by Maurizio Bisogno
Stoics made a difference between external and internal achievements, and they believed that real happiness is not built on possessions, or all the material and social successes.
Reaching for the Moon
To illustrate this difference between external achievements and inner growth, let me use an episode of the Netflix Series, The Crown. The Duke of Ellington in the ‘Moondust’ episode is fascinated by the astronauts adventures of the lunar landing; he goes as far as to meet them in a private meeting, only to discover that those men, although heroic in their achievement, were nothing of the giants he thought they would be to accomplish such an extraordinary enterprise. From that moment, he undergoes a serious personal crisis which terminates in the overturning of the values he had cherished so far: he realised that external achievements do not fill the need for the soul to find herself. That’s when he opens his heart to the bishop Robin Woods. “Help me,” he finally says after ridiculing him. He then adds: “I was more scared to see you than going up in any bloody rocket.” Going inside yourself is scary, because all your beliefs may reveal to be vacuous and the search of new understanding of life can be a revolutionary experience. To discover that all that we thought would make us happy will require a shift of values and moral strength.
When the Relation between Money and Happiness gets Dark
Now, let’s go back in time, and pick an example from Seneca instead. The letter XVII concludes with a maxim of Epicurus: “For many, having amassed great riches marks not the end, but the change in their unhappiness”. The unhappiness has changed sign. As Seneca comments: “What made poverty unbearable to us, makes our wealth unbearable”, §11, p.721 our evil follows us in all our living conditions.
It would not be accepted by our contemporary common sense to say that we must be poor to be happy, or that money will not bring happiness. By make such a statement I would be made object of ridicule. But there is some truth in it.
But, after your basic needs are met and you have a bit of extra money to cover unforeseen expenses, the relationship between income and happiness gets a lot murkier. From Psychology Today.
In fact, some research has compared lifestyle differences between millionaires and average people and has found that millionaires’ lives are actually remarkably similar to the lives of regular people. [From the same article]