Philosophers have argued over what way of life is the best and most conducive to happiness for centuries. Is it stoicism and the pursuit of wisdom? Is it epicureanism and the pursuit of cognitive contentedness, freedom from anxiety and worry? Is it hedonism and the pursuit of physical pleasure, sexual and appetitive gratification? Or is it altruism, and the pursuit of the good in a selfless manner and for the well-being of our neighbors?
Timmerie welcomed Dr. Nicholas Kardaras onto Trending with Timmerie to discuss whether doing good or feeling good makes us happier, and why a life of contemplation and reflection is worth pursuing.
Dr. Kardaras began by addressing the fact that this “good life” has been pursued by every man, woman, and child since the beginning of time. The only difference is the method by which it has been pursued. But even then, not much has changed. Though philosophers and philosophies have come and gone, in one way or another, their ideas have lived on.
Hedonism was the ancient Greek idea that happiness could be obtained by simply living for oneself and one’s pleasure. At all times, one should be doing exactly what one wants. Obviously, this idea doesn’t work because when everyone pursues their desires, they become animals and savages. Desires surpass the priorities of others and infringe upon the rights and needs of one’s neighbor. And just like that, the whole system, allegedly predicated upon happiness, collapses.
But even though it has been proven that this doesn’t work, people still live by its tenants today. Alcohol abuse, drug use, other addictions, and sexual promiscuity are all symptoms of a hedonistic lifestyle. And those who indulge think they are pursuing happiness, but it’s clear that their actions will do no such thing.
“It’s that insatiable appetite – what the Buddhists used to call the “hungry ghost” – where you can never get enough of things, whether it’s substances or money or sex or materialism,” said Dr. Kardaras.
So, if feeling good isn’t the answer, how does it compare to the philosophy of doing good? Dr. Kardaras talked about a study done at a university in which graduate students were asked to take turns altering their weeks between doing good and feeling good. One week, they were charged with doing something good, volunteering for others, and living selflessly. The next week they were charged with doing something that gave them pleasure out of selfish intentions. Then, they would take extensive notes and compare the way they felt and their happiness levels. Unsurprisingly, what they found is that pleasure gave them a short-lived, fleeting gratification while living selflessly provided them with lasting joy.
How do we entrench this idea of selfless living into our own lives? Timmerie and Dr. Kardaras say that the answer lies in the virtues, a concept that has been virtually eradicated in modern society. If you were to ask someone why they held the door open for somebody else, you might get the answer, “It’s common decency,” or “It’s the courteous thing to do.” In other words, it has simply become second nature to that person. And if you had the opportunity to ask somebody why they indulge in their vices, whether it be drugs or sex, they would give you an answer like, “Because I wanted to,” or “I felt like it.” Never does it cross that person’s mind that virtue is even in the same arena as their actions.
Dr. Kardaras used to be the director at a very exclusive, expensive rehab center in the Hamptons. He would work with the wealthiest, most powerful people on the planet, and he said that he had never met a more miserable group of people in his life. Case in point, they had become victims of the societal reorientation that no longer holds virtue in high esteem. They had turned their gaze to the altar of money and power and found that their new god was lacking. They were deeply unhappy.
Dr. Kardaras recalled returning home for lunch one day and seeing his landscaper José working with his employees outside in the 100˚F heat. Plastered across their faces were deep, genuine smiles. He walked up to José and jovially asked, “You’re working outside in this 100˚F heat, José. How are you so happy?”
José replied, “I’m with my family, I’m working, I’m outside, and I’m healthy. Why wouldn’t I be happy?” Dr. Kardaras almost wondered if he should hire José to go speak to the depressed billionaires sitting in the rehab facility. To José, the path to happiness was so simple: remain close to your family, remain close to your faith, and do not treat God’s blessings like a curse.
Tune in to Trending with Timmerie weekdays at 6pm CT