common and famous PHILOSOPHIES OF LIFE 

Everything hangs on one’s thinking. (…) A man is as unhappy as he has convinced himself he is.
Seneca, Letters to Lucilius

Happiness «hangs on one’s thinking”, proclaims the ancient Roman Stoicism: our positive or negative thoughts, and the way we see the world and ourselves, determine our happiness - without a direct dependence on objective causes.

Seneca - and the stoic philosophers in general are great interpreters - of this philosophy of life. Epicurus, though not exactly a stoic, is close to this school of thought.

But stoicism and epicurianism are just outstanding examples of the many other philosophies of life, created by us over the centuries. There are many other, all trying to enhance our happiness, or responding to the cruelty of life, creating meaning to our lives.

Some of them sound strange and outdated to us. But even in that case, they deserve our attention and our reflection - if not for their strange values and the strange reasoning behind them...

Stoicism & Philosophy of life

What difference does it make what your position in life is, if you dislike it yourself?
Seneca, Roman philosopher and politician, Letters to Lucilius

Not happy he who thinks himself not so.
Unknown ancient roman or Greek authorship, cited in Seneca Letters to Lucilius

Happiness is an ideal of the imagination, not of reason. 
Immanuel Kant, 1724-1804, German philosopher, Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysics of Ethics 

Living the Present: a common example of a philosophy of life

To many ancient writers and philosophers happiness and meaning of life are achieved by living the present placidly, and minimizing or ignoring the future and its evils. The stoicism, epicurism and taoism, all resolve around that very principle...

The life of the folly is empty of gratitude, full of anxiety, all of it focused in the ghosts of the future.

We must heal our misfortunes by the grateful recollection of what has been and by the recognition that it is impossible to make undone what has been done.
Epicurus, 341-270 b.C., Greek philosopher, The Extant Remains

Overlook what tomorrow may bring, and count as profit every day that Fate allows. 

Believe each day that has dawned is your last, and some hour for which you haven’t been expecting will prove lovely. 
Horace, 65-8 a. C., Roman poet, Epistles

Everything that will happen belongs to the domain of the uncertain. Live now.
Seneca, in Andre Comte-SponvilleThe Little Book of Philosophy, Vintage

Projecting our thoughts far ahead of us, instead of adapting ourselves to the present, is cause of fear. Foresight, the greatest blessing humanity has been given, is also a curse.

What’s the good of dragging up sufferings which are over, or of being unhappy now just because you were then? (…) When troubles come to an end, the natural thing is to be glad.

Wild animals run from the dangers they actually see, and once they have escaped them worry no more. We however are tormented alike by what is past and what is to come. us

A number of our blessings do us harm, for memory brings back the agony of fear, while foresight brings it on prematurely. No one confines his unhappiness to the present.
Seneca, Roman philosopher and politician, Letters to Lucilius

Those who are contented and at ease with the moment, those who live in accord with the course of Nature, cannot be affected by sorrow or joy. That’s what the ancients called release from bondage. 
Chuang-Tzu, Taoist thinker, century III or II b. C., Book of Chuang-Tzu 

Your life is not lying in wait in the future like a wild animal or some ominous destiny. Nor is it hidden in the heavens, like a paradise or promise. Nor is it shut up in the cave or the prison of your past. It is here and now; it is what you live and what you do. At the heart of being; at the heart of the present; at the heart of everything – in the great current of life, of reality.
Andre Comte-Sponville, French philosopher, The Little Book of Philosophy

Ancient Oriental philosophies of life & Examples

Ancient oriental philosophy proclaims emphatically that, to avoid worries and anxiety, we should be unattached to material possessions. This is a thought we can also encounter in the Epicurist and Stoic philosophers, or in the Bible.

When we surrender ourselves to material desires – a new car, a new home, for instance – we increase the intensity and number of the desires. Our wishes increase and we become less and less satisfied, and more and more incapable of satisfying them.
Dalai Lama, Tibetan spiritual and political leader, Voices from the Heart

He who does not think that what he has is more than sufficient, is an unhappy man, even if he is the master of the whole world.
Epicurus, 341-270 b.C., Greek philosopher, in Seneca Letters to Lucilius

Those who cannot release themselves are so because they are bound by material things.
Chuang-Tzu, Taoist thinker, century III or II b. C., Book of Chuang-Tzu

When we bend ourselves to material desires – a new car, a new home, for instance – we increase their intensity and their number. Our wishes increase and we become less and less satisfied, and more and more incapable of satisfying them.
Dalai Lama, Tibetan spiritual and political leader, Voices from the Heart 

Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, and what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes?

Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 

Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? 

