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Happy

Why More or Less Everything is Absolutely Fine

By Derren Brown
15-minute read
Audio available
Happy: Why More or Less Everything is Absolutely Fine by Derren Brown

Happy (2016) takes a look at the ancient world’s most zen philosophers – the Stoics – and asks what thinkers like Epicurus, Seneca and Marcus Aurelius can teach us about happiness. The answer according to Derren Brown? A great deal. Packed with insights into the robust and rational outlooks of these Greek and Roman sages, these blinks illuminate a vital chapter in the history of Western philosophy while showing us how we can lead better, more fulfilling lives today. 

  • Philosophers and thinkers
  • The short-tempered and stressed
  • Happiness-seekers

Derren Brown is a writer and television presenter best known for his 2000 series Mind Control, a fascinating and occasionally unnerving exploration of psychological manipulation. Brown is also the author of Tricks of the Mind and Confessions of a Conjurer

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Happy

Why More or Less Everything is Absolutely Fine

By Derren Brown
  • Read in 15 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 9 key ideas
Upgrade to Premium Read or listen now
Happy: Why More or Less Everything is Absolutely Fine by Derren Brown
Synopsis

Happy (2016) takes a look at the ancient world’s most zen philosophers – the Stoics – and asks what thinkers like Epicurus, Seneca and Marcus Aurelius can teach us about happiness. The answer according to Derren Brown? A great deal. Packed with insights into the robust and rational outlooks of these Greek and Roman sages, these blinks illuminate a vital chapter in the history of Western philosophy while showing us how we can lead better, more fulfilling lives today. 

Key idea 1 of 9

Stoicism builds on the insights of Epicureanism, and it can help us live more happily in a consumerist age. 

What is happiness? It’s an age-old question. Trying to answer it for himself, the author came across Stoicism, a philosophical school that emerged in Greece in the third century BCE. Stoics, as the creed’s followers are known, believe that the key to happiness is accepting life as it is rather than pursuing new pleasures or trying to avoid inevitable hardships. 

But that’s not where our story starts. One of the most important Stoic ideas has its roots in a rival movement – Epicureanism. This philosophy takes its name from a sage called Epicurus. Born in 341 BCE, Epicurus explored the relationship between happiness and material goods while sitting in his walled garden in Athens. Today, he is regarded as the first thinker in the history of Western philosophy to analyze that relationship seriously. 

According to Epicurus, happiness isn’t dependent on material goods – what really matters is how we feel about possessing or lacking certain things. Put differently, unrealistic ideas about what we need and deserve make us miserable. True happiness comes from accepting what we already have or can reasonably expect to acquire over the course of our lives. 

That philosophy is borne out in everyday experience. When the author traveled through the Atlas Mountains in Morocco, for example, he met a humble Berber family. They owned next to nothing, but that didn’t matter a bit. They were genuinely content with their lot in life – all they needed were a few cooking utensils, clothes, simple furniture and a mule. That’s the kind of happiness Epicurus had in mind. 

But Epicureanism isn’t just about accepting poverty; it’s every bit as relevant in affluent societies suffering from rampant consumerism. Epicureans and Stoics argue that all you need are the bare essentials. That varies from place to place, of course, but it rules out luxuries that require you to break the bank. As anyone who has ever struggled to pay down credit-card debt knows all too well, the pleasure of buying is fleeting while the misery of financial worries is anything but temporary. 

Epicurus’s central insight is the foundation stone of Stoicism. In the following blinks, we’ll get to know that philosophy a little better and show you how to apply its teachings to your life.

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