A Philosophy of Happiness

In Alain de Botton’s The Consolations of Philosophy, six “anxieties of everyday life” are tackled through the work of six philosophers‚ÄĒone for each chapter in the short book. A few years after publication the book was turned into a six-part documentary,¬†Philosophy: A Guide to Happiness.

While both the book and the series aren’t rigorous studies of philosophy, they are both extremely good introductions to a part of each philosopher’s canon and how one could apply their theories to modern life.

Lucas Cantor has tracked down and embedded each of the six episodes of the documentary on his site but if, like me, you’re not a huge fan of embedded videos (especially if there are multiple), here they are¬†separately along with each episode’s synopsis:

Socrates on Self-Confidence (24:12). Why do so many people go along with the crowd and fail to stand up for what they truly believe? Partly because they are too easily swayed by other people’s opinions and partly because they don’t know when to have confidence in their own. (Socrates)

Epicurus on Happiness (23:58).¬†British philosopher Alain De Botton discusses the personal implications of the ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus (341-270BCE) who was no epicurean glutton or wanton consumerist, but an advocate of “friends, freedom and thought” as the path to happiness.

Seneca on Anger (24:13). Roman philosopher Lucious Annaeus Seneca (4BCE-65CE), the most famous and popular philosopher of his day, took the subject of anger seriously enough to dedicate a whole book to the subject. Seneca refused to see anger as an irrational outburst over which we have no control. Instead he saw it as a philosophical problem and amenable to treatment by philosophical argument. He thought anger arose from certain rationally held ideas about the world, and the problem with these ideas is that they are far too optimistic. Certain things are a predictable feature of life, and to get angry about them is to have unrealistic expectations.

Montaigne on Self-Esteem (24:09). This episode looks at the problem of self-esteem from the perspective of Michel de Montaigne (16th Century), the French philosopher who singled out three main reasons for feeling bad about oneself Рsexual inadequacy, failure to live up to social norms, and intellectual inferiority Рand then offered practical solutions for overcoming them.

Schopenhauer on Love (24:05).¬†Alain De Botton surveys the 19th Century German thinker Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) who believed that love was the most important thing in life because of its powerful impulse towards ‘the will-to-life’.

Nietzsche on Hardship (24:01).¬†British philosopher Alain De Botton explores¬†Friedrich Nietzsche‘s (1844-1900) dictum that any worthwhile achievements in life come from the experience of overcoming hardship. For him, any existence that is too comfortable is worthless, as are the twin refugees of drink or religion.

You may also be interested in Alain de Botton’s TED Talk: A kinder, gentler philosophy of success.

Thanks and happy birthday, Andy!



3 responses to “A Philosophy of Happiness”

  1. Hi Lloyd,

    Thanks for the birthday wishes!
    I really enjoyed this series and am keen to read the book for a more in-depth discussion.
    Lucas Cantor’s site has lots of other good stuff on it. Recently I’ve been watching the Jonathan Miller documentary series “A brief history of disbelief”.


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  3. Andy,

    I have the book, so once you’re back in the country give me a shout and I’ll get it over to you.
    And yes‚ÄĒLucas Cantor’s site has some really great documentaries on it. Thanks for sending it across.