Leadership Lessons from Confucius: three kinds of joy

Confucius said: “There are three kinds of joy that lift you up and three kinds of joy that drag you down. Taking joy in honing your conduct and character through ritual and music, taking joy in delighting in the goodness of other people, and taking joy in having a wide circle of worthy friends — all these lift you up. Taking joy in arrogant boastfulness, taking joy in licentious wantonness, and taking joy in excessive indulgence — all these drag you down.”
孔子曰:「益者三樂,損者三樂。樂節禮樂,樂道人之善,樂多賢友,益矣。樂驕樂,樂佚遊,樂宴樂,損矣。」

Choose your pleasures wisely if you wish to lead a fulfilling life. As tempting as it can be to take a walk along the wild side, once you have ventured down its dark winding alleys it can be very difficult to find your way back out of them.

Notes

This article features a translation of Chapter 5 of Book 16 of the Analects of Confucius. You can read my full translation of Book 16 here.

(1) Confucius is pointing out that self-cultivation is a continuous process in which you perfect your behavior through ritual practice and edify your mind and senses through music. He also places great store on leading an active and healthy social life. Having a circle of close friends who mutually support and correct each other is another essential element of the process.

(2) In 2.4, Confucius candidly admits that it took him until he was seventy to reach this heightened state. The only one of his followers who achieved it was his protégé Yan Hui.

I took this image of the sunrise at Alishan in central Taiwan.

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I live in Taiwan and am interested in exploring what ancient Chinese philosophy can tell us about technology and the rise of modern China.

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Richard Brown

Richard Brown

I live in Taiwan and am interested in exploring what ancient Chinese philosophy can tell us about technology and the rise of modern China.

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