The recently blooming empirical science of happiness is relevant not only to those who seek happiness. It became popular by providing an alternative to sickness-based approaches to mental health, by focusing on the drivers of well-being rather than on the drivers of ill-being (the typical concern of psychology and psychiatry). These two sets of drivers were shown to partly differ from each other. We need different interventions to cure mental illness and to promote well-being. Happiness science gave us a set of tools to improve our well-being, which is very much aligned to our current cultural ideal of pursuing happiness and seeing ourselves as masters of our lives. Aiming for maximizing happiness (and happiness only) may have its downside, however, as argued in Chapter 3.
What has the science of happiness brought us beyond happiness? It has refined our notions of happiness by differentiating between moods, feelings, hedonic and cognitive assessments, myriad forms of well-being. Thus, its results can support us not only in our aspirations for a joyful life but also to live a life which is meaningful, complete and authentic. It can inspire and refine our reflection on the nature of the good life, on both the individual and collective level. What is the good life we really want? And what is the good life we actually seek through our actions? Perhaps these two differ at the moment.
Happiness economics played a major role in challenging the mainstream consensus on the priority of material indicators of progress, such as GDP, and provoked a discussion on potential alternatives (Chapter 2).
Happiness is the ultimate good, there is nothing more precious or desirable than this, according to Aristotle. Fame, wealth, enjoyment, knowledge, although one can strive for them, are all just means to make someone happy. In contrast, one seeks happiness not in order to get to something else through it, but because it is good in itself. However, the word for happiness used by Aristotle, ‘eudaimonia’ covers something else than many other concepts of happiness.
In eudaimonia ‘eu’ means good and ‘daimōn’ is a supernatural being, a spirit. In the ancient world, daimon was the name of the ‘movers’ in the celestial spheres who moved the planets. There was a perfect order in the celestial spheres, and the world was orderly. This was called the ‘cosmos’. The philosopher held that humans’ purpose was to achieve this perfection of the spheres within themselves. Thus, we may say that eudaimonia means that we become a good spirit, living in harmony with other beings of the cosmos. Eudaimonia is the central concept of Aristotle’s ethics.
Today, the term eudaimonia is translated in various different ways: as happiness, flourishing, living well or well-being. The ancient concept of flourishing life has gained much recent attention, and it may offer a key to our collective pathway to a thriving life which does not cost the Earth.
According to Aristotle, happiness is ‘good life and good action’, and a ‘happy man lives well and does well’.1 In our contemporary language we could say that the good life is what we aim for, and it is largely the outcome of right action.
Jacob Levy Moreno developed his own role theory from 1923 on. In contrast to sociological role theory, which is a theoretical concept and primarily seeks to describe certain phenomena, for example gender roles, Moreno focused on practical application. He worked with refugees, prostitutes, schoolchildren, companies, church groups and politicians. He worked with psychiatric clients as well as ordinary people. In addition to social roles, he also explored ‘psychodramatic roles’ (for example hero, explorer, movie star), where imagination is also gaining ground.
He did not stop here, as he looked at an individual through their relations. Therefore, he was intrigued by how one person’s behaviour affects someone else or an entire group and, conversely, how they affect the person, that is, what interactions there are between different members (and their roles). He observed how the structure of a group can change and how its cohesion can be increased.1 I learnt most about its practical application from my mentor, Max Clayton, and through my personal experiences.
Moreno’s role theory bridges the individual and the community, psychology and sociology, as it examines intrapersonal (intrapsychic) phenomena as well as interpersonal (interpsychic) interactions. Moreno believed that dramatic tools can not only help individuals as such, but are also able reshape the overall culture. He envisioned a new culture: a world more creative, spontaneous, healing and connected.
Moreno, just like his Australian disciple Max Clayton, believed in the liberating and healing power of self-expression. Role playing, drama techniques, as well as dance, song, music, drawing and myriad of other forms of creativity are opportunities for one to create something new.
More and more people find themselves concerned by the dilemma of how to live a life that brings growth and fulfilment, yet that is at the same time considerate of the finite resources of our Earth; a life that is joyful but that can also contribute to our finding a way out of the ecological and climate crisis. A growing number of economists, social researchers and business leaders are critically examining the responsibilities of their own fields and looking for ways in which they could be part of the solution. Many responsible, sensitive people doubt that they are doing enough, and wonder just how they can enjoy life before the arrival of ‘the end of the world’.
