Socrates* believed that only people with self-knowledge could find true happiness. According to Socrates:
- – Happiness flows not from physical or external conditions, such as bodily pleasures or wealth and power, but from living a life that’s right for your soul, your deepest good.
- – If you don’t know what’s good for your soul, then you’ll be misled into pursuing happiness based on what’s conventional [money?] or easy [escapism?]. This is a dead-end.
- – If you do know what’s good for your soul, then you’ll do it naturally, since it’s the nature of good to be desired. This is the path to happiness.
In other words, Socrates believed that to be happy you need to know what’s good for you.
Happiness strategies inspired by Socrates
Relationships: We’ve all felt the thrilling appeal of a bad boy/girl, but in our heart of hearts we know they’ll only make us miserable in the ‘ever after’ part of life.
Career: It’s tempting to take a job based on money, but you’ll get used to the money and adjust your expectations quickly. A job offering challenge, good colleagues and enjoyment may well be ‘better for you’ and therefore a happier choice.
Self-knowledge: A little self-reflection can help identify what’s good for you in your own life. By looking back at which decisions have brought you long-term happiness and which have eventually left you feeling regret, you can deepen your self-knowledge.
Generosity: Consider what you can do for others. Giving money, time or resources to help people in need could be wonderful for them – and for your own deepest good.
Socrates’ ideas about happiness can be powerful. Rather than fighting your instant-gratification desires, you might begin to see them as conventional and illusory. This doesn’t mean you’ll always say no to them. But you may develop a sense of what brings true happiness, giving you a more meaningful context for making choices.
*To learn more about Socrates, you might like to read The Passion of the Western Mind: Understanding the Ideas that Have Shaped Our World View by Richard Tarnas.