Forming our heart helps us to live virtuous, happy lives.
From ancient times, it was thought that feelings that diminish or take away personal freedom are bad. From this perspective, we should seek prudent conduct, guided by reason that imposes itself on our irrational desires. Greek philosophy elaborated on the idea of human beings’ inner freedom: a freedom that is not a point of departure, but a conquest that each person has to achieve. Each one of us must acquire self-control, imposing the rule of reason. This is called virtue. Happiness, in this view, is the result of virtue.
Feelings and virtue
This is not to say that all feelings are bad. Feelings are a powerful human reality, one that moves us strongly to act or refrain from acting, for better or worse. Our emotions bring richness to life, and are decisive for a successful and happy life, but they must be properly channeled and educated. We must learn to favor the feelings that help us to act properly, and to control the feelings that would impede us from acting virtuously or encourage us to do what is wrong. Our ability to manage our emotions largely conditions our ability to live a psychologically and spiritually healthy, virtuous life. Education in the practice of virtues and education of the heart necessarily go hand in hand.
Example and good communication
Learning how we should feel and how to manage our emotions starts as soon as we are born. In this kind of education, role models are particularly important. To illustrate this, it is enough to think about how the ability to recognize the pain of others, to understand others, and to give help to those who need it, is transmitted from parents to children. We all learn the emotional “style” of our parents in a natural way, and we record it in our memory without realizing it, as we observe the behavior of those around us.
For children to learn how to properly handle and educate their feelings, it is essential that there be a comfortable home atmosphere, and good communication. It’s important that it be easy in the family to create moments of greater intimacy, in which each person can express their feelings freely and confidently, so those feelings can be shared, understood, and educated.
Although the ideal is that we learn to react healthily to situations and to our feelings starting when we are young, it’s never too late to grow and mature in this area. We need to learn to identify our feelings, what triggers them, and how they affect our lives. This self-awareness will make it possible for us to work on managing our feelings better and living a more virtuous life.
In the end, we need to remember the lesson of the Greeks: happiness is not about doing whatever we feel like doing, but about learning to feel peace and satisfaction in doing what we should be doing.