Living the Sweet Life: Aristotle’s 12 Virtues, the Fourth of Which is Liberality

Aunt Elaine and Nana.

This year marks my 15th anniversary writing my column Living the Sweet Life. This year also marks my 50th birthday. As a way of reflection and remembrance, this year’s Sweet Life will be a continuous study of Aristotle’s 12 Virtues and how they are applied to my life.

According to, liberality is the virtue disposing a person to the observance of a reasonable mean between the opposite extremes of prodigality and stinginess in making expenditures intended for the benefit of others. What this means really is once you have acquired the financial means to support yourself, what will you do with extra money? Will you be like Ebenezer Scrooge in Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol and hoard every penny for yourself and save, save, save for a rainy day? Or, will you throw all of it away on presents for family and friends and things for yourself?

Everything we do when done in balance creates a state of peace. Read that again. Aristotle’s teachings of all of the virtues are meant to show us this. Having money is not good or bad. Having a lot of money or more than you need to tend to yourself and then not helping someone or wasting it is the problem. Balance. Too often we see people who are stingy and miserable, and we see others who have fortunes that they squander.  Both result in a miserable, unfulfilled life.

Now, I’ll never pretend to be rich. I have had good years and bad years, and when my family has needed me to help them, and I could do so, I have. In thinking back over my life writing about the virtues this year, I have tried to remember the best of times these past 50 years and how the virtues have played out in my own life. I remembered a time many years ago when I threw a party for my Nana. She was turning 101 and had only one living sister. I decided that I would fly Nana with my sister and her children here, and I would also fly her sister and her nephew in for a little shindig. It was expensive to fly all those people here and to feed them, etc. Brian was not particularly thrilled with spending the money on this, but I insisted. I bought their tickets, and when the sisters reunited, I watched my grandmother and her only living sister sit and hold hands and giggle. They talked about when they were little and were giddy at getting the chance to see each other again. It had been years since they had seen each other. We planned meals and Nana wanted “rock fish” and chocolate cake, and I did my best to find and make everything exactly as she directed. The sisters were only together here for a few days, but in that time, they caught up, slept together each night as they had as little girls and really enjoyed time. It was the last time they ever would see each other. It was also the best money that I have ever spent.

Years have passed, and I as I recollect about liberality for this and how I have used my money for good over the years, it goes without saying that I have no regrets in having spent a sizable amount to give my grandmother that last birthday party and a chance to see and sit and love her sister that she had not seen in so long. I have never been a stingy person, and I have to say if you have money and you know some good that you can do with it that won’t harm your own needs in any way, it’s part of living fully to practice liberality and share. Money doesn’t buy happiness but knowing that I gave a gift that cannot be put into words by having the means to share it and provide that experience is one of the highlights of living my own sweet life.

Take care of you!