Updated: Mar 12, 2021
The uniqueness of each person is one of the few certainties in this world and so is that we are all looking for happiness, we all desire to be happy, even though this may translate into different things for each one of us. Happiness is a subject that has interested almost all people, I dare say, and many of the greatest philosophers of all times. By studying their ideas one can find tips and inspiration towards the actions that need to be taken to find happiness. I have summarised principles of some of the most important ones below.
Aristotle was the first philosopher to introduce ‘the science of happiness’ (Pursuit of Happiness, 2018). He put forward the term ‘eudaimonia’ to describe the state of happiness for humans, the main ingredient of which is living in a virtuous way. According to him friendship was of great importance too, as friendship is the greatest virtue. Eudaimonia was seen by Aristotle as the ultimate goal, one which required a great deal of rational reflection and excellence of character. He described happiness as a state that is long term once attained. Heather Craig mentions in her article The Philosophy of Happiness in Life: ‘Happiness (eudaimonia), to Aristotle, meant attaining the ‘daimon’ or perfect self (Waterman, 1990). Reaching the ‘ultimate perfection of our natures’, as Aristotle meant by happiness, includes rational reflection (Pursuit of Happiness, 2008).’ Aristotle believed that happiness exists in achieving all the goods, that would include wealth, health, knowledge etc., which would then lead to the perfection of human nature and to the enrichment of human life. To reach happiness it is required by the individual to make choices, some easy and some not, the easy ones would result in short term gain and pleasure and the difficult ones in long term satisfaction.
“You have power over your mind-not outside events. Realize this and you will find strength.” –Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
According to stoicism to live the ideal life one has to live in harmony with nature, as we are all part of it, and to not be affected by external events, to remain calm and indifferent when negative events do occur. The stoics advise on not thinking and worrying of things that you cannot control. Epictetus believes that we can control very little indeed. For example we cannot control what happens to us, we can’t control peoples’ opinions on what we say or do and we cannot control what others say or do. The only thing that we do control is our thoughts and how we perceive events. Therefore things cannot upset us or cause other negative feelings to us, what we think of them does. As John Sellars explains: ‘Stuff happens. We then make judgements about what happens. If we judge that something really bad has happened, then we might get upset, sad, or angry, depending on what it is. If we judge that something bad is likely to happen then we might get scared or fearful. All these emotions are the product of the judgements we make. Things in themselves are value neutral, for what might seem terrible to us might be a matter of indifference to someone else, or even welcomed by others. It’s the judgements we make that introduce value into the picture, and it’s those value judgements that generate our emotional responses.’ The way stoics achieved this state of mind was by different means. These included journaling, writing at the end of the day all the things they had done wrong and work on improving them and not repeating the same mistakes. Another tactic recommended by them is remembering our own relevant unimportance in order to realise that we should not expect the universe to deliver whatever it is that we desire at each given moment in time. Another stoic principle is to not waste time, the thought of death can therefore be used as motivation to use our time wisely and do the things the matter to us. Lastly the stoics believe that simplicity is the main ingredient of a happy life, they advocate that what is essential is easily obtain, as it is within each person, it is the needless luxuries that are not easily acquired. As explained on dailystoic.com to find happiness according to stoicism : ‘We should constantly be mindful of whether our thoughts and actions are doing anything to move us forward or improve our lives. What’s necessary is what moves you forward and makes you better and happier. Anything else is unnecessary. So, to everything in your life, things, thoughts, and actions alike, constantly be questioning whether it’s necessary. If it’s not, cut it.’
Before looking at some of the details of this philosophy it would be best to make clear that the way ‘epicurean’ is used, to describe a person who overindulges in worldly pleasures, is very far from what Epicurus teachings were. As L.A. Brandenburg explains on intellectuallyfit.com: ‘While Epicurus believed that pleasure was the greatest good, he believed that it should be attained by living modestly and learning about the world around us – not the ‘eat and drink all you like’ philosophy. Epicurus recommended a virtuous and somewhat ascetic (self-disciplined) life as the best means to finding happiness and pleasure.’ Epicurus, a Greek philosopher who lived in the 4th century bc, thought that the absolute measures of good and bad are pleasure and pain. He argues about how unreasonable fear is; in most situations and how this can lead to unnecessary suffering and anxiety. When focusing on the pleasures, he refers to the things that one needs to be content without exaggeration, he does not promote overconsumption of delicacies, as this though it may offer the instant delusion of contentment in the long run would cause suffering, by pleasure he means the absence of pain in the body and trouble in the soul. He claims that his biggest secret to happiness, ataraxia as he called the state of absolute bliss; is being as independent of external things as possible and focus on the pleasures that matter the most such as knowledge and time spent amongst friends in pursuit of the philosophical truth. As explained by Neel Burton on Psychology Today ‘Epicurus proceeds to distinguish between two different types of pleasure, ‘moving pleasures’ and ‘static pleasures’. Moving pleasures involve the satisfying of a desire, for example, eating a meal when hungry. Static pleasures on the other hand involve the state of having had a desire satisfied, for example, feeling sated after eating a meal. Static pleasures, says Epicurus, are better than moving pleasures because they free us from the pain of need or want.’ Epicurus himself lived very close to his friends and students in what was called the Garden, an actual garden located in Athens, with flowers and beautiful, shady trees bearing fruits, where several different houses for all his students were located.
This is the first of few posts looking into the different philosophical views on happiness and how it can be attained. Let me know your views on the above ideas and stay tuned.