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Philosophies to help you find happiness

By Richard Bevan
Philosophies to help you find happiness
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Could finding a new philosophy on life help you find happiness in troubled times?

It's probably too idealistic to expect that we can remain euphorically happy during times of extreme crisis, recession and when external events such as bereavement, illness or the loss of a job suddenly hits us with the impact of a demolition ball.

But despite tragic or difficult circumstances there are strategies that can help us keep sane and enjoying what life has to offer.

We look at 10 non-religious philosophies that may just inspire you to take a more positive approach to finding or maintaining happiness, if not your sanity, through difficult times. Take your pick.

Epicurean
Rather than advocating a free-for-all in lustful actions and gluttony, the epicurean way, as first stated by Greek philosopher Epicurus, is more about advocating "friends, freedom and thought" as a path to happiness.

The main tenets for contentment as stated by Epicurus were a life among friends, a body free from pain and a peaceful mind. Certainly what separates this attitude from the dreary Protestant work ethic is simply not to feel guilty about wanting to have a good time and seeking pleasure in everything.

The idea being that a fun-seeking person will not only keep them in a positive frame of mind but also cheer up those surrounding them.

Socrates
One of the greatest gifts the Athenian philosopher gave to the world was that thinking logically about our lives may help us to be more certain about ourselves.

Socrates believed that without confidence, it's unlikely we will make the right choices. Emphasis is placed on not appeasing others too much or being concerned by what people may think.

Cynics might see these traits as being the motivators of the most anti-social citizens but the idea is really to be more independent-minded and positive about the world. Socrates famously died for his beliefs - encouraging us to stand up for our own.

Stoicism
Another Greek philosophy from Zeno of Citium but one that the Victorians had more in common with, although doesn't actually mean you have to act like a corseted stuffy governess.

The teachings of stoicism are about not allowing emotions — especially destructive ones like anger and jealousy — colour decisions, actions and day-to-day living.

Stoicism teaches the development of self-control and in a world of many distractions and temptations that's probably not such a bad thing. Especially when you need to finish putting up that flat-pack wardrobe.

William James
James, considered to be the father of psychology, put emphasis on "giving up pretensions" in order to become a more fulfilled and content human being.

His view was that there are many things about ourselves that we would like to be true — but that we know deep down we either fall short of or are far from reality. As long as we cling to them, James could only envisage continuing disappointment and dissatisfaction in our lives. Perhaps Simon Cowell took a leaf out of James' book when he started up X Factor?

Arthur Schopenhauer
The 19th-century German philosopher is probably the closest we'll get to Jack Dee advising us on how to make life tolerable.

Schopenhauer believed that humankind is pretty wretched and driven by basic cravings that make us miserable. His solution to escape every frustration is to accept that choices are not made freely.

But it's not all pessimism. A major tenet of Schopenhauer's life philosophy is escaping self-oppression by immersing oneself in the arts. He suggests developing a passion for music ("the purest form of art") and to seek out sex and love where you can find it, seeing love affairs as "more important than all other aims in man's life". So, no need to feel guilty about watching Mama Mia on DVD, then.

Benjamin Franklin
Benjamin Franklin, the philanthropist, scientist and almanac publisher, compiled a compendium of wise aphorisms and practical information about how to live well. His musings made up the first American self-help book.

Franklin was Confucius with a sense of humour. Classics include "take counsel in wine, but resolve afterwards in water" and "he that lieth down with dogs, shall rise up with flies".

One belief Franklin stood by was that the way to do well in the world was to do good. His mixture of old-fashioned morality and emphasis on self-responsibility would have been a welcome ingredient in our banking system.

Michel de Montaigne
Sixteenth-century French philosopher Michel de Montaigne understood what can make us feel bad about ourselves. He recognised three things that make us unhappy: bodily inadequacy, being judged and intellectual inadequacy — the feeling that we're not as bright as we should be.

For Montaigne, self-loathing is key to self-esteem issues. But he put forward some practical solutions.

Montaigne urged people to remember that they're animals: "Kings and philosophers shit and so do ladies," wrote Montaigne, reminding us of our relation to the farmyard.

In a world where society makes judgments on how we dress and eat and our lifestyles, Montaigne suggests that we take a leaf out of the animal kingdom and feel less shameful of who and what we are. Accept ourselves and our limitations with grace and a touch of humour and remember that "even upon the highest throne we are seated on our arses".

Friedrich Nietzsche
He may never have been the kind of guy you'd invite round for a karaoke evening but the wise sage did say some profound truisms on happiness and how best to find it.

Nietzsche, who once said that "there are no facts, only interpretations," advocated hard work and effort as being a key to fulfilment and happiness. His main dictum being that any worthwhile achievements in life come from the experience of overcoming hardship. You only have to watch an episode of Grand Designs to get his point.

Albert Schweitzer
The humanitarian Nobel peace prize winner is the author of one of the most thoughtful and beautifully simplistic statements: "Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful."

Of course, the reality of the employment world, needing stringent qualifications and access to training can throw cold water on such idealism, but Schweitzer's main point is that primarily striving to be successful materialistically isn't the way to find happiness.

In other words, don't put off trying to be happy until you've got that status car and des res by the river.

Humanism
Humanism advocates a philosophy of life inspired by humanity (as opposed to beliefs in divinity) and guided by reason. This can be a tricky one if you're naturally predisposed to preferring the company of furry four-legged creatures and tend to give your charity money to the donkey sanctuary.

According to humanists, the main tenets for a happy and content life are to take responsibility for your actions and base your ethics on the goals of human welfare. Firmly non-religious, the movement is made up of agnostics and atheists.

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