How to be happy? Advice from Epicurus, Nietzsche, Schopenhauer and more.

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Picture by Leonardo Valente  from: http://pixabay.com/

What is happiness? What is it linked to? Why are we not happy, even now when we have more than a king could have hoped for 100 years ago? Is there a secret formula to happiness? Does any of the 621,000,000 advises from the web actually work? To be happy do we have to be more, give more, struggle more, fight more, work more, or just feel more? Let’s look at the answers that some of the brightest minds in history have come up with for this question.

Epicurus, the famous ancient philosopher, believed that we need 3 main things in our life to be happy.

  1. Deep friendships, surround yourself with friends and live with them all the time, do not only get together once in a while for a drink. In his view, in order to be happy it is more important who you eat with rather than what you eat. So never eat a meal alone and spend as much time as you can with friends. Since most of our time is spent at work, you can see how important it is to be friends with the people in your company. In a recent study based on this idea, it was found that people who had a large group of friends where not only happier but also more likely to recover from illness.
  2. Freedom, especially financial freedom or the freedom of not having a boss that can give you orders and a status to prove to others. This does not mean being extremely wealthy but rather being self-sufficient and working on things that bring you joy instead of things that are forced upon you. He anticipated that if your basic needs are met you will not get happier by accumulating more wealth and this assumption was found out to be true in an experiment consisting of  600.000 Americans.
  3. An analyzed life = Meditation, take time off to reflect on your worries and analyze what is troubling you. Epicurus believed our anxieties quickly disappear when we start to challenge them.

But if it is so easy to be happy, why are not more people happy and why are we buying so much to keep us happy? Epicurus believed the reason for this is that the commercial world associates things they want to sell us with the things they know we actually need, for instance drinks with friendship, the sense of freedom with a holiday or a car and many more examples that I am sure you are very familiar with.

To overcome this propaganda, Epicurus suggested, it is very important to have constant reminders around us of the truly important virtues and things we wish to have in our lives.

One of this reminders could be the words of another famous philosopher, Seneca, who said that “True happiness is to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence upon the future, not to amuse ourselves with either hopes or fears but to rest satisfied with what we have, which is sufficient, for he that is so wants nothing. The greatest blessings of mankind are within us and within our reach. A wise man is content with his lot, whatever it may be, without wishing for what he has not“.

If you are a fan of documentaries : The Century of the Self is a must watch that validates Epicur’s ideas about the commercial world. The movie offers a great view on how and why the consumer society was founded, starting with the ideas of Sigmund Freud about the subconscious mind from the early 1900 and moving on to the individualism revolution of the 70′ and 80′. (You can find the intro at the end of the article)

Tony Robbins, a well known american motivational speakerin a modern approach of the subject, says that there are 7 basic human needs, and if they are met we experience happiness.

  1. Comfort, meaning the comfort of being certain that things will happen our way and that tomorrow we will be safe.
  2. Variety, we want to know what is going to happen tomorrow but we also want to be surprised and go on adventures.
  3. Significance, we want to feel that we are important, that we are not here in vain.
  4. Love, we want to be cared about and also we want to care for others.
  5. Growth, we want to grow our minds, our body, our happiness. Because if we are not growing we are dying.
  6. Contribution, we want to make the world a better place and help others around us.
  7. Belonging, we want to feel connected with other like-minded people.

If you are a fan of A. Schopenhauer you might not agree that love belongs on the list. He claimed that the biggest mistake people make is to associate love with happiness. He said that nothing is more important than love because the survival of our species depends on it, but he saw love as a proof that biology is stronger than reason. So, in his opinion, we fall in love not because it makes us happy but because we are programmed to do so and because we have to for our specie to survive.

If Schopenhauer’s point of view does not appeal to you, there is a new and radical idea based on the theory of the holographic universe. It suggests that, only when we stop judging things as being good or bad and start accepting events for what they are, without being attached to the need (and illusion) of controling them, we can be free and happy. They suggest that, only by letting go of judgement, we can truly feel gratefull for every events in our lives. Because without judging we will finally feel like in paradise, and we will have the same expirience as Adam and Eve before they ate from the apple of knowledge.

But maybe the most impressive example of a man who found happiness, even in the face of the biggest atrocities humanity has ever faced, is Victor Frankl. Friedrich Nietzsche said that hardship is essential on the road to happiness, and that this is the only way to build a strong character. He compered our journey in search for happiness with climbing a mountain: in order to reach the top and enjoy the view you must first be willing to make the effort of getting up there. And Victor Frankl, a psychiatrist and a Jew, seems to be the perfect example of this theory. During the Second World War, Frankl was closed in a concentration camp with inhumane conditions that can’t be described in this post. He lost his parents, his brother and his wife in the concentration camps. He was tortured and suffered terrible humiliations. Every day he would wake up not knowing if he will be sent to the gas chambers or if he will be left to live.

One day, when he was naked inside his cell, he felt in his conscious the last freedom of men, something that the Nazi could not take away from him. Although they could torture him and keep him locked, they could not take away his freedom of thought. His fundamental identity was intact. He could decide, inspired probably by the stoic philosophy, if he would let this affect him or not. Between what was happening to him and his response stood his freedom of choosing how to respond. So from that day Frankl started projecting himself in different situations, for instance into a classroom teaching to his students, after his release. With the eyes of the mind he was in that classroom, although his body was incarcerated. By using mental discipline and by using his memory to alter his emotion, he started to become more and more free in himself. And soon this reflected outwards, he became an inspiration for those around him and even for his guards. He also managed to help others find their purpose in the hardship they faced.

Faced with a terrifying prospect, Victor Frankl remembered that no one can be in control of our emotions, unless we allow them to be. Stress does not exist in nature, it is a product of the mind, and if the mind creates it the mind can also destroy it. Our thoughts are our final freedom and the only place where no one has access without our consent.

Of course everyone is different, people fulfill their needs in diverse ways and this is what determines most of our dissimilarities. That is why we would like to find out what makes you happy. Let us know your thoughts in the comment box bellow.

F.M.B. in collaboration with Irina Popa

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