Climate and Happiness

In July, I wrote about the importance of sometimes setting philosophy aside just to live. I’ve written before that Untourism, beyond physical movement, can be a way a being present which alters one’s relation to time. Immersing in moments, especially varied and exploratory ones, seems to turn hours into days, days into weeks, weeks into months. In August, I tried to bring you into some such lived moments. And the last months, I’ve been so immersed I haven’t even taken the time to blog them!

But an unexamined life leaves us reactive to the whim of emotion or on auto pilot which usually results in steady discontentment: the kind that has us, in the quiet of the day, yearning, even if for what we aren’t sure. So rather than attempt the impossible task of recapping my what-and-whereabouts, let’s talk!

I recently reached a new appreciation of my tropical climate by leaving it for a few weeks for the mainland’s frozen tundra. After an extended holiday, returning to the island was a physical relief. In the minutes it took to hail a cab I was already shedding layers and memories of other cold weather inevitabilities: numb fingers, the squeeze of thermal underclothes, the extra time needed to put on tights, socks, boots, sweater, coat, scarf, hat, gloves…I could go on!

All that prep time just to leave the house got me thinking about climate, need and human development; about the degree to which innovation is driven by environment. If I live on an island, where food, water and building supplies are plentiful year round, how motivated am I to cultivate crops or domesticate animals? If I need protection only from the sun and rain am I likely to build more than a broad leafed-thatched roof?

There are extensive philosophies and controversial theories on this matter so I won’t expand past the conclusion relevant to me: life in Puerto Rico, for me, is inherently simple. It’s easy to throw on shorts and flip flops to scoot out to the grocery store. It’s nice that a furnace isn’t necessary and the natural breeze often serves as sufficient coolant. It’s absolutely soothing to my soul to step into the sun or linger among ocean waves.

Notice I said “for me”. It’s pretty much common knowledge, and common sense, that external conditions (beyond your basic survival needs being fulfilled) do not create happiness. There are people living on this same island in misery. And so I’m becoming increasingly convinced that the Greek philosopher Epicurus (341-270 BC) was onto something. After studying Plato and Aristotle in Athens, Epicurus created his own school known as The Garden. His theories espoused three requirements for happiness: friends, freedom, and an analyzed life.

He thought by indulging in philosophical conversations with friends (people with whom you share love), having the freedom to pursue simple pleasures (without constraints based on societal/religious standards) and avoiding unnecessary desires (like status, luxury or even heavy drinking) we can reach inner tranquility that he called ataraxia (a lucid state of robust tranquility, characterized by ongoing freedom from distress and worry). He and his friends lived a sustainable, simple “communal” existence on the temperate island of Samos.

And you know what? That sounds alright to me!

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