Happiness comes from within

By WittyKnitter

In January of 2009 I wrote this post. Here’s the first paragraph:

In yesterday’s Herald the irritatingly smug Prof Bob Cummins popped up again to remind us that people who live in the Inner West of Sydney are the unhappiest in Australia. Apparently people who live in a small town in Victoria (popn 4000) are the happiest in Australia, because everyone knows everyone and they all keep an eye on each other’s kids and they pop in and out of each other’s houses all the time (these details from a radio interview).

The gist of it was that the pronouncements of a psychologist from Deakin University, comparing how happy Australians are in various kinds of communities, are deeply suspect because the main assumption they are based on is that people are happier when they live in a physically close-knit community. I totally dispute this: I prefer to live in relative isolation and don’t want or need to know my neighbours in any but a passing, chatty kind of way. And the commenters on that post agreed.

I have friends; I don’t need to live next to them, or even near them. Some of them are online friends, people I’ve never seen or even seen a decent photo of. I conduct quite a proportion of my social life online these days, and almost all my family life. Online relationships are not even considered in the construction of Prof Cummins’ “Australian Happiness Index”. And I constantly read what a danger online life is to ‘real’ friendships – strange to me when most of my friendships with local people are at least partially conducted online these days, even with people I see fairly often.  I probably know more about friends whom I follow on Facebook that I’d ever find out in the few times a year when we actually see each other. What we’ve posted on blogs or facebook is like the backstory when we do get together, and we can move on to talk about other things.

I have neighbours; I don’t have to be friends with them. I love being alone, even for days on end. I love spending time with my partner, just mucking around. Wherever I’ve lived  – in about 10 different dwellings since 1987 – I’ve known who my neighbours were, have had pleasant conversations with them, even had a drink with them at Christmas, but they’ve never been friends, as in people I chose to spend time with. I can’t see that will change when I’m older. I don’t need neighbours popping in or feel the need to pop in on them. I don’t need family to visit me for dinner once a week – mine are scattered round the globe. When I read about people whose bodies were found in their flats months after they had died I think, “Well, that could happen to me”, but that thought doesn’t make me feel scared or unhappy. It’s just the reality of life for people who who aren’t necessarily made happy by contact with people – any people, even people they don’t like very much. Dying alone and my body not being found for a while isn’t the worst way I can think of to end my life.

A new program on the ABC uses Prof Cummin’s Index to tell us that the people who live in Marrickville, a couple of suburbs over from us, are amongst the unhappiest in Australia. This did not bode well, but, having seen only one episode of the program so far, it seems to be advocating a sensible approach to happiness – trying to help people to live in the moment and not to be too weighed down by things that have happened in the past or concerned about a future they can’t control. They are encouraging people to identify what brings them stress and helping them find ways to lessen that stress, or to dissipate it in different ways. They seem to be trying to communicate that happiness comes from knowing what we can and can’t control in our lives and making choices that affirm our sense of ourselves, rather than from how we get on with our neighbours or how close we are to our families, which are the usual sorts of measures employed. There’s an interview with the psychologist behind the program, Dr Anthony Grant, in this morning’s Sun-Herald (sorry, can’t find a link), and he sounds like a sensible sort of chap. He came to the study of psychology in his late 30s, which may have something to do with his more relaxed attitude to the certainties of the discipline.

Maybe I’m weird, and being happy to be solitary is not being fully human. Maybe I was standing behind the door when God handed out the ‘getting on with the neighbours’ package. And maybe I lined up twice for my share of crankiness by mistake. I was probably reading a book at the time and not concentrating on what was going on.


  1. Posted November 21, 2010 at 9:09 am | Permalink

    I’m always highly suspicious of people who try to quantify happiness, in the same way I’m suspicious of people who try to analyse humour. I always want to know a lot more about what their criteria were and how the data were gathered than the quantifiers ever seem willing to share.

    My own experience has been that happiness is measured by the size of the gap between expectations and reality.

  2. Posted November 21, 2010 at 9:57 am | Permalink

    I suspect that there is confusion between the near-synonyms “contentment” and “happiness”, which might relate to Pavlov’s Cat’s (damn the double possessive double apostrophes) comment on expectations.

    Oh, but where would the consumerist society be without those who cannot be content, even when they are not in actual pain or realistically threatened with anguish?

