How to be Fairly Cheerful


Course description

Being in a state of constant happiness is an unrealistic hope, but a less ambitious plan can be realized: staying fairly cheerful in the face of life’s disappointments, adversities and frustrations. This is the message contained in a short essay by the ancient historian and philosopher Plutarch, called On Contentment. In this seminar, we will read through this essay together at a careful speed, pausing to illuminate the ancient thinkers, writers and events to which Plutarch refers. Above all, we will make the effort to apply these insights to our current situations, translating this ancient wisdom into modern insights that can guide thought and conduct in our modern way of life. The world has changed greatly since Plutarch’s time, but the tendency of humans to entangle themselves in unproductive anxiety and distressing emotions is more or less a universal burden, one that can be lifted not by drugs or by success but only by some form of insight and self-awareness.

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