i've gotten some insight into the stoic approach to happiness (eudaimonia). Happiness is really only the feeling you get when you know you're participating in the life of 'God,' or of 'the way things are.' They call this a 'good flow of life.' Whatever happens in your life, as long as it is something that is reasonable to expect to happen in life, is evidence that you are participating in the life of God, even if whatever happened may have been thoroughly unexpected to happen in 'your' life. "Chysippus explained living in harmony with nature as 'living in accordance with natural happenings.' " (Stoic Studies, AA Long, p.206) So let's say something terrible happens, like your business burns down. It's a terrible thing, and you, acting in accordance with nature, will express grief, but nevertheless this misfortune can't really touch your inner core of happiness, because reason tells you that this is one of the things that can happen in life. One would greet extreme good fortune, such as winning the lotto, in the same way. I would imagine that if one actually cultivated this attitude it would give one great equanimity of mind.
i think it's good to know where we are coming from. stoicism was warp and weft of western culture for so many centuries. and in fact it isn't really very different from eastern philosophical traditions of indifference / happiness either. to forget all about it is like forgetting your elementary school chums, forgetting your childhood baseball diamond, or your parents or something. i want to know about it, maybe try to cultivate it and see if i enjoy greater eudaimonia.
'Good flow of life' (eurhoia biou) was Zeno's definition of happiness. The aquatic metaphor evokes regularity, unimpededness, and abundance - terms that fit such formal conditions of eudaimonia as completeness, stability, and self-sufficiency. Zeno also described the telos, and thus characterised eudaimonia, as 'living in agreement.' He appears to have argued that since 'living in conflict' typifies unhappiness, 'harmony' or 'agreement' is essential to happiness. Thus we achieve happiness, 'a good flow of life,' by 'living in agreement.' 'Living in agreement with what? The authoritative Stoic answer is 'nature', where this includes both 'human nature' and 'the nature of the universe' (Zeus). This means that, in the Stoics' view, the world at large exhibits a structure and pattern of activity that is not merely intelligible but intelligent and prescriptive. [because it is all a part of Zeus]" (pp.189-190, Stoic Studies, AA Long)
The next essay in the book goes on to discuss stoic harmonics: their tendency to compare life to music. Their understanding that the 'incarnation of spirit (pneuma)' (if we might use that term) creates diversity of life and experience through differing tensions of 'pneuma' and 'matter' which thoroughly 'inexist' (a theological term) each other (ie permeate each other inseperably). Proportion, harmony, the crafting of 'impulse,' etcetera are mentioned as norms. The mark of incorrectness is 'excess,' (an) impusle that goes beyond the ruling 'logos' (innate intelligence of the universe and of humanity). The four cardinal passions sum up 'excessive impulse': pleasure and distress are impulses that exceed the actual advantages and disadvantages someone is experiencing, while apppetite and fear go beyond the appropriate response to anticipated advantages and disadvantages." (pp.207-209) The four virtues are: prudence, moderation, courage and justice. There are variations of all four passions and virtues as well, such as discretion, piety, honesty, and fair-dealing in the virtues, and dismay,
This seems so clear and simple to me, so worthy of emulation. It is also very similar to the philosophies of India, and I do believe that when it comes to stoic physics, they could profitably take a page out of the sankhya philosophy in particular.
I am interested in cultivating stoicism in my life because it is what I was raised with, in an non-articulated way I might add, and an element that I find, looking back, that I've appreciated rather more than I've wished to acknowledge. For example, I noticed, when I entered upon the stage of the wide world, that my old-fashioned relatives in pennsylvania seemed to have more peace of mind, more grace, and more awareness than many of the people I met who were touting themselves as exemplars of same. The latter were, indeed, seeking wisdom, and beginning to find it in bits and pieces. I was perhaps somewhat dazzled by them, they came from wealthier backgrounds than mine, for one thing, but was then disappointed, and found, to my surprise, that the 'old-fogies' at home had something very beautiful in their lifestyle of simplicity, prayer, contemplation, and silence.
The more I investigate the well-springs of those relatives, the more I discover stoicism and Greek (and, one might as well say, Indian) values at the core. These Greek (and Indian) values represent core discoveries or core notations by our early forbears. An awareness that sprang up among human beings at a certain point in social evolution, perhaps, or as a result of trade between these two regions. It isn't something to be discarded now. Maybe, and it's a big 'maybe', we've built on those core values enough, explored them enough, become disenchanted by them enough, to move on, but is that really the case? People needed water to survive in 55,000 BCE, and it looks to me like they still need water in 2006 CE, and for the forseeable future. I see a parallel here.
We are experimenting now with values of passion, uninhibited impulse, and so forth, with the belief that this is going to make the world a more positive, enjoyable place. Time will reveal whether this is going to be the case. I see the suffering still going on, for many, if not for the few, but how is that any different from the past?
The stoics believed that we are happiest when we are most connected to the divine. I don't see how this differs from christian or buddhist belief (even if what we call 'the divine' may be called by another name in those traditions, and is without anthropomorphised characteristics.) I can see that within the memory of those still alive today, stoicism was twisted into a repressive system, but that may have been partly because the church, who was its main carrier through time, was a repressive system, but also because all popular movements become 'repressive,' become 'pc' and you'd better join in or you'll be 'out.' Being 'out' means different things in different times and places. We've seen shunning, burning stakes, gas chambers, etc, in the more extreme forms of rejection of the 'others', and also job discrimination (eg gays in teaching for so many decades), and other lesser examples. So, I guess I'm hyposthesizing that when some philosophy or approach or belief-system reaches a certain level of popular accenptance, it becomes something it was never intended to be, a repressive force. I believe that's what happened with stoicism, and probably will always happen, no matter how 'enlightened' an approach may be. That's why we'll always need those who can push the envelope, and we need the 'creative' principle to be at least sometimes untrammeled. The natural tendency is to reject completely that which has been repressive, but in reality, there are elements to that system which need to be preserved and integrated into the new. I'm interested in exploring the place of creativity in the stoic system, and I'll get back to you when I've got something to share about it.