    Actually, I reckon you /could/ accurately measure happiness epidemiologically, looking at the incidence of stress-related illness (including depression, perhaps the best indicator), and overconsumption patterns indicating people who are discontented without sybaritic pleasures.

    Perhaps music that shows acceptance of troubles, without despair or losing of a sense of beauty, (quite common in bach i reckon) could educate those easily discontented types, and allow them greater happiness.

  3. Patrick
    Posted November 21, 2010 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

    Oh, but where would the consumerist society be without those who cannot be content, even when they are not in actual pain or realistically threatened with anguish?

    When will people get this? The consumerist society in this case would be fucked, because we’d still be living in 4500BC and life in general, under those conditions, is fucked.

    Thank God for unhappy people, for they are the saviours of man and the makers of all his works.

    LE, I know what you mean. My wife would consider her own office to be the most awesomest thing since, well, our kids 😉

  4. Posted November 21, 2010 at 6:19 pm | Permalink

    Maybe I’m weird, and being happy to be solitary is not being fully human.

    Try reading “Solitude” by Anthony Storr and it may change your mind.

  5. Posted November 21, 2010 at 6:25 pm | Permalink

    [email protected]: civilization is advanced more by stoics than sybarites. Are you saying the likes of M.Aurelius, Socrates, Epicurus, Epictetus, Confucius, are poisonous to human society and the advancement of civilization? They were hardly into ostentatious consumption as a substitute for the proper adornments of humans: their actions not their appetites nor acquisitions.

    “Even in a palace, it is possible to live well” (M.Aur) is not advocating the palace as a desirable place compared to the library.

  6. Posted November 21, 2010 at 6:37 pm | Permalink

    Legal Eagle, you are singing my song! I’ve been working in various academic contract jobs for the last few years, none with an office attached, and I am so looking forward to having an office of my own next year.

    Ditto re the perfectionism, and the shy extroversion. Except in my case I call it sociable introversion.

    M-H: I’m with you regarding the contact with neighbours. I enjoy a friendly chat when we meet at the letterbox, but that will do, thank you very much. I think it’s part of feeling that my home is my very own space, into which I invite people if I feel so inclined. I become unhappy if people come into that space when I am not ready to see them. One of the huge advantages of internet interaction is that I can do it at my own pace, when I am ready to do so, and I can mull over what someone has written for as long as I like before responding to it. That space for reflection is just not available when my supervising neighbour pops over just for this, that or the other thing.

  7. Posted November 21, 2010 at 8:53 pm | Permalink

    I had to do a great deal of research on happiness economics for my MPhil, and if it is any consolation, [email protected] is spot on. Fortunately, some of the original happiness economics researchers are now willing to admit the extent to which she is right. Here is Daniel Kahneman on point:


    Attempts to measure happiness — in all but a few studies — indicate that it is extremely insensitive to pretty much everything, and tells us nothing that cannot be explained by normal MOE. The only thing that matters is GDP (as Kahneman admits). In other words, material comfort, what Karl Marx called ‘the dull compulsion of the economic’.

    This is why I am with [email protected] and not [email protected], despite having the greatest of respect for the Stoic tradition in particular. Intentions count for nothing, and a bunch of moral and religious philosophers who tell people how to live good lives when they are inadequately housed, lose 25-50% of offspring (depending on country/period) before their 5th birthday, are cold, insecure and often hungry are, not to put too fine a point on it, wasting our time. The Romans gave us Stoicism, sure, and it’s a fine philosophy, especially for serving military personnel (read Admiral James Stockdale on just why). But when it comes to the dull compulsion of the economic, the unnamed Roman engineer who invented the hypocaust, or who figured out that you can disinfect water with quicklime, or who worked out that if you have clean running water separate from wastewater children don’t die of dysentery — he wins over the high minded philosopher every time. And that’s just the Romans. Don’t get me started on other periods.

    I think it’s a good thing, by and large, that the people we remember these days are the Edisons, the Teslas, the Curies, the Watts… and not people who contemplate their moral navels in the midst of entirely preventable carnage.

    And another thing: may I second John H’s recommendation of Anthony Storr’s Solitude? That is a truly excellent book, and will give parents who have ‘loner’ children lots of ammunition against curtain twitching teachers (and others) who have a go at said children for ‘failing to interact with their peer group’.


