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  The Philosophy of Happiness

There are at least three main determinants of happiness
1. The quality of society: Research has shown that “average” happiness varies according to economic development, political democracy and a cultural climate of tolerance.

2. The individual’s position in a society; not only the position on the social status ladder, but also the individuals’ involvement in society

3. An individuals’ psychological strengths, self-understanding, ability to use “emotional intelligence” and solve problems, as well as turn problems into opportunities. Martin Seligman coined the phrase “learned optimism” which is the potential to create optimism.

Philosophers through the Ages
Socrates identified self-confidence as critical to happiness. He was most concerned that individuals asserted their values, opinions and thoughts rather than acting like sheep and following the crowd. He felt that people were too easily swayed by others’ opinions and that the individual should hold his or her position and express their confidence.

The Greek philosopher Epicurus (341BCE) viewed happiness as closely related to the individuals’ ability to form friendships, experience freedom and express ones’ thoughts openly and honestly. In his treatise “friends, freedom and thought” Epicurus urged society to become active in self-expression rather than isolative and repressed.

The Roman philosopher Seneca (4BCE) held that anger was a philosophical problem requiring debate. He felt that anger could be controlled by curbing unrealistic expectations which often led to disappointment and anger. This raises the importance of realism and acceptance rather than becoming too optimistic.

In the 16th Century a French philosopher Montaigne identified low self-esteem as a core reason for unhappiness. He noted that there were three main reasons for low self esteem, these being firstly, sexual inadequacy, second, a failure to live up to social expectations and third, feeling inferior on an intellectual level.

The 19th Century German thinker Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) believed that love was the most important thing in life because of its powerful impulse towards 'the will-to-life' whilst Friedrich Nietzsche's (1844-1900) stated that worthwhile achievements in life come from the experience of overcoming hardship.

The Happiest Countries
On the World Database of Happiness there is rating of happiness in 90 nations (1990s). the list is based on average responses to a question about life-satisfaction as rated on a 0 to 10 scale.

The 10 highest averages are observed in:
8.0 Denmark
8.0 Malta
8.0 Switzerland
7.8 Iceland
7.8 Ireland
7.6 Canada
7.6 Luxembourgh
7.6 Netherlands
7.5 Mexico
7.5 Sweden
3.3 Zimbabwe

Your own happiness
Reading the works of the ancient philosophers there are many suggestions for increasing happiness. These include

  • stay realistic and avoid unrealistic expectations
  • make friends and remain socially active
  • express yourself assertively
  • be proactive and not submissive
  • think rationally

Today Cognitive Behaviour Therapy uses the principles above to help people live happier and more fulfilling lives. See “Beat Depression with CBT” for further information on this website.

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