These gigantic, systemic crisis phenomena dwarf the possibilities of any single person. What can one individual do in the face of global climate politics, trade treaties, international monopolies, national economic and social policies or a global pandemic? We may feel that whatever we do, we cannot have an impact on these things: with or without us, the world goes on as it otherwise would. At the same time, we are already responding to the crisis, just as we are. Our very existence and our current habits have an impact, so we cannot opt out of responding, and our response, whether conscious or not, expresses our connection to these issues.
We probably want to feel that what we are doing (including our work and our consumer habits) is good and is enough – not to let the magnitude of the challenge overwhelm us. One can interpret it as a search for an integration of our pleasure-seeking selves and our moral selves. How can we feel well and do well?
Anthropologist Jane Briggs travelled to the Arctic in the 1960s and asked the Inuit, who at that time still lived in igloos and kept their traditions, to receive her and help her survive. She lived among them for a year and a half, and learnt their language. She observed in detail how drama is used to educate and teach children.1 When a child gets a tantrum, bites a parent, they are not scolded or punished but, rather, are shown in a playful way that involves the child what their action does to others (for example, the bite hurts the child’s mother). They are not taught in words, especially not in angry words, but by playing out the situation, sometimes by dramatically magnifying it, how they can handle their own tempers and other people. The child and their parents tell and play stories together about life, relationships and conflict resolution. Briggs was impressed by the serenity and peace of the Inuit and saw herself, in comparison, as a fierce, excessive being, and learnt a lot from them.
Role playing is almost instinctive, and, just as children do it on their own without any encouragement, it was part of our human civilization even before the invention of writing: we told and played stories to each other.
Role playing was made into an art by Greek drama. In the tragedy, viewers were able to encounter the topics that occupied them as well, to experience the communal, collective nature of their own history, and thus to experience ‘catharsis’ – a state of stir, exaltation, relief and spiritual purification. The Greek word catharsis means purification.
John Maynard Keynes, one of the greatest economists of the 20th century, who, as one of the greatest critics of the free market fundamentally reworked macroeconomics and economic policy, had a dream. In 1930 he dreamed of a future for the generation of grandchildren with 15 hours of work that would provide enough for everyone. He had dreamed of this just at the beginning of the world economic crisis, which he considered to be only a temporary disturbance. He was optimistic, believed in economic development and believed that this would make life better. He predicted that the age of abundance would come, and that since the beginning of creation this would be the first moment in history when man would encounter his only real problem: how to use his freedom, how he can live wisely and well.
According to Keynes, skilful money makers can bring an age of abundance to humanity, but in this new era they will no longer be important. Rather, the important will be those who enjoy life itself and are able to make fruitful use of it. They do not confuse the ultimate goal with the means that leads there, economic prosperity.
And when the accumulation of wealth will no longer have social significance, there will be a fundamental change in morals as well. Many distortions that result from loving money for itself, not as a means to live well, will disappear. Keynes puts it radically.
Happiness is both cultural and personal. Our culture penetrates our concepts, our language and ultimately even our experiences. Our upbringing, our education, the values of our religion or our community, our current economic system, our beliefs about human nature and the pathways to progress and prosperity, the advertising industry and the media tell us stories about ‘how to make it’, how to enjoy life and how not to. ‘Work hard’; ‘bring home the bacon’; ‘a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush’; ‘all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy’; ‘eat, drink and be merry’; ‘lunch is for losers’; ‘keep smiling’; ‘finish everything on your plate’; ‘you should not finish everything on your plate’; ‘you can buy happiness’; ‘you cannot buy happiness, but you can buy a hair appointment and that’s kind of the same thing’.
We learn how we are supposed to relate to joy and happiness: some forms are more acceptable and we are rewarded for them. For other forms, we pay with a sense of guilt or shame, or just numb ourselves to them. Some others are simply beyond the scope of our attention, as if we were blind to them.
Happiness is also personal, not simply in the sense that it is we who feel it, but in the sense of each of us has a subjective attitude to happiness, that we develop through our experiences and our aspirations. We make decisions about what kind of joy and happiness (or whatever we call the ‘good feeling’ we strive for) we pursue, and how.
How can we create a thriving life for us all that doesn’t come at the price of ecological destruction?
This book calls to explore our collective and personal convictions about success and good life. It challenges the mainstream worldview, rooted in economics, that equates happiness with pleasure, and encourages greed, materialism, egoism and disconnection.
Drawing on science and ancient Greek philosophers the author details how we can cultivate our skills for enjoying life without harming ourselves or others, and can live an autonomous, creative and connected life. Complementary to our intellectual understanding, the experiential method of role play and theatre can powerfully facilitate the exploration of the inner drivers and hindrances of a thriving life.