Happiness (you can’t buy it …)

(Image: Jenny Holzer, Protect Me From What I Want)

Does anyone really think that consuming more and more material goods will really make us happy? In this age of manic consumerism and unsustainability, perhaps we should cast our eyes again over the work of the ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus, whose philosophy, far from being a celebration of hedonism, was actually a rather thoughtful account of what it is that actually makes us happy, not more and more of the same old disposable commodities, but friends, freedom and an examined life.

(Image: Kruger, I Shop therefore I Am)

Epicurus’ philosophy: “For Epicurus, the purpose of philosophy was to attain the happy, tranquil life, characterized by ataraxia, peace and freedom from fear, and aponia, the absence of pain, and by living a self-sufficient life surrounded by friends. He taught that pleasure and pain are the measures of what is good and evil, that death is the end of the body and the soul and should therefore not be feared, that the gods do not reward or punish humans, that the universe is infinite and eternal, and that events in the world are ultimately based on the motions and interactions of atoms moving in empty space” (Wikipedia). One of Epicurus’s later followers, Diogenes of Oenoanda, a town on what is now the south west coast of Turkey, was a wealthy man who wanted to educate his community about the real nature of happiness. To do so, he erected a gigantic stone wall around the agora, or marketplace, that advertised, not the goods for sale in the market, but Epicurus’ philosophy, to remind them, and us, that consumerism and wasteful consumption of resources is not the key to happiness but its opposite.

See a video account of Epicurus’ ideas about happiness by philosopher Alain de Botton here.


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