  8. Posted November 22, 2010 at 2:27 am | Permalink

    It’s all about balance, isn’t it? Sociable, but not clingy or over-sharing. Reserved, but not frosty or unapproachable. I like plenty of alone time as it seems the only way I can properly relax but it’s awfully difficult to find enough space to do or enjoy things “at your own pace” which is the key to minimising stress. Not very well at the minute and it shows mainly in a) short temper and b) the amount of Bach that I’m main-lining!

  9. Patrick
    Posted November 22, 2010 at 3:26 am | Permalink

    DB, leaving to one side SL’s obvious point that happiness is basically GDP (how could that have ever been doubted???) I didn’t ask where would the world be without consumerism.

    I asked about the relative contributions of the happy and unhappy. Was Socrates ever satisfied? Was he a consumerist? If Marcus Aurelius was ‘happy’/satisfied, he would never have doubted the benefits of life in a palace.

    My point is perhaps better put by Shakespeare (whose isn’t?):

    Let me have men about me that are fat;
    Sleek-headed men and such as sleep o’ nights:
    Yon Cassius has a lean and hungry look;
    He thinks too much: such men are dangerous.

  10. TerjeP
    Posted November 22, 2010 at 4:13 am | Permalink

    Unhappy people may contribute more to humanity but whilst I’m keen on making a contribution I’m not that eager about being unhappy. Personally I find I am happiest when I am busy getting on with things but also that I can’t get busy getting on with things when I am unhappy.

    I don’t think there really is an unhappiness emotion. It’s actually anger, fear, guilt, regret or some such other emotion. I suspect the trick is to know what grieves us at any given time and then figure out how to wisely deal with it. All these emotions are like thermostatic alarm bells with a message that needs to be dealt with. If we don’t deal with them then they keep coming back and often get louder. The trouble is the message isn’t always clear and we are not always wise or well equipped.

    I can be without people for long periods of time. However it rarely happens these days with work and family being a constant buzz. In many ways I long for solitude. And because I love my family and feel an obligation to my employer (they do pay me) this sometimes leads to feelings of guilt. I suspect that such experiences are fairly common.

  11. Posted November 22, 2010 at 5:04 am | Permalink

    On the driving civilisation point, I am not sure we can equate dissatisfied with being unhappy. People who are not satisfied with things as they are are not necessarily unhappy. Indeed, making things better may provide considerable happiness for them.

    I am reminded of Camille Paglia’s most infamous statement — if it was up to women, we would still be living in grass huts (i.e. civilisation was built by men trying to work out what it was to be a man–lacking the equivalent of “I am menstruating, I am a woman now”–and getting away from their mothers.)

    *Runs and hides*

  12. Posted November 22, 2010 at 5:05 am | Permalink

    Of course, on the evidence of this thread, society really started taking off when women were given something to do that wasn’t all about the kids 😉

  13. Posted November 22, 2010 at 5:06 am | Permalink

    I’m not disagreeing with [email protected] that reducing the sh*t is good, and economic growth that reduces sh*t is good. (Sewers are a Good Thing, and cost money).

    There’s a difference between what can be done about happiness at a population level, and how an individual reacts to a given situation when sh*t happens, or even, in line with [email protected] whether a person just expects and wants too much.

    But needing the latest iPhone, or a plasma TV bigger than one’s neighbors have, or even crowds of admirers, is piling sh*t on oneself, and on those poor sods who have to deal with high-maintenance individuals.

    [email protected]: mainlining Bach… Hope the sh*t reduces, and that your mp3 player never runs out of batteries.

  14. Posted November 22, 2010 at 5:40 am | Permalink

    Late to the party… I had a busy day yesterday and a knitterly evening. Some really interesting comments here. It’s always great to read SL’s scholarly commentary on philosophical matters, which I don’t pretend to be able to write about confidently.

    The only thing I’d say about Dr Cat’s comment on the gap between expectations and reality is that there are people whose unhappiness leads them to limit their expectations to what they think they can realistically have, but they still aren’t happy. One of my adult children was like this for a while: he truly didn’t believe he deserved anything and he was miserable – not clinically depressed, but anxious and, well, unhappy. He has become more settled in his life lately, and has begun to make plans and be able to carry them out, and I think he is happier for it.

