4 Lessons on Happiness from the Island of Samos

Discover what  this fascinating North-Aegean island, blessed with thriving vegetation and crystal waters, has taught me about happiness in life.

Samos, Greece-Grecia

Considering that during this last year, along with Lesbos and Kos, Samos has hit the headlines with refugees’ stories of death and sorrow, it may seem a little inappropriate talking about the “lessons on happiness” I have been taught in here. However, we must not forget that Samos has a long and illustrious history that tells about an island known for centuries as “the fertile” (what better slogan than “fertility” when talking about happiness) and that was the birthplace of Epicurus, the philosopher famous for the Letter on Happiness.

As all the places of the Earth, Samos has something to teach us: let’s discover together the pieces of the happiness’s puzzle that Samos gifted us with:

  • LIVE IN THE NOW

This is a quotation you have heard for sure multiple times, but I bet the majority of us was never able to apply it to the fullest.  Thanks probably to some philosophers of the past who advised not to trust tomorrow too much, Greek people seem to have integrated this principle in their daily existence. They have a more relaxed approach to life in comparison to other peoples of the western countries. We tend to worry too much about the future and consume ourselves with a series of “what ifs” and “omg, I must prevent this”. It’s surely wise thinking about the future consequences of certain behaviors, but we can’t pretend to control everything. If there is a thing I have learned from people of Samos and Greeks in general is that sometimes it is best for our own wellbeing to face the problems once they spring out and not a minute before.

  • PAST IS SOMETHING TO ACKNOWLEDGE, BUT IT MUST NOT DEFINE US

Quoting Epicurus, whereas the flesh fights only with the present, the mind tends to endure the storms of the present, past and future together. We worry a lot about the future and we tend to blame the troubles experienced in the past for our lingering unhappiness. Well, people of Samos taught me that we have to acknowledge our past, accept it for what it is without trying to bury or delete it, but we must fight in order to avoid it would eat us alive.

It might sound odd to you, but I have learned about this particular “principle” observing the works of art in Megali Panagia Monastery near Koumaradei, the “ceramic village” in the hinterland of Samos.

Monastero di Megali Panagia, Koumaradei - Samos

The frescoes at the entrance of the chapel are severely damaged by the slashes made by pirates and those inside are completely blackened by the smoke of the great fire that hit Greece in 2000. Monks didn’t try to restore them and this is something I could not understand. When asked, our tour guide told us:

The troubles are not to be deleted, but rather to be accepted as part of our process. We don’t mourn the lost beauty, we accept the past and go ahead.

  • MUSIC AND PHILOSOPHY AS BALMS FOR THE SOUL

Pythagoras, best known for his “theorem”, was born in Samos in the town that was recently renamed after him, Pythagorion.

Famous for his work ­as a mathematician, not a lot of us know that in his school the study of music played a central role in the “cure of the soul”.

He was also the one who introduced the method of the “autosuggestion” – that consists in memorizing and repeating short aphorisms – which is at the basis of the contemporary self-help system.  He was one of the first to understand that music and philosophy are both great means that help achieving the peace of mind, a great tool in the pursue of happiness.

  • WE CAN’T BE IN COMPLETE CONTROL OF THE FUTURE

Last but not least an extract from the Letter on Happiness by Epicurus, another philosopher born in Samos:

We must remember that the future is neither wholly ours nor wholly not ours, so that neither must we count upon it as quite certain to come nor despair of it as quite certain not to come.

 

You definitely will be able to do a lot of soul-searching in Samos.

 

Web-sources:

Vincent Cook, “Letter to Menoeceus – Epicurus”, The Epicurus & Epicurean Philosophy web site [accessed on the 28th May 2016] http://www.epicurus.net/en/menoeceus.html

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