Its rejection of happiness as a worthy goal is what ultimately led me to abandon Buddhism, after practicing it for many years. That is also the reason why I would not take Stoicism as my life philosophy, although I am willing to learn from it. I think a good life consists in finding a balance between pursuing happiness and eudaimonia. In fact, the two things go together. In my experience, people that claim not to pursue happiness and to only seek to alleviate the suffering of others often turn out to have an inflated ego. Their secret goal is to see themselves as better than others. It is very hard to avoid falling into the trap of the ego when you start giving up things. It is also hard to live a modern Western life while saying that you don’t pursue pleasure and happiness. You may end up being a hypocrite.

Happiness and suffering are two sides of the same coin. If you truly alleviate your suffering you become happier. And the other way around: as you become happier you suffer less. What happens is that we often misunderstand happiness, confusing it with pleasure (a sensation) or joy (an emotion). Like suffering, happiness is not an emotion but a state of being, something that encompasses our whole self.

I see no objective reason why cultivating virtue should be our goal in life. Happiness, understood as the full realization of our innermost aspirations, seems to take precedence over virtue, as in “I seek virtue because it makes me happy to be that kind of human being”. Why else would I seek virtue?

UCLA professor. Neuroscientist doing research on pain. Writes about science, philosophy, politics and kinky sex.

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