    Which brings me to something I didn’t cover: the slippage between unhappiness and depression. I’ve experienced depression (usually hormonally induced) at rare times during my life as a feeling of blackness and hopelessness, a state of mind where rational approaches don’t penetrate. And yet people use the word ‘depression’ quite lightly, I find, to describe a myriad of things from grief to anxiety. People will say “I feel really depressed when I think about the mountain of work I have to do.” I don’t feel comfortable with this loose use of the word; I feel ti should be reserved for a condition that is much more serious. If you really feel depressed by anticipating work, should you be getting help? Or am I being an unbearable pedant? (again)

  15. Patrick
    Posted November 22, 2010 at 5:56 am | Permalink

    But, but, but…

    Needing the latest iPhone is useful, since a) smartphones (I hate apple, personally, isn’t it obvious?) make life better, and also, since millions of people ‘needing’ smartphones improves, stimulates development of and drives down the cost of, all at the same time, the technologies which also allow us to conduct remote medical procedures, for example.

    Or consider the Mercedes AMG CLS 63, which has been accurately described as a ‘chunck of awesome’. This magnificent creature has a 5.5L v8 and gets about 10L/100km in the city!

    ‘Consumerism’ more often than not promotes technological development, infinitely more than any government policy ever, and technological development promotes happiness.

    You should be glad, DB, that so many are willing to put up with the petty frustrations of ‘needing’ the plainly superfluous so that you don’t have to – when the surgeon in the Bahamas is operating on your failing heart in whatever tiny country town you have taken yourself to by then, you will be! 😉

  16. desipis
    Posted November 22, 2010 at 8:00 am | Permalink

    People needing the latest iphone doesn’t do that; people buying it does. There are plenty of positive ways to generate economic demand for innovation without creating artificial need.

    If the economy is the key to happiness, why did we ban slavery? It is a great way to increase productivity and the drive the economy, and therefore increase happiness, right?

  17. Posted November 22, 2010 at 8:19 am | Permalink

    Patrick, it’s surprising to me how often people talk about technology and the economy in relation to happiness. When I was socialising yesterday I mentioned this post, and someone said that a survey done in the US had established the level of income at which people were happy – just enough but not too much, which seemed bizarre to me – some people would be happy with much less and some would never be happy, because of the expectation/reality gap discussed above, which is not universal. I’m not sure that having an iphone makes me happy – it makes my life different and it’s convenient, but I was happy when I didn’t have one. When mine was washed and I didn’t have it for two weeks and had to use an old non-3G phone I was happy – sometimes irritated by the lack but not unhappy, because i still had phone and text functionality, which is my main use for the iphone (mine is supplied by work). I was even happy when I didn’t have a mobile phone at all – although not many other people had one either, so I didn’t expect to have one. My first two were cast-offs – again I was after functionality not cutting-edge technology. What I’m trying to say is that I don’t think happiness is necessarily related to what you have, it’s related to how you are and to your expectations of yourself and your life.

  18. desipis
    Posted November 22, 2010 at 8:20 am | Permalink

    I have neighbours; I don’t have to be friends with them.

    … the gap between expectations and reality. I am a perfectionist …

    I can’t help but wonder if the self isolating tendencies are related to the social expectations we have of ourselves. For the middle class material needs are easy to meet, and so social status becomes more significant. The media continually presents an ideal person we feel compelled to be, yet unable to successfully be on a consistent basis. The only way we can present such an image is to have a strong control over the manner in which we socially interact with each other.

    Our neighbours will be there at our weakest moments, at moments when we are unable to present that idealised image of ourself. They’ll see us taking out the embarrassing trash in our pjs, see the pizza delivery guy whenever we can’t be bother to cook like we should, see us cheating on our spouses, overhear the shouting arguments we have, see the ugly side of our lives. Having anything more than a superficial relationship with the neighbours would force people to acknowledge, both internally and socially, the ways in which they don’t live up to their idealised expectations.

    To that extent, I’d see the lack of a “close-knit community” as possible symptom rather than cause of a lower level of happiness.

  19. John Turner
    Posted November 22, 2010 at 8:26 am | Permalink

    Some of the postings remind me of a slogan painted above the doorway of a small steelplant built to manufacture 25 pounder guns during WW2..
    “Satisfaction with things achieved is the first sign of decay.”
    That stayed in my mind from when I was twenty two, nearly sixty years ago.

