A Guide to Happiness


We tend to accept that those in charge must be right. It’s this very assumption that Socrates wants us all to challenge by urging us to think logically about the nonsense they often come out with, rather than being struck dumb by their aura of importance and air of suave certainty.

Philosophy: Guide to Happiness is a six part documentary series presented by popular British philosopher Alain de Botton. The film features six thinkers who have influenced history, and their ideas about the pursuit of the happy life.

Episode List

Seneca on Anger
De Botton starts with anger and the philosopher Seneca who refused to view anger as an irrational outburst and thought it flowed from our surprise when things do not turn out the way we expect them to. De Botton puts Seneca’s advice to angry van driver Wayne Allingham and stressed-out executive Venetia Butterfield. How will they respond to the theories of a philosopher who died 2,000 years ago?

Schopenhauer on Love
Surprisingly, perhaps, given how important it is to the rest of us, philosophers haven’t tended to talk much about love. An honourable exception was the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, who believed that love was the most important thing in life. Alain shows how the ideals of a man he calls ‘philosophy’s Dr Love’ explain the mystery of why we fall in love with the people we do. He believes that Schopenhauer’s philosophy is particularly consoling to anyone who’s been rejected, and he talks it over with Michele Hutchinson, whose boyfriend recently jilted her.

Epicurus on Happiness
The ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus believed there were just three simple things we needed in order to be happy – and money wasn’t one of them. Alain reveals what those things were, in a journey that takes him to the ruins of the ancient city of Oinoanda in south-western Turkey. The answers he finds there help him to look at consumer society through Epicurus’ eyes and he discusses the philosopher’s beliefs with unhappy shopaholic Stephen Perry.

Montaigne on Self-Esteem
Why do so many people suffer from feelings of low self-esteem? Alain De Botton looks at the problem through the eyes of the French 16th century philosopher Michel de Montaigne, who singled out three main reasons why we might feel bad about ourselves – and offered practical solutions for them all. Alain takes us on a personal journey from Montaigne’s home near Bordeaux, to his own university, Cambridge, where he finds that people could still benefit from the lessons of Montaigne’s philosophy.

Socrates on Self-Confidence
Why do so many of us go along with the crowd and fail to stand up for what we truly believe? Partly because we’re too easily swayed by other people’s opinions – and partly because we don’t know when to have confidence in our own. Alain shows that the ancient Athenian philosopher Socrates can help give us all the intellectual self-confidence we need to work out what we really think and believe. He visits Athens to tell the moving and inspiring story of how Socrates – a man who famously died for his beliefs – can help us stand up for our own.

Nietzsche on Hardship
We all face difficulties in our lives. But there’s one philosopher who has particularly inspiring advice on how to deal with them. Friedrich Nietzsche believed in a philosophical version of ‘no pain, no gain’: that any worthwhile achievements in life come from the experience of overcoming hardship, and that a comfortable, painless existence wouldn’t be worth living. Alain travels to Nietzsche’s home in the Swiss Alps to tell the story of the philosopher’s tormented life, before putting Nietzsche’s theories to people who have faced difficulties or setbacks in their own lives.

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