Classic wisdom about ways to happiness: How does it apply today?

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Since we humans have some choice in how we live our lives, there has always been ideas about what constitutes a good life. Written reflections on that subject focus typically on moral issues, but there have always been ideas about what constitutes a satisfying life. Interest in this classic wisdom is increasing today, as part of the rising concern about happiness. This begs the question of what we can learn from this ancient wisdom. Does it hold universal truth? Or are these views specific for the historical conditions from which they emerged? In this paper I consider some classic beliefs about happiness and inspect how well these apply in contemporary society. The following five beliefs are considered: 1) Happiness is found in fame and power: follow the path of the warrior. 2) Happiness is found in wealth and involvement: follow the path of the merchant. 3) Happiness is found in intellectual development: follow the path of the philosopher. 4) Happiness is found in simplicity: follow the path of the peasant. 5) Happiness is not of this world: follow the path of the monk. Each of these ways to happiness will manifest in specific behaviors and attitudes and I inspected to what extent these go together with happiness today. To do this. I selected relevant research findings from the World Database of Happiness. The classic beliefs 1 and 2 seem to apply fairly well today, but 3 and 4 not. The advice to seek happiness in other-worldly detachment (5) may have been more sensible in the brutish conditions of feudal society, in which it emerged.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationPursuit of happiness and the traditions of wisdom
EditorsV Giorgino
Place of PublicationDordrecht
Number of pages12
ISBN (Print)9783319047447
Publication statusPublished - 2015

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