Success is getting what you want. Happiness is wanting what you get.
-Dave Gardner

"Health and Happiness: Maybe the Path to Bliss Lies Behind Us" from Spirituality and Health magazine by Benjamin Ivry:

The Roman philosopher Seneca the Younger wrote that living happily is "the desire of all men, but their minds are blinded to a clear vision of just what it is that makes a life happy."

A group of modern-day philosophers at the University of Oslo, Norway, have launched the Oslo Happiness Project to improve their vision. Since the World Values Survey shows that Norwegians are, on average, happier than Americans, it makes sense for us to notice where they are looking. The answer, it turns out, is into the past.

Members of the project are exploring venerable ideas about the good life, or vita beata, as Seneca called it. First, they compare ancient Greek and Roman views on happiness. Then, because ancient writers often linked happiness to ethical behavior, they study how we can be happy by being good, and vice versa. If ethics and happiness are indeed inextricably linked, then the ancient Greek idea of paideia - moral education and cultivation - is essential to ideal joyfulness.

Professor Eyjólfur Kjalar Emilsson of the University of Oslo's Philosophy Institute asserts that ancient philosophers would have complained that "modern people devote too little effort to pondering what a good life consists in." Part of the problem, says Emilsson, is that we often don't ask the question in a general, objective way. Instead, "Each person has to find out for him - or herself."

The Platonic tradition liked to compare "spiritual well-being (health of the soul) - a near synonym with happiness - with the well-being of the body," says Emilsson. "Like the body, the soul has to be tuned and taken care of to prosper." Panos Dimas, chairman of the University of Oslo's philosophy department and the project's director, adds that the ancients' writings suggest that they were "more inclined to conceive of themselves as part of something bigger than themselves," and that they addressed health in "body as well as mind. Both [were] equally important and the health of either one [was] an important presupposition for the health of the other."

Emilsson stresses that the work has just begun. Watch for updates on its website


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