Summarizing 2,500 years of research about Happiness

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I have been reading André Malraux's La Condition Humaine ("The human condition"). I now believe that for the first time since I started this happiness project, I am developing an overall picture of the many questions related to happiness. Let us look at things from the European perspective. The Greek philosophers discussed the nature of happiness several centuries before Jesus Christ. Among the many philosophers, the sophists, the epicurean and the stoics proposed various theories. Most of these theories held that happiness can only be gained by gaining knowledge and leading a virtuous life. After the rise of Christianity, the pursuit of happiness in Europe was heavily influenced by Christian theology. However, this Christian perspective was destroyed by two emerging trends. First, the split between Catholics and Protestants led to two very different interpretation of how the Christian message should be understood. Second, the tension between Christianity and science meant that Europeans had to make several hard choices. At the beginning of the 19th century; the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard summarized these tensions in a series of writings that would lead to the rise of existentialist school, which states that it is necessary to understand the purpose of our existence before we can be happy. The split between Christianity and science was complete when the German philosopher Nietzsche said that "God was dead". By the end of the 19th century, the Europeans were putting their hope in humanism, the notion that human beings can establish their own happiness by figuring things out by themselves. However, the First World War destroyed that European hope in humanism. By the 20th century, European philosophers focused on the human condition. Albert Camus wrote L’Étranger (“The Stranger”), in which he says that life is fundamentally absurd: whatever one does, one is going to die. In La Peste (“The Plague”), Camus concludes that even though life is absurd, the collective struggle to stay alive has a meaning in itself. In parallel to these developments in Europe, the Americans focused on pragmatism and materialism. Pragmatism states that any good idea must have practical benefits. Materialism is the belief that by accumulating wealth, we can be happy. In this light, Gretchen Rubin's The Happiness Project is a good example of this pragmatic and materialistic culture. It should be noted that due to the influence of European and American ideas in other parts of the world, these ideas have influenced the way the rest of the world – including Muslims – see happiness. Some people in Europe - like Matthieu Ricard - have argued that we have to return to religion to find happiness. Matthieu Ricard became a Buddhist monk. He wrote a book called Plaidoyer pour le bonheur (“Arguing for happiness”). He says that people often try to find external sources of happiness and often fail. Happiness, he argues, is an internal state of mind that allows us to perceive things in a positive state of mind. This internal state of mind requires a rediscovery of religion. What is interesting in my opinion is the idea that happiness is gained by seeking knowledge is something the Greeks understood 2,500 years ago. We forgot that simple but profound wisdom by getting lost in materialism. Some material possession is necessary for a decent standard of living but materialism will never provide individuals with a purpose in life and the knowledge to translate their purpose in life into everyday actions.

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