Why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 

So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 
Bible, Matthews 

another example: Monastic philosophy of Life

Here is a small snippet of a monastic philosophy of life:

1
Before all else, dear brothers, love God and then your neighbor, because these are the chief commandments given to us.
2
The main purpose for you having come together is to live harmoniously in your house, intent upon God in oneness of mind and heart.
3
Call nothing your own, but let everything be yours in common. Food and clothing shall be distributed to each of you by your superior, not equally to all, for all do not enjoy equal health, but rather according to each one's need. 
Saint Augustine Order

Looking for Pleasure: Ancient Epicurean philosophy of life

Epicurus, a Greek philosopher (341-270 b.C), prescribed a philosophy of life centred on a controlled choice of pleasures. Some centuries after that, the Christians attacked Epicurus and his philosophy violently. Only in the XVII century did a great Christian author – Benedito Espinoza – sustain the human right to pleasure.

We must exercise ourselves in the things which bring happiness, since, if that be present, we have everything, and, if that be absent, all our actions should be directed towards attaining it.

I do not know how I can conceive the good, if I withdraw the pleasures of taste, of love, of hearing, or the pleasurable emotions caused by the sight of a beautiful form.

Pleasure is our first and kindred good. It is the starting-point of every choice and of every aversion, and to it we come back, inasmuch as we make feeling the rule by which to judge of every good thing.

When we are pained because of the absence of pleasure, then, and then only, do we feel the need of pleasure

To habituate one's self, therefore, to simple and inexpensive diet supplies all that is needful for health, and enables a man to meet the necessary requirements of life without shrinking, and it places us in a better condition when we approach at intervals a costly fare and renders us fearless of fortune.

When I say, then, that pleasure should be the end and aim of our lives, I do not mean the pleasures of the prodigal and the pleasures of sensuality, as we are understood to do by some through ignorance, prejudice, or wilful misrepresentation. By pleasure we mean the absence of pain in the body and of trouble in the soul. 

It is not an unbroken succession of parties and revelry, not women and children, not the enjoyment of the fish and other delicacies of a luxurious meal, which produce a pleasant life; it is sober reasoning, searching out the grounds of every choice and avoidance, and banishing those beliefs through which the greatest tumults take possession of the soul. 
Epicurus, 341-270 b.C., Greek philosopher; Letter to Meneoceus

Nothing forbids our pleasure except a savage and sad superstition. For why is it more proper to relieve our hunger and thirst than to rid ourselves of melancholy?

To use things and take pleasure in them as far as possible – but not to the point where we are disgusted with them, for lack of pleasure –is part of the life of the wise man.
Spinoza, 1632-1677, Dutch philosopher, The Ethics 

Ancient stoic philosophy of life: Quotes & Examples

The ancient stoic philosophers were the most outstanding defenders of controlling our passions and bodily desires, as a path to liberation and meaning. Also philosophers such as Socrates and the oriental philosophies pleaded the same principle. Here are some quotations illustrating it:

Perturbation derives from unwise opinions and judgments.

Happy is the wise man who, with moderation and vigour, is serene and in harmony, not consuming himself with evils, futilities or excitements, nor becoming enervated by fear, or burning with desires and envy.
Cicero, 106-43 b. C., Roman philosopher and politician, Tusculan disputation 

We must heal our misfortunes by the grateful recollection of what has been and by the recognition that it is impossible to make undone what has been done.
Epicurus, 341-270 b.C., Greek philosopher, The extant remains

Reducing to the utmost my desires, brings me closer to the gods.
Socrates, 470-399 b.C., Greek philosopher, in Diogenes Laerce Lives of Eminent Philosophers.

It’s an illusion to feed the insatiable desires of our ungrateful soul, covering it with goods, without ever satisfying it.
Lucrecius, 98-55 a.C, Roman poet and philosopher, De rerum natura

The greatest of victories is the one over oneself.
Pali Tripitaka, Buddhist collection of Holly texts, Dhammapada

It is not the body that is insatiable. The limitlessness of desire, which condemns us to neediness, dissatisfaction, or unhappiness, is a disease of the imagination.
Andre Comte-Sponville, French philosopher, Small Treatise 

Budhist, taoist, Budhist philosophies of Life

Several oriental philosophies of life – Buddhists, Taoists, Hindus – claim that the denial of the emotions and feelings is the only way to avoid suffering. Some authors postulate almost vegetative forms of living, to extirpate pain:

Those who are looking for happiness should pull out the darts that they have stuck in themselves: the darts of grief, of desire, of despair.
Pali Tripitaka, Buddhist collection of Holly texts, Sutta-Nipata

If you are a wise man, avoid the causes of pain: wrath, pride, deceit, greed, love, hate, delusion, conception, birth, death, hell and animal desires.
Jaina Sutras, Acaranba Sutra, Hindu religious texts of the VI and V b. C. century

The mind of the perfect man looks like a mirror – something that doesn’t lean forward or backward in its response to the world. It responds to the world but conceals nothing of its own. Therefore it is able to deal with the world without suffering pain. 

