Letters on Happiness

by Peter Saint-Andre

Letter One: Awakening to Happiness

Dear Paul,

How are you, my friend? I hope this note finds you well and happy!

I've been doing some fascinating reading of late. Continuing a theme I mentioned not long ago, my recent focus has been philosophical poetry, which tends to center on issues of happiness and the good life. It's lighter than the real philosophy you and I used to work our way through back in college, but also more approachable — think of pieces like "carpe diem" by Horace or many poems by Walt Whitman.

My current project is in the same vein but a bit heavier: The Nature of Things, a very long didactic poem by Lucretius. I've never encountered anything like it! In essence it was an attempt by Lucretius to convert his friend Memmius to the philosophy of Epicurus, which he did by writing a detailed exposition of Epicurean physics and cosmology, with some ethical advice sprinkled throughout. So now of course I'm getting interested in Epicureanism, too. :-)

Have you read Epicurus? I don't recall much about him from our ancient philosophy class because Professor Rosenbaum was so focused on Plato and the Stoics. These days Epicurus is assumed to be an unthinking hedonist, but perhaps there's more to him than I had realized. Among other things, he appears to have seen a strong link between friendship and happiness, so he wasn't exactly a self-absorbed narcissist. For instance, here's a great quote that someone I follow online posted the other day:

Friendship dances around the world, announcing to each of us that we must awaken to happiness.

After all, what is more human than the warm connection you feel with someone you are close to? Interestingly — or strangely, depending on your perspective — he focuses on the chosen ties of friendship, not the unchosen ties of family (Nietzsche contrasts the two somewhere in Human, All Too Human). Personally I don't see a conflict between the two, but then I've always enjoyed most of my family interactions. Yet I tend to think that friendship is becoming more and more important as people have smaller families, move farther from home, etc.

I'll send along some more thoughts about Epicurus and Lucretius soon.

Your friend,


Next: Letter Two: The Use of Friends

Peter Saint-Andre > Writings > Epicurus