Friday, August 1, 2008

Happiness in Dubai

Some say that philosophy is not practical. But they are wrong. About two decades ago a printer in Connecticut named Lionel Kechian stumbled upon ancient philosophy. He read Aristotle's Nichomachian Ethics and the Handbook of Epictetus and was hooked. He started thinking seriously about happiness, and the reasons why so many people were unhappy. From Epictetus he learned that most people were unhappy because they thought about life problems in a wrongheaded way: they had a poor philosophy.

Lionel set out to change that by offering a course on the philosophy of happiness at a local college in Fairfield Connecticut. When the course was over the students wanted to continue the discussion so Lionel started a "happiness club," which continues to meet monthly at the Fairfield Public Library.

His idea has been contagious, and happiness clubs have spread across the U.S. and around the world. In dozens of cities people get together each month to talk about the theory and practice of happiness. A new chapter has just opened in Dubai.

What is so interesting about this phenomenon is that Lionel does not fit your preconceptions of the towering intellectual leader; he is not a learned professor, priest or pontificator. In fact, he revealed to me that when he took "introduction to philosophy" as a college course he found it quite daunting. He is, however, very fond of thinking about the good, and how to live better, and talking about this question with other people. His extraordinary enthusiasm for the philosophy of happiness continues to spread. Here in Fairfield, where I spend about half the year, he is the local Socrates. When I run into him at the library or on the street, he always makes time for an interesting conversation about how we can live better.

There is a lesson here for professional philosophers.

1 comment:

Brian Burtt said...

Lately there is a lot of work being done in psychology on happiness (and related ideas). Some of the stuff produced for lay consumption is self-help-y, but some of it is quite good. Two places to start:

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow (and all of his work)
Sonja Lyubomirsky, The How of Happiness

Such authors make explicit, frequent reference to Aristotle. There's even the occasional reference to Dewey.

Owen Flanagan appears to be moving his philosophical interests in this direction as well.