Epicurus on happiness

EpicurusThe subject of happiness has been studied by Philosophers all around the World and continues today to be one of the most written-about and discussed subjects with a plethora of books and courses.  One statistic quotes of happiness that 50% is genetic (our internal set-point), 10% is life circumstances  and 40% is day to day activities. Happiness levels though are remarkably stable over the long term and that 3-6 months following either a positive or negative life event, we return to our usual happiness level, that is – to an extent- predetermined.

I thought we’d take a slightly different perspective and go back in time – to discuss the views of Epicurus.

Epicurus was an ancient Greek philosopher (341BC- 270BC) and founder of Epicureanism, a school of Philosophy which greatly emphasized the importance of pleasure. Epicurus led a simple life, following on from his conclusions on what actually  made a life pleasurable.

Essentially, Epicurus concluded that the three most important factors constituting a happy life were:

1. Friends

2. Freedom

3. Analyzed Life

  • Friendship/social bonds were one of the most important factors of living a good, happy life. He did not believe that the path to happiness was necessarily paved with material wealth and luxury.   Money and happiness are correlated  to a certain point- yes-  but beyond this…more does not mean more.  “Of all the things that wisdom provides to help one live one’s entire life in happiness, the greatest by far is the possession of friendship”.  Epicurus recognised that a handful of true friends could deliver the love and respect that even a fortune may not.
  • Freedom was the second factor. This could also be considered as  independence- not having to work for people you don’t like and be under their command. The freedom could be less money and more happiness. “We must free ourselves from the prison of everyday affairs and politics”
  • An analyzed or examined life was the third factor. Socrates (470BC-399BC) years before had also stated  that “the unexamined life is not worth living”. Anxieties about anything are lessened by their acknowledgment and open discussion- whether this be writing it down  or discussing it. The problem gets broken down and any secondary underlying emotions/thoughts/feelings come to a surface that can then also be addressed and resolved.  The truth really will set you free.

What Epicurus is saying then, is that if a person has money without friends, freedom and an examined life, they will never be truly happy.  And if a person has all these three factors, but does not  have the wealth/fortune, they will never be unhappy.

Below is a link to a very interesting and informative video clip (only about 20min!) presented by the London-based Swiss philosopher Alain de Botton, author of ” The Consolations of Philosophy“.