Summary: On happiness by Seneca

On Happiness is a monologue by Seneca, in it he explains to his friend Galean about the meaning of happiness. He starts by saying that happiness is not easily reached. For the more you pursue it, the farther it gets away from you. But there are things that you can do to create it in your life.

The Truth is needed for a happy life

Seneca teaches that it is impossible to say that someone is happy if this person is far from the truth. He warns us about the risk of group think, and falling prey to the thinking of the majority. He called these groups the roman mob. Seneca noticed that these groups are usually moved by group consensus without evaluation. This is what Jung called the collective.

This part of our mind is formed by a heritage of beliefs and impressions that are passed down to us from our families, society, and culture. The collective governs our behavior in a way that is generally void of reason.

Thus Seneca urges us to seek the best things, the truth rather than the more common lies, these things are everlasting and shall not be consumed by time because they are the true.

Living according to Nature

As truth, happiness is something only viable if coherent with nature. Things cannot be what they were not meant to by nature. Nature is ruled by reason, and when we live according to reason, we manifest our highest potential. This is because reason leads to virtue, and virtue leads to a happy life.

We were created to be virtuous. We won’t find happiness in vulgar things. We might find some pleasure or satisfaction, but it will not endure and will become anguish. Virtue usually lets go of pleasure, it has no need for it.

This is why we should observe our condition and enjoy it, it’s best if we make the most of it. Looking inward is always bound to bring joy, because we all have what we need to be happy. When looking outside, you’ll always find someone in better circumstances than you, but when you look inside, you’ll find your true treasure.

No virtue, no happiness

I would dare say, the best part of this text is the humanizing description Seneca gives of virtue and pleasure. It’s vivid and succinct:

“Virtue is something high, illustrious, kingly, unconquerable and tireless. Pleasure is base slavish, feeble and quickly gone. You can find it living in brothels and bars. But you will find virtue in temples, in the forum, in the curia, and standing in front of the city’s defensive walls covered in dust, with calloused hands. Pleasure, you’ll more often find sulking about, keeping to the shadows around the public baths and the sweat houses and the places that worry about authorities. It is soft, feeble and soaked in strong wine and perfumed oil, a sickly pale or painted lady.”

Virtue is intertwined with harmony and unity. It is tied to the balance of the soul. Vices trouble this balance and lead us to extremes, making our movements pendulous.

Any wise advice would encourage one into a life of balance. A life that is away from the extremes. Think about a computer. If we have no programs and software installed, then it’s of very little use, but if it has many, it’ll be slow and unworkable. The same with human capacity

Let’s find the balance. Each person, each object, each virtue and each pleasure have their balance point. That’s why it’s important to have the right knowledge about the limits of a subject before we scrutinize it.

Understand time to be happy

Time is an essential element to happiness. As we cannot experience happiness, if we are still struggling with the past, or anxiously waiting, planning for the future. Happiness is intimately connected with the present. 

The first time I read that I felt a bit sad, but then I realized I had not understood this concept very well. The present is now. When I thought about the past, the past became my now. When I thought about the future, I realized that the future is happening now. So, this means that happiness is everlasting. And indeed, Seneca says all good things are immortal.

When you remember a good moment you had, yes that could have been happiness. But you know what the best part of it is? You can look back at moments that were not so happy, with your happiness glasses and re-read them. 

As a magical object, I have decided to wear my happiness glasses all the time. I chose to look at my life in a positive light.