Do not want to be the possessor of fame. Do not want be the stockroom of schemes. Do not meditate on the function of things. You should not be a master of manipulative knowledge. (…) You should exercise fully what you have received from Nature without any subjective viewpoint. In short: you should look for vacuous.
Chuang-Tzu, Taoist thinker, century III or II b. C., Book of Chuang-Tzu

Our capacity for disgust is in close proportion with our desires; that is, in proportion to the intensity of our attachment to the things of this world.
Thomas Mann, 1875-1955, German writer, The Confessions of Félix Krull 


Religion & Philosophies of Life Example

Religion and God are at the center of many philosophies of life. The basic principle is faith:

To believe in God is to realize that life has a meaning.
Ludwig Wittgenstein, in Andre Comte-Sponville,The Little Book of Philosophy, Vintage

The Ecclesiastes shows that man without God is in total ignorance and inevitable misery.
Blaise Pascal, 1623-1662, French thinker, Thoughts

When I search for you, my God, I am searching for happiness. I will look for you in order that my soul lives, because my body lives from my soul, and my soul lives from you.

Far from me, far from the heart of your serf, my God, confessing to you, the idea of finding happiness in whatever the joy!

Happiness is a joy that is granted not to the impious, but only to those who serve you through pure love: because you are that joy! To rejoice from you, in you and by you, that is happiness. And there is no other.
Saint Augustine, 354-430, theologian and philosopher, Confessions 

Christian (Ecclesiastes) Philosophy of life

The Ecclesiastes is a rather atypical text in the framework of Christianity. It reflects a popular vision that sees happiness as laziness, eating, drinking and even as ignorance.

So, go your way - eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart; for God has already accepted your works. 

Don't be overly righteous, and don’t be yourself overly wise. Why should you destroy yourself?

Live joyfully with the wife whom you love all the days of your life of vanity, which He has given you: for that is your portion in life you have to stand under the sun.

Better is a handful, with quietness, than two handfuls with labour and chasing after wind. 

In much wisdom is much grief; he who increases knowledge increases sorrow. 
Bible, Ecclesiastes


THE ANCIENT PHILOSOPHIES OF LIFE & WISDOM 

Wrong choices and unwise options can damage our lives. Life is an art, and the anticipation of future evils, foolish thoughts, and the chasing after material wealth are causes of unhappiness. Only through wisdom – given by philosophy - can we enrich the meaning of our lives, and get happiness. In short, that’s the position of an important group of ancient philosophers, the most outstanding of which is, perhaps, Epicurus (341-270 a.C.).

Epicurus was a believer in a secluded life, a life in small communities whose members should cultivate friendship, wisdom, and, ultimately, pleasure. «Pleasure is the beginning and the end of living happily», Epicurus argued. «It’s the first and innate good, and it is based upon this that we should make our choices and establish our aversions».

But Epicurus was not exactly a hedonist. Epicurus emphasized  pleasure, but not indiscriminate pleasures. Epicurus was also an adept of moderation:

«It is not an unbroken succession of parties and revelry, not women and child, not the enjoyment of the fish and other delicacies of a luxurious table, which produce a pleasant life; it is sober reasoning, searching out the grounds of every choice and avoidance, and banishing those beliefs through which the greatest tumults take possession of the soul», he said.

We don’t really know what life was like for the many Epicurist communities (very popular and numerous in the ancient Greek and Roman empires). But the first Christians, namely Saint Augustine, fought them violently, charging them with hedonism, and even of orgies and debauchery.

This could have happened in some of the thousands of Epicurist communities, but probably it’s exaggerated, something spotted by the fundamentalism of the first Christians. Epicurus’ writings show a moderate and sensible man, advocating contention, a position common to philosophers such as Socrates or the stoics, who overemphasised it.

There is, anyway, a profound difference between Epicurus’ philosophy of life and the ones born from Christianity. To Saint Augustine, the father of the medieval-Christian philosophy of life, happiness was in the faith in God, in the certainty brought by that faith, in the joy which it allows. «I will look for You in order that my soul lives, because my body lives from my soul, and my soul lives from You» (Saint Augustine).

Happiness is, therefore, something that should be searched for outside the secular world. It doesn’t pass by physical or even intellectual pleasures. «Far from me, far from the heart of your serf, my God, confessing to You, the idea of finding happiness in whatever the joy!»

Happiness, to Saint Augustine, was also not in the oblivion of our future evils, or in emotional unattachment (as claimed by Buddhist, Hindu and Taoist schools); and it was even less in eating our «bread with joy, and drinking your wine with a merry heart, for God has already accepted your works», as advocated in the Ecclesiastes.

«Happiness is a joy that is not granted to the impious, but only to those who serve you through pure love: because you are that joy! To rejoice from you, in you and by you, that is happiness. And there is no other», argued Saint Augustine.

Happiness passed to depend wholly in the creed and in attachment to God. With Christianity, the philosophies of life spreading upon the western world changed dramatically. 

Only with secularization introduced by the Renaissance and deepened in the following centuries, did the major principles of classic Greek philosophy, as pleaded by Epicurus, – valuing pleasure, friendship and profane love – regain importance.

 

 

 

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