  20. Patrick
    Posted November 22, 2010 at 8:29 am | Permalink

    M-H, is that consistent with your original post? I think your original post implies strongly that you are ‘happier’ thanks to facebook/internet 🙂 Fwiw I don’t actually have a smartphone, and I don’t feel unhappy as a result.

    Great comment desipis, I’m not sure if I agree entirely but it seems very perceptive.

  21. Posted November 22, 2010 at 9:09 am | Permalink

    Patrick, I’m not sure if I’m happier because of the internet. It allows me to manage my relationships with friends and family differently than I did 20 years ago, true. I suppose that without it I’d be on the phone a lot more, and would know a lot less about how my family were doing scattered round the globe. (Would that make me less happy? I’m not sure… ) My mother and her sister wrote to each other every week from opposite ends of New Zealand from the 50s until my mother’s death in 1981. If we didn’t have the internet, maybe we’d have time to do things like that and thus would keep up the connections.

    My point about the internet was that the Happiness Index only takes account of physical proximity to people we care about as a measure of happiness; it seems to me that it is a simplistic and dated view that takes no account of how we live our lives these days.

  22. Posted November 22, 2010 at 9:47 am | Permalink

    [email protected] on slip between unhappiness and depression – (I had a bad bout of debilitating depression from whistleblower-related stress a few years back – unable to work, future uncertain, daughter in sydney so i couldn’t do anything for her to make me feel better… DEM’s prescription of mainlining bach helped considerably, as uppers and epilepsy aren’t a good mix)

    When one takes out wholly endogenous causes, the change in environment, external stressors and the lack of ability for individuals to control them (and likelyhood things will get worse), must account for changes in population depression levels.

    This touches on Carl Rogers and “self-actualization” – if you are able to use yourself fully, exercise your talents, all other things equal, you’ll be much happier than if constrained.

    Another factor is cognitive dissonance – can you look at yourself in the mirror, judging by the values you talk about? (Of course, this requires a certain level of cognition).

    Both of these involve image of self – and I suspect psyche image is as askew in similar numbers of people as skewed body image.

    Choices in how one defines oneself and getting a fail against that definition, lack of ability to control things that are important to one (inc if you define yourself by being a provider, threats to income meaning you might have problems feeding/clothing kids, or the empty-nester syndrome)…. These relate to the mentioned expectation gap, but are deeper.

    Needing to define one’s worth by having more possessions than those arounf you is one of the expectations that aren’t particularly useful for the individual or society.

    Some people define themselves by the head count of admirers – little miss pretty or sporting hero at school can land themselves into awful trouble in the big wide world when they can only get “fries with that” jobs.

    It’s worth noting a recent finding where an anti-depression drug was taken off the market for teens as it seemed to cause huge numbers of suicides… But recently it was found not to be the effect of the drug on the brain, but it’s side effect of acne, which affected the self-image of teens. In this case, happiness can relate not just to yourself, but the nature of the people around you – whether they judge the stains on the skin or character as more significant.

    Perhaps this could be a clue to happiness in smaller towns (I prefer those between 10-30k balancing amenities v familiarity) – those around one are less likely to be alpha rat-race types, less likely to treat you poorly.

  23. Myrddin Seren
    Posted November 22, 2010 at 10:38 am | Permalink


    I used to live in Marrickville, pre-family formation.

    To you, as a near-Marrickville neighbour, does the slim ethnic mix of the ABC volunteers not strike you as a little unrepresentative of the suburb as a whole ?

    ie this isn’t a cross-section that is representative of much of anything – except some apparently unhappy people ?

  24. desipis
    Posted November 22, 2010 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    Dave, I wonder if it’s just simply that they spent less time with other people in general. This gives them more time to form their self image for themselves. It would also mean more self reliance and thus a greater sense of self worth. Both would mean they are less reliant on the opinion of others for their own sense of value. This would mean they would be more inclined to develop open and collaborative relationships (with their neighbours), rather than competitive one.

  25. Posted November 22, 2010 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

    As a former sufferer from depression, I would like to endorse [email protected] on keeping a clear idea of the difference between depression and unhappiness. A consistent finding is that people who have suffered both cancer and depression regularly report the latter is worse — for it poisons all aspects of your life.

    One of Freud’s better comments was to the effect that the aim of therapy was to turn abject misery into ordinary unhappiness.

