It’s All Greek to Me: Connecting Philosophy and Mental Health

Icarus

Olive oil, the Olympics, architecture, college fraternity names, ah yes, the Greeks influence over our lives never ceases to be blatantly apparent. If you were anything like me and were addicted to the Percy Jackson series as a kid, then you should also know some mythology as well. One of the most infamous stories is the myth of Icarus, who along with his father Daedalus, are now cemented in history for their hubris. The tale essentially describes the father and son fashioning wings made out of feathers and wax, flying high above the ocean in defiance of their humanity. However, Icarus became arrogant and decided to test his limits, flying too close to the sun and causing his wings to melt,  falling to his untimely demise. While this myth is, well, just a myth, it was clear that the ancient Greeks were trying to make at least a moral or use their reasoning to devise some folklore. Indeed, one of the Greek’s greatest contributions lies in their academic thought: philosophy. 

I’m sure in history class we’ve all heard of the philosophers Plato and Aristotle, and we can’t forget about Socrates whose beloved Socratic seminars are a staple in any English curriculum. Philosophy is the study of knowledge and morals, asking the questions of life and why/how should we exist. While that definition may seem overly technical and profound, in reality, we’re all philosophers in our own way. We all go about our lives with a level of intention, trying to determine what is right and what is wrong. Doing some soul searching and taking a second to recalibrate is natural and has been around for millennia. 

There are a few philosophical questions that I want to personally ponder that I believe provide us some clarity in our lives, therefore improving our mental health. As I do in many blog posts, I feel more than ever I have to sincerely preface that I am by no means an expert in philosophy, but merely a novice who finds some of these queries to be helpful in my own experiences. I do not have the answers to life, nor do I think anyone can have all the answers. These are just some of my takes that if you want to explore more on your own, I encourage you fully to do so. 

What is creativity and how do we get it?

What’s the first thing that pops into your mind when you hear the word ‘creative?’ You might think of a great artist like Picasso or Michaelangelo, or maybe a poet or writer like Shakespeare. Whatever runs through your mind, we have a tendency to believe that certain activities are more inherently creative than others: a dancer or musician is creative while an accountant or mathematician is not. Yet, creativity has little to do with the action itself, but more with the individual. Creativity is an approach, a quality we give to an activity, not vice versa. Not everyone can or wants to be a renowned painter, and that’s why so many people believe that they are not born creative. But you can draw uncreatively, dance uncreatively, and even write uncreatively. Creatively lies in doing what you love. It’s about putting all that you have into action and doing so with joy. Small things become great with the touch of delight and love. Simply being able to smile and laugh is a creative act on its own, and you shouldn’t let anything take that away.

What is success?

Success varies from one person to the other. Maybe it’s academic like furthering your education, or financial and accumulating a large sum of money or even just trying to be happy and help others. Whatever it is, we can agree there isn’t a single definition that defines success, but we also all know that it takes a level of effort to achieve our ambitions. Many of us are told that our potential is limitless, that with some hard work we can achieve our greatest desires. However, there is a flip side to this story. What happens if you don’t work hard, and are the consequences of that solely on the individual? I read a quote that summed this duality up perfectly, “Is the unintended consequence of being told we are capable of doing anything, that many of us feel responsible for doing nothing?” I think everyone can relate to having an unproductive stretch, and sometimes feeling a little guilty for not making use of the time. It can be difficult to validate giving ourselves time off, but the fault might be in our very ideas of success. Success isn’t just one singular objective, but usually multi-dimensional. If you were to give yourself no break from school or work, would that really satisfy you? It most likely wouldn’t because relaxation and having fun is a part of the human experience. We have to know what will make us fulfilled before we can actually be fulfilled. Whatever that is, that is what success is.

What is fun?

I can assume the last place you think of when discussing philosophy is TikTok, but there is this great TikTok creator called “American Baron” whose videos I have been obsessed with. Recently I stumbled upon a series of skits he’s been making where a human explains several concepts of life to an alien (I promise it’s much more exciting than it sounds). In a specific skit, the duo explores the idea of fun and what exactly is its purpose. The alien asks, “Why do humans need to have fun?” to which the human replies, “If you’re not having fun, then what are you doing?” For the most part, I have never stopped to think about why fun is pleasurable, or what it really is as an idea. I know I’m having fun when I’m playing basketball or hanging out with my friends, but I can’t exactly pinpoint why throwing a ball into a small hoop is enjoyable. In a similar sense, it goes to show that fun can be found in pretty much everything. While fun differs for everyone and I can’t explain the intricacies of it as a whole, it’s clear we need it. It’s our most primitive train of thought that we should have fun, and sometimes we lose track of that with everything around us. Enjoying life should be the ultimate goal, and it’s through being content with our lives that we become enlightened.

Daedalus

It seems fitting to end with the myth of Daedalus. While I explained how the story of Icarus goes, the story of Daedalus is one that goes mostly unknown. Daedalus was a prodigious architect and engineer of his time, creating some of the most innovative inventions of Athens. However, he was far from a stereotypical genius. He murdered his own nephew out of jealousy, and he became obsessively pretentious with his inventions. Whether it was the wings he made to escape the tower or sails for boats to control the winds and seas, he wanted to be one step closer to doing what no human could: being a god. Sadly, he did pay the price with the regret of his late son Icarus, but it serves as a warning of what happens when we stray away from who we are. We are very much human, and we weren’t given a list of answers to how life is meant to be lived. There’s a reason why philosophy is still a study today because we’re still trying to solve all the secrets of humanity. So if you find yourself struggling to come up with any resolutions now, know that you’re not alone. It’s been almost 3,000 years since the existence of ancient Greece, and life is still very much all greek to me and everyone around us. Luckily, we have philosophy to help us translate a little.

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