For the Ancient Greeks, virtue wasn’t a goal in and of itself, but rather a route to a life well lived. By being honest and generous, embodying diligence and fortitude, showing restraint and kindness, a person would flourish—coming to live a life filled with meaning and finding an enduring, as opposed to ephemeral, happiness. Today, that view hasn’t much changed. While we hear plenty of stories of celebrities, politicians and even our neighbors finding fleeting pleasure through self-gratification, dishonesty or hubris, we can also see the ‘other shoe’ eventually drop, leading to despair, social rejection or worse.
If it’s true that virtue leads to a life well lived—a view that receives more empirical backing with each passing year—the question How do I become virtuous? takes on a bit of urgency. For the majority of ethicists, both ancient and modern, the answer is clear: virtue comes from living an examined life, one where deep deliberation leads to the embrace of noble qualities such as honesty and generosity, no matter how difficult it can be to enact them.
There’s a problem with this well-worn path, however. In a busy world where many feel inundated with the demands of daily life, devoting time to philosophical deliberation—worthy as it might be—can feel like an elusive luxury. So while the usual route for pursuing virtue can certainly work, after more than two decades studying how emotions shape the mind, I think there might be an easier way to achieve the same end.