I was watching a few minutes of one of Joel Osteen‘s lectures on TV last night. Whether you like him or not you still have to admit he is one of the best public speakers in America. Even though your beliefs might not be aligned with his, what he said about happiness and contentment really struck me. What intrigued me the most is that the essence of his message wasn’t totally religious, even though he explained it in the context of the Bible.
“Be happy today” is what he was preaching last night. Since happiness comes from within, being happy is a choice you have to make. This means you must be content with what you have at the moment. He told us to be happy whether we have a luxury car or a beat up Volkswagen. Joel also added that we must let go of our worries because God is there for us and that this is all part of his plan but the religious aspect is discretionary.
There is a similarity between what Joel Osteen said last night and Epicurus’ materialist philosophy, Epicureanism. Epicurus’ goal was achieving happiness. For him, the highest level of happiness was a state of total tranquility that is called “ataraxia” which means “absence of pain”. To attain such state, one must live a modest life and know the limits of their desires. He distinguishes 3 types of desires: the non-necessary and non-natural ones which have no natural limit (e.g. wealth or fame or the desire for that Ferrari you always wanted), the non-necessary but natural desires (e.g. the desire for a luxurious seven course meal, even though some bread and water can fill your stomach too), and finally, the necessary and natural desires which are easy to satisfy and have a natural limit (e.g. shelter, food, water). He believes that we only need to respond to natural and necessary desires and eliminate all the other desires because unfulfilled desires and the fear of your desires not being fulfilled cause pain and anxiety So in a nutshell, if our tummy’s are full and if we are somewhat well rested, we should be totally happy. When we have too many non-necessary and non-natural desires, we can never be at ease because we will always be worrying about how to fulfill them. If our desires are only necessary and natural, we can be happy now because we already have everything we need (and if we don’t it is relatively easy to fulfill these basic needs). This ancient Greek philosopher also believed that religion causes fear and anxiety and he criticized anything that is supposed to be divine or superstitious. To him the essence life resides in the sensations that we feel.
Even though Epicurus and Joel Osteen are polar opposites in terms of beliefs, they both still have a similar message: happiness is within everyone’s reach. They both believe that letting go of our worries will lead to happiness, but they both have completely different methods of getting rid of these worries. Epicurus suggests letting go of our unnecessary desires so we don’t have to worry about them anymore. Joel Osteen tells us to try to enjoy what you are doing at the moment, whether it is school work, or a task that must be completed for work, or the dinner with the in-laws. He wants us start finding a certain level of tranquility in whatever you are doing by taking a deep breath and realizing that the situation you are in really isn’t that bad. He believes that by finding pleasure in whatever is around you, you will not only grow as person, but you will also find a state of happiness that will last. Epicurus believes we shouldn’t worry about the gods or death, because these two things not affect our world. Joel Osteen, on the other hand has a more deterministic point of view, which is in line with the Christian tradition. He tells us that we should have faith and accept God’s plan because everything will turn out well.
These two thinkers and preachers from different times have completely different views on the world, yet they have both found a method and a state of mind that can lead to happiness.