  26. Posted November 22, 2010 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

    I am reminded of Camille Paglia’s most infamous statement — if it was up to women, we would still be living in grass huts (i.e. civilisation was built by men trying to work out what it was to be a man–lacking the equivalent of “I am menstruating, I am a woman now”–and getting away from their mothers.)

    I’d counter that with two Bill Hicks quips. The first has Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden and Adam’s waxing about how everything’s peaceful and plentiful and carefree. Eve responds: Yeah? It’s not enough it?

    The second’s too gratuitous to repeat.

  27. Posted November 22, 2010 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

    Myrddin, I agree that the volunteers seem to be a slim section of the vibrant community that is Marrickville. But I think that the issues that are being dealt with cross ethnic boundaries – work-a-holism, suppressed anger, inability to get over the death of a parent or the end of a relationship.

    Interesting points, Dave and Lorenzo.

  28. Peter Patton
    Posted November 22, 2010 at 7:01 pm | Permalink


    Careful there tiger. The Greeks didn’t invent stoicism after 200 years after that useless wretch Socrates skulled the hemlock. Sorry, had I been an Athenian at the time, I would have offed him years earlier. 🙂

  29. Posted November 22, 2010 at 9:41 pm | Permalink

    [email protected] – yes, but diogenes wasn’t that much younger than plato, and his cynicism was the predecessor of stoicism proper. (today’s stoa would be the coffee-shop – except i don’t have to bark orders, my doublestrength flat white appears without a word from me)

    [email protected]: Scatty like socrates? Keep an eye on your temporal lobe…
    And no, i don’t have a little daemon telling me when things are wrong.

  30. Posted November 23, 2010 at 5:56 am | Permalink

    LE and Dave, when I was at primary school the nuns told us that we had a little devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other, and it was our choice which one we listened to.

    Why do I remember this rubbish so clearly?

  31. Posted November 23, 2010 at 8:33 am | Permalink

    The Greeks didn’t invent stoicism after 200 years after that useless wretch Socrates skulled the hemlock

    Forgive me I might be wrong, but I was under the impression that Stoicism wouldn’t exist without Socrates: “following in the footsteps of Socrates, offer the individual a morality of self-control and temperance as a means to his own advantage, as his personal key to happiness,” etc…

  32. Peter Patton
    Posted November 23, 2010 at 8:35 am | Permalink

    Well, looks like y’all can cheer up now.

    NCBI ROFL: A proposal to classify happiness as a psychiatric disorder.

    “It is proposed that happiness be classified as a psychiatric disorder and be included in future editions of the major diagnostic manuals under the new name: major affective disorder, pleasant type. In a review of the relevant literature it is shown that happiness is statistically abnormal, consists of a discrete cluster of symptoms, is associated with a range of cognitive abnormalities, and probably reflects the abnormal functioning of the central nervous system. One possible objection to this proposal remains–that happiness is not negatively valued. However, this objection is dismissed as scientifically irrelevant.”


  33. Peter Patton
    Posted November 23, 2010 at 9:14 am | Permalink

    Good luck with counter factual in a History exam.

  34. Posted November 23, 2010 at 11:08 am | Permalink

    [email protected] On “counterfactual history” in line with [email protected] “The Greeks didn’t invent stoicism after 200 years after that useless wretch Socrates skulled the hemlock.”

    I guess Brittanica is counterfactual too:

    Inspired by the teaching of Socrates and Diogenes of Sinope, Stoicism was founded at Athens by Zeno of Citium c. 300 bc

    Now, Socrates skulled the hemlock in 399 BCE, Stoicism in 300: that’s 99 not 200 according to my arithmetic.

    Also note that Diogenes was pretty highly regarded as a kind of proto-stoic by the likes of Epictetus, who extolled Diogenes as a role model, and labelled him a “scout” for stoicism.

    If we today invent and use the label “neoplatonists” when the likes of porphyry considered themselves as platonists, then it’s fair to either call stoicism “neocynicism” or the cynic school “proto-stoic”, and perhaps both eusocratic.

    So… Your maths is only 100% off, and you ignore the stoics’ own claims as the products of socrates and cynics.

    Sorry Peter, you must be having a bad day with the the typo in the numbers, and I suppose your similar attitude to the enablers of happiness espoused by socrates, cynics and stoics indicates you at least recognize their similarity on basics.

