The Quest for happiness – 03

By Dr. Pier Albrecht

In our last issue we talked about the concept s of happiness, joy and inner welfare. We started to raise the issue of how the quest for happiness evolved along man´s history. In this chapter we deal with the vision of some philosopher s and how different civilizations give happiness a different meaning.

The Asian Era .

As the modern man does, ancient civilizations almost certainly attempted to find happiness. In India, China and Japan, the ancient world of the Orient defined a series of principles related to spirituality – not to find happiness – but rather to evolve, improve and attain a state of serenity. The basis for this search was not materialist. It was centred on strict rules and techniques, the purpose of which was to maintain the body healthy and the mind concentrated on spiritual matters.

In India

For many centuries, the greater part of India lived with the belief in reincarnation: the journey of the soul through time, bodies and lives, with the objective of becoming more perfect and evolving towards liberation from this cycle of earthly life, based on suffering. Due to this, they felt it was unnecessary to change the social organization of the castes as, according to them, the soul is born where it has to be born in order to be able to continue its journey. Throughout the course of a man’s life, he should not struggle to change his caste, but to live the best way possible, so that in the next life he may be born again, in a higher caste. For this reason, in India, as in other ancient societies, earthly life was not aimed at increasing material happiness, but towards a better spiritual life and future reincarnations.

The Era of the Egyptians

The Egyptians, like the majority of Asian civilizations, led a material life aimed at a spiritual life. Their life on earth was completely dedicated towards attaining eternal life. In this sense we could say they were not looking for earthly happiness in itself, as it was considered to be a phase that would lead us to eternal life, after death. Of course, as with all ancient societies, the problems of material or spiritual happiness were strictly for the elite, as the greater part of the population had to contend with problems of a more practical nature, like survival.

The Greek Era , after Socrates .

Socrates spoke of the philosophy of happiness and takes it to be a supreme asset. It is hardly surprising that this appears in Greece, in the 5th century before Christ. This philosophy tries to bring together the maximum happiness with the maximum virtue. In other words, a life full of pleasure, joy and satisfaction, together with a life that is just, wise and virtuous. Two visions of happiness are put into contrast : the mortal vision, through virtue (which is within reach of the common people) and the immortal vision, through meditation (within the reach of the scholars and the mystics).

The Happiness of Epicurus

Later on, Epicurus made the basic affirmation that man should “enjoy to the maximum and wish for the minimum”. His message has been altered since then and nowadays people make the mistake of using the word “Epicurian” to express the concept of having to enjoy everything to the maximum.

Quite the contrary, Epicurus teaches us that to be happy, we have to increase our pleasure and reduce the motives that are the source of that pleasure. That is to say, we should know how to distinguish between what will bring us happiness and what makes us search indefinitely for that happiness, which in the end becomes a source of dissatisfaction.

Epicurus continues by categorizing three types of desire : Desires that are natural, like eating, drinking, having clothes and roof over our head, friends and being able to philosophise, so that we can achieve a better understanding of ourselves, of other people and of life.

Desires that are natural but not necessary, such as sexual desire, desire for the aesthetic, good food, things that can be enjoyed, but taking care to not become dependent upon them. Desires that are unnatural and unnecessary, like the desire for glory, fame, riches and power. He considered these desires to be unlimitable, because we will never be able to achieve all of them and therefore, according to him, they will not be able to make us happy but, on the contrary, they only serve to complicate our lives.

Epicureanism is therefore the art of enjoying the simple things, like bread, water the beauty of nature, instead of indulging in excesses of food, alcohol or sex, which only creates a sensation of repugnanceand dissatisfaction. We could almost say it is a form of asceticism, but not as an end, only as a means.

After the birth of the religions known as “religions of the book”, such as Judaism, Christianity or Islam,the notion of religious happiness appeared, as could be enjoyed in the Garden of Eden after living a life ofvirtue, organized on a religious basis. In France especially, during the 18th century, the philosophers conceived a political organization of happiness, based on the art of life, of communicating, sharing, within the games of love and sex, food, etc. An ideal world where we would all be equal. But while the philosophers were launching their ideas, the aristocrats were enjoying themselves, taking advantage of the sweat and toil of the poor.

The revolution was the immediate consequence. This arose as an attempt to allow everyone a chance to enter this new world of happiness and equality. It has reached our times converted into sick democracies, due to the failure of the Communist and Socialist utopias. In effect, happiness has not always been an ideal in life for everyone. Sometimes Man has preferred to seek love or wisdom, as happens in India, Tibet, Japan or China. In the West we chase after success, money or beauty, whilst in the East they pursue serenity, peace or harmony. The paradox of our era is that we are aware of and promote inner happiness, but at the same time we develop more and more consumer products that are mere playthings and tools for pleasure.


Editorial: Dr. Pier Albrecht, Dr. Pierre Albrecht, Dr. Pierjean Albrecht,

Dr. Pier Jean Albrecht, Dr. Pierre F. Albrecht, Dr. Pierre Frank Albrecht,

Dr. P. Frank Albrecht, Dr. Pierjean Frank Albrecht, Marbella Clinic