The phrase the pursuit of happiness was coined by Thomas Jefferson when he wrote America’s Declaration of Independence. Jefferson was a fan of the philosopher Epicurus who was one of a number of ancient Greek sages fascinated with human happiness. For well over 2 000 years people have wrestled with the question of happiness. We continue to ponder its importance, navigate the best way to find it and most perplexing of all, wonder how to hold onto it.
Some people don’t think about it at all, preferring to adopt the strategy of ignorance is bliss. Whether consciously or not, they have still chosen a philosophy to live by. It works for some - Dostoyevsky’s protagonist in the novel, The Idiot, for instance. But buffeted by life’s slings and arrows, most of us actively search for a worldview to make sense of things.
The Greek philosopher, Aristippus, argued that obtaining pleasure should be our primary focus. He advocated hedonism as the best school of thought when it came to pursuing happiness. With the human condition being difficult and austerity lacking much appeal, it is a reasonable viewpoint. At an individual level, it tends to fall down though. Inspect the life of anyone who has seen pleasure seeking drift into addiction and the result is never enviable. Collectively it becomes a nightmare. Imagine a world composed of people predominantly like Jordan Belfort aka The Wolf of Wall Street?