    More to the point of the post, I still maintain that while there can be different enablers/disablers at the level of a population, the cynic/stoic/epicurean common thread is the most likely to promote happiness in an individual for any given environment… Certainly more than more platonic xtianity.

    Even at an environmental level, government by stoics seems to work well – Gibbon places general happiness of the western world as greatest (until his late C18) under Antoninus Pius and Marcus Aurelius.

    So, my Pangloss daimon would posit the happiest of worlds being a population of stoics governed by stoics – no tendency to overconsumption in sight.

  35. Posted November 23, 2010 at 11:11 am | Permalink

    Oh…. On a lighter note, I’m imagining a Nike ad in a stoic universe “Just deal with it”

  36. Peter Patton
    Posted November 23, 2010 at 12:14 pm | Permalink


    Yeah, you’re right. My bad. I was doing the old ‘5th century minus 3rd century’ = 200 years, rather than ‘end of 5th century – first thing in 3rd century’ = 100 years. Doh! 🙂

    But also I think of that period as still part of the classical Greek umbilical chord, and to that extent, Cynicism was definitely in communion with Socrates.

    I like to think of Stoicism as a product of post-Alexander Hellenism, and Cynicism as a sibling of Sophism, as products of pre-Alexandrian Classicism. By emphasizing this Hellenic vs. Athenian genesis, we establish a more coherent connection with Rome. ‘Greek’ philosophy made its way to Rome more through the Hellenic than the classical Athenian route.

    Though reading all that, sounds far too precious. Meh! 🙂

  37. Peter Patton
    Posted November 23, 2010 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

    THE most profound idea I got out Foucault was ‘beware the chimera of origins’.

  38. Posted November 23, 2010 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

    [email protected]: well, diogenes was originally not athenian: he fled there with the statement of disloyalty to any state “i am a citizen of the kosmos”. Athens itself was merely a focus what with all that stuff going on in ionia beforehand. there are also hints that zoroastrianism influenced the development of the pre-socratics like pythagoras and heraclitus, a little in the cosmology (fire and opposites) and somewhat in the moral sphere.

    Our view of athens and socrates might well be different depending on how plato selectively quoted and spun socrates. I personally suspect plato (and the neoplatonists) were a bit “out there” in a range of areas compared to the rest of mediterranean thinking, with the (neo)platonist tradition boosted/hijacked by the christians – morals and happiness became disjointed, morals defined ex cathedra, happiness defined as being overcome by woo, rather than happiness being the product of a lack of cognitive dissonance between action and ethical standards derived from utilitarian principles and clear thinking.

    I don’t think the stoics /sought/ pain as a means to happiness, unlike the many over the centuries who seek happiness through woo involving self-flagellation, hair shirts, or cilice sillies, where happiness comes from within via forcing release of endogenous opiates.

    people are different, define themselves differently, and get happy or miserable differently. I’m reminded of a joke when I saw Dave Allen: a sadist and masochist discover each other in a bar, and decide to go off together: the masochist is bound in a chair in a room full of whips, and after a while the sadist asks desperately “well, aren’t you going to whip me?”… And the sadist says with an evil smile “No”.

  39. Posted November 23, 2010 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

    oops – the masochist asks the question. Can the gods edit the joke in the previous comment and delete this one?

  40. Peter Patton
    Posted November 23, 2010 at 4:01 pm | Permalink


    I think you are right that we moderns have an over inflated view of the dominance of Athens, itself. Sure, it rocked for tragedy, but the really heavy shit took place in Ionia.

    Modern science was born in Ionia (apologies to the Egyptians 🙂 ), before Pericles’ funeral oration brag about how Athens was just the dog’s bollocks.

    Even Herodotus was Ionian. He tried to schmooz Athenian citizenship later in life, but Pericles knocked him back because he had wog parents.

    But I can’t begrudge Athens it’s ability to invent both democracy and tragedy coevally. Right there, is the birth of the West.

  41. TerjeP
    Posted November 24, 2010 at 6:15 am | Permalink

    If the economy is the key to happiness, why did we ban slavery? It is a great way to increase productivity and the drive the economy, and therefore increase happiness, right?

    I think you would be hard pressed to find an economist who thinks slavery is good for productivity. And most free market economists oppose socialism because it too much resembles the productivity lowering nature of slavery. The dismal science doesn’t support the argument for slavery.


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