a person who has very good qualities that you yourself do not have. You can learn a lot from such a person because your differences are contrasted. The good qualities that you lack become far more obvious. This may hurt at first, but it ultimately helps you point out areas for improvement.
If you’re a shy person dating someone brave, then their bravery will rub off on you. You see their courage, learn from it, and then eventually adopt some of that quality yourself from being so intimately close to it. If you’re someone who always works extremely hard, being with someone who is more relaxed will help you to unplug and experience the less serious, more joyful parts of life.
Plato sums this up by saying that a couple shouldn’t necessarily love each other so perfectly as they are right now. Instead, they should be committed to helping each other reach their full potential. They should seduce each other into becoming the best version of themselves. The presence and experience of someone who helps you to become the best version of yourself is the most fulfilling kind of relationship there is.
(3) Decode the message of beauty
“Even in reaching for the beautiful there is beauty, and also in suffering whatever it is that one suffers en route”
Everyone loves beautiful things. We love to see the strength of large, vast mountains. We love to see the perfect shape and symmetry of sexy people. We love to see vibrant and exciting colours in nature.
Plato was the first person to ask why do we love beautiful things? An obvious yet shallow answer would be something like “they make us happy” or “they turn us on.” But that’s not really the whole story. We can go a lot deeper: why does seeing these things make us happy? Why do they turn us on?
Plato of course had an answer for this. It was that beautiful objects reveal important truths that can help us in our lives. We find something beautiful when we subconsciously see that the object has a personal quality that is valuable to us but that we are currently missing.
The beautiful architecture of Europe showcases balance and creativity, qualities that are missing from many people’s days. Green nature shows peace and harmony, things that the fast and competitive modern workplace lacks. The ferocious tigers and lions that we see on wilderness documentaries display strength and power, qualities that many of us wish to have.
Therefore, such beautiful things have a very important function: they help to educate us by showing us what we should improve upon. They make us feel a desire to bring new, positive qualities into our lives, or to express them if they are just hidden within. Our subconscious mind is telling us what we must do to reach our full potential. We can use the things we find beautiful as guides for self-improvement and fulfillment.
The Greek philosopher Plato dedicated his life to understanding how people can achieve fulfillment. He had a lot of incredible ideas, but these are the big three:
- Think more —understand who you are and what you want so you can take your life in the best direction
- Let your lover change you — choose a partner who has some contrast to you and will seduce you into reaching your full potential
- Decode the message of beauty — understand the qualities that make things beautiful; they are your guide for self-improvement and fulfillment
** Note: all quotes in this article are from Plato