The very act of trying to achieve happiness made people unhappy because of the anxiety they felt when they failed. They were happier when they weren’t trying. You know, like if somebody had told them it was out of their hands, or that they should focus on doing good things and declare the result to be “happiness,” regardless of what it looked like.
This is very similar to what I’ve been saying myself for a while: Explicitly striving for happiness is a recipe for failure. Happiness is not an attainable goal, primarily because of how our own brains work. Rather, the on best way to go about life, is to simply strive as much as possible to avoid pain and discomfort.The feeling of general happiness will naturally bubble up once this is achieved.
The more articles and studies I read on the matter, the more it seems that modern science is merely proving Epicurism true.
Ebon Muse from Dailight Atheism is pondering on what makes people happy and comes to a conclusion that is quite close to my own thinking:
Instead, I believe that goodness in life consists in gaining experience, having love and friendship, the acquisition of knowledge, the pleasure of creating things through artistry or craft, the practice of virtue toward others, and participation in meaningful and satisfying work.
The only thing I would disagree is that acquiring knowledge or being creative etc is a step for happiness. These are all things that different people might want and not an definite guide.
Instead I find that the way to achieve it is simply to have the capability to do whatever you wish, when you wish it. To achieve that one needs to only have the basics covered and those are the things that you need to fill first before one can start doing anything further.
Food, friends and shelter and the absence of pain.
One cannot pursue knowledge if one is starving and one will not care about satisfying work if he is living in solitude. These things are the prerequisites of any further action one can take. However these things are our only needs. One needs simply to have these four to be content with life. Further achievements can then be pursued if they do not contrast the basic four and add more spice to life but even when they cannot, they are not necessary.
Ebon Muse also seems to be at a loss to give a name to this philosophy of life. But a name for such a philosophy already exist and has done for more than 2000 years. Epicurism.
This is the philosophy that explains how striving for material wealth, fame, power etc is a recipe for disappointment. What is difficult to achieve never gets one happy for in the course of achieving it, the four pillars are eroded in one way of another. Thus one becomes powerful and friendless, or famous and sick from the stress.
Not only that, but because these four are so easy to achieve (compared to any other goal), it is the easiest thing for people to become happy in their life. Once one reaches this level, more flavour in one’s life can easily be added through altruistic objectives. For example, one’s meaningfull work can put towards helping more people reach this level as well, thus slowly improving the whole society.
I find it a bit sad that so many people in the world must rediscover Epicurism through “reinventing the wheel” through the ages. He was not simply of the first Atheists1 but also taught skepticism, materialism, tolerance through the only life philosophy that works. And this is something that many Humanists should study.