Happiness – an acquisition list

In his book The Consolations of Philosophy,” French philosopher and writer Alain de Botton condenses the wisdom of some of the world’s greatest thinkers into advice for us today.

Amazon describes The Consolations of Philosophy: “Solace for the broken heart can be found in the words of Schopenhauer [but de Botton offers us much humor too as he describes the old lecherous Schopenhauer trying to marry girls half his age].  The ancient Greek Epicurus has the wisest, and most affordable, solution to cash flow problems. A remedy for impotence lies in Montaigne. Seneca offers advice upon losing a job. And Nietzsche has shrewd counsel for everything from loneliness to illness.”

Go to: https://www.amazon.com/Consolations-Philosophy-Alain-Botton/dp/0679779175 The Kindle version is $6.99.

One of the most interesting parts of the book for me was the ideas of Epicurus as to what brings us happiness.  Although I’ve associated Epicurus with over-the-top sensual pleasure, he actually promoted simplicity.  Epicurus influenced Lucretius, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Immanuel Kant among others.

Roman marble bust of Epicurus:

Epicurus b. 341 BC d. 270 BC

Epicurus b.. 341 B.C. d. 270 B.C.


Alain de Botton explains Epicurus’ philosophy  pertaining to happiness:  “Why, then if expensive things cannot bring us remarkable joy, are we so powerfully drawn to them?  Because of an error similar to that of the migraine sufferer who drills a hole in the side of his skull: because expensive objects can feel like plausible solutions to needs we don’t understand.  Objects mimic in a material dimension what we require in a psychological one.  We need to rearrange our minds but are lured towards new shelves.  We buy a cashmere cardigan as a substitute for the counsel of friends.

We are not solely to blame for our confusions.  Our weak understanding of our needs is aggravated by what Epicurus termed the ‘idle opinions’ of those around us, which do not reflect the natural hierarchy of our needs, emphasizing luxury and riches, seldom friendship, freedom and thought.  The prevalence of idle opinion is no coincidence.  It is in the interests of commercial enterprises to skew the hierarchy of our needs, to promote a material vision of the good and downplay an unsaleable one.

And the way we are enticed is through the sly association of superfluous objects with our other, forgotten needs.

It may be a jeep we end up buying, but it was –for Epicurus – freedom we were looking for” (65-66).


From: http://www.gograph.com/vector-clip-art/jeep.html  

“It may be the aperitif we purchase, but it was —  for Epicurus — friendship we were after” (66).



“[B]ecause an increase in the wealth of societies seems not to guarantee an increase in happiness, Epicurus would have suggested that the needs which expensive goods cater to cannot be those on which our happiness depends.

Happiness, an acquisition list 9 [based on the ideas of Epirurus].

  1. A hut. [You may have a palace or a McMansion – but not be happy.  However to be happy, you do need a place of shelter and safety – even if it is only very modest].
    k6977024vs. images-1

Image from: http://clv.h-cdn.co/assets/cm/15/09/54f0d9d889efa_-_01-millertinyhouse-048-edit1-lgn.jpg

2. Friends –






3. To avoid superiors, patronization, infighting and competition.


4. Thought.  [Epicurus considered main sources of anxiety: death, illness, poverty, superstition.  Now since jobs/careers and a sense of meaning seem most important].

5. A reincarnation of Giovanni Bellini’s Madonna (from the Galleria dell’Accademia in Venice), whose melancholy expression would belie a dry sense of humour and spontaneity — and who would dress in manmade fibres from the sales racks of modest department stores. [This is de Botton’s interpretation of what Epicurus must mean as a significant other in our life.  Barry is that for me].


Giovanni Bellini’s Madonna

Image from:  https://www.pinterest.com/pin/141019032053199544/

Happiness may be difficult to attain.  The obstacles are not primarily financial” (71-72).[my emphases}.

Read this interesting, wise, humorous book for advice you may use.


Aloha, Renée

Clip art from:  http://www.gograph.com/vector-clip-art




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About reneeriley

Our blog was begun as a way to share our experiences in China. From August 2010 to July 2011, my husband, Barry Kristel, and I were at our University of Hawaii Maui College sister school, Zhejiang Agriculture and Forestry University in Lin'an, China, a city considered rural because it has only 500,000 people! We had a wonderful time. Then in February 2012, we returned to teach this time at our other sister school, Shanghai Normal University, in a city of over 21 million people. We've made many discoveries. Did you know that now Chinese girls, at least the ones who go to university, for the most part feel they are luckier than the Chinese boys? Did you know that Shanghai saved over 20,000 European Jews during WWII? Do you know how Chinese university students would deal with problems that come up in Dear Abby letters? What's it like to be on the Great Wall of China? Do you know how many Chinese girls had their feet bound and why? And we have recipes from many of the places we've visited. Among others, you can find instructions on how to fry cicadas from one of my ZAFU students and how to make chocolate-Kahlua waffles from my brother Mike in Gainesville. You can also look back to our earliest entry to see what we experienced in Oaxaca, Mexico, in 2006 during the mainly peaceful six months of protest until the Mexican government sent in the troops. Between our stays in China, Barry and I have been on the Mainland U.S. visiting family, friends and Servas hosts as we traveled home to Maui. We share those experiences too. Welcome to our blog! Aloha and Zài Jiàn, Renée and Barry

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