Happiness is very expensive.
Sisyphus takes us back to school — Marcus Crassus drinks a cup of molten gold — Happiness has to be something much, much, deeper.
Happiness is expensive.
If you don’t believe me, a quick call to a popular psychologist in your home town will do, your 90-year-old grandmother, or perhaps, if you are not impatient — an honest introspection.
But if you have a few minutes to spare, I will start with a philosophical trip into the world of Greek Mythology.
Sisyphus takes us back to school
In Greek mythology, Sisyphus remains a valuable philosophical tool. He was the first king of Ephyra (Corinth), and the son of King Aeolus of Thessaly. He has so many hobbies, but a popular one is the act of killing almost anything, including humans, more like the ancient rulers — Nero and Caligula. And he also had a knack for all the nastiest trickeries you could think of, that time wouldn’t permit me to go through here.
Predictably, he finally stepped on some huge toes, this time, it was the gods (Zeus). He tried to play a trick on Zeus, but got busted, so he was given an assignment — to roll a big rock up a long steep hill.
Just at the instant he was about to reach the top of the hill with the rock, Zeus showed Sisyphus he was the mother of all trickeries — he engages in some sophisticated enchantments that causes the rock to roll away from Sisyphus, it falls, then he goes down to pick it up, just as he is about to reach the top again, it falls, ultimately consigning Sisyphus to a brutal, eternal punishment.
As I write these lines, Sisyphus is still battling with the rock.
Marcus Crassus drinks a cup of molten gold.
You need not a spy to decipher what your neighbor thinks will make him happy, his actions already do. We will look at such popular action in play.
Marcus Licinius Crassus, one of the wealthiest human in Roman history, was into so many things — real estate, slave trades, politics (military), etc. He was a co-consul and was among the first triumvirate of Rome, together with Julius Caesar and Pompey the great — fifty-something years before the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ.
He accrued a lot of wealth from shrewd speculative real estates, by purchasing burnt or collapsed houses (fire outbreaks are a norm in ancient Rome), and slaves with great architectural acumen, so the latter can work on the former. Leaving Crassus smiling to the Bank of Rome.
But that wouldn’t do. He wanted more,
He starks up his net worth through General Sulla’s proscription (proscriptio) of 82 BC. Proscription is a “decree of condemnation to death or banishment” proscribed on enemies of the state. And when these enemies are banished or killed their properties will be auctioned at an embarrassingly low price.
Crassus, being Sulla’s buddy, was able to slot in names of people who owns property he had coveted into the proscription lists. They get killed or banished, he gets the properties. Easy.
He used this tactic to annex huge chunks of land in Rome. I even heard he had a net worth of $2 Trillion in today’s currency.
But these things don’t do, he wanted more happiness, forgetting that the last one never lasted long. Unfortunately, this one last quest lead to his death at the battle of Carrhae in 53BC, perhaps at the height of his greed, when he invaded the Parthian Kingdom, largely because of the amount of wealth buried in the Kingdom.
After being captured, his head was severed and molten gold was poured into his mouth to signify his insatiable thirst for wealth.
Happiness has to be something much, much, deeper.
Marcus, was most likely oblivious of the hedonic treadmill, even though he experienced it. And he could have probably fared better by listening to the philosophers of his days, the stoics, who believe that happiness doesn’t come from one’s circumstances rather from the cultivation of reason, that is, how we look at things, some sort of pragmatic theory of truth.
Let’s look at this happiness business of a thing closely for a sec.
You can be happy when you have get your monthly pay check; see one of your arch enemy’s stumble, say, Clinton supporters when Trump’s lewd tapes got leaked (schadenfreude); A graduate student who publish a research paper in Nature in his first year, …
Unfortunately, all these are not immune to Sisyphus’s ordeal.
Happiness has to be something much, much, deeper, something more immune to the Sisyphus’s ordeal, something accessible but (clearly) tough to get, something invincible, something unattractive but powerful, something psychologically expensive.
And Indeed, it is.
I can’t beat the drum enough: , there is a huge lacuna between what we think will make us happy and what does.
PS: I started working on a sequel to this essay only to stumble on Pope Francis on TED talk!
He effectively wrote a sequel for me, freeing up some time for me to knock down 1 or 2 primary literatures. But more importantly, it was a great, loving message (I listened to it twice).
Originally published at bifarinthefifth.com on April 29, 2017.