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Socrates - Philosophy and HappinessSocrates - Philosophy and Happiness


Socrates (470-399 BC)


Greek philosopher (pictured right) who challenged people to improve themselves.

Some of them hated this (particularly politicians), and he was charged with;

  • corrupting the minds of young people.
  • not believing in the gods of Greece. Socrates - Philosophy and Happiness

Found guilty and sentenced to death, he poisoned himself by drinking hemlock.

He never wrote anything down and most of our knowledge about him comes from another great Greek philosopher, Plato, his student (pictured right).


For more detail see...

The Trial and Death of Socrates in the History Highlights section. 


His tips for a happy life


1. Purpose and integrity

 Socrates - Philosophy and Happiness

a) question your knowledge and wisdom

Socrates had one great aim: to question people to make them aware of:

  • their own ignorance.
  • the importance of becoming a good and wise person.

So know yourself (see point 2), and welcome people challenging you (see point 4).


b) do what's right

Have the courage to do what you think is right, not what anybody else tells you

Virtue makes you happy, and no one does wrong willingly, only out of ignorance.Socrates - Philosophy and Happiness


c) keep your integrity

Live by the truth and moral values (particularly love - see point 7)


2. Know yourself (self-knowledge)

Examine yourself and honestly list your strengths and weaknesses, so that you can:

  • fully exploit your strengths Socrates - Philosophy and Happiness
  • do something about your weaknesses.

“The unexamined life is not worth living”, Socrates said.

He would have loved the question:

If you met a Martian, how would you describe yourself?


3. Never stop learning

Knowledge is the only way to a happy life. SoSocrates - Philosophy and Happiness

  • love learning.
  • have the humility to admit that you always have something to learn because of your ignorance.

“I know that I know nothing”, Socrates said.

 Socrates - Philosophy and Happiness

4. Question everything

He loved walking the streets of Athens to:

  • ask people an important question about life (e.g. what is good, right, friendship or courage?)
  • help them to understand it through a series of other questions and answers (now called Socratic or dialectic questioning).

Such questioning forces you to fully understand words you might take for granted.

For example, courage might involve obstinacy (which is bad), as well as the virtues of persistence and determination.


  • continually question and justify your beliefs. Socrates - Philosophy and Happiness
  • hate dogmatism (i.e. never believe something without questioning its truth).


5. Think

Think about yourself and the right way to live.

Socrates once stood motionless for 24 hours thinking and saw himself as a gadfly making lazy people think about themselves and their lives.


6. Sort out your problems nowSocrates - Philosophy and Happiness

Although it's painful, you must:

  • question things.
  • admit your weaknesses and problems.
  • do something about them.

 Socrates - Philosophy and Happiness

7. Love

  • don’t hate anyone (including your enemies)
  • see other people's point of view (i.e. empathize).
  • don't be angry or bitter 
  • never return evil and turn the other cheek.


8. Be good and wise, not rich and beautiful

Happiness comes from:


a) virtue and knowledge of what's good

Socrates controversially believed that you don't do wrong willingly but out of ignorance (i.e. you do wrong because you don't know that it's wrong).

 Socrates - Philosophy and Happiness

b) worthwhile work

He taught people for free, because he wanted them to learn about themselves.


c) the soul (not money)Socrates - Philosophy and Happiness

Your soul is the most important thing in your life.

So goodness is much more important than wealth and looks.

Socrates was ugly, wore old clothes and lived on little money (because he had the self-control to avoid unnecessary spending).

“Virtue springs not from possessions, but from virtue springs possessions and all other human blessings”, he said.


9. Have fun

He was liked because of his charm and great sense of humour.

Socrates - Philosophy and Happiness 

10. Trust yourself

You have the power to change your life. So:

  • be positive and quietly confident in your ability.
  • take responsibility for your success (do what you want after taking advice, not what somebody tells you).
  • do what’s right: (it’s much better to be wronged than do wrong).


Key quotes on peace of mind

To find yourself, think for yourself.

Having the fewest wants, I am nearest to the gods.


Key quotes on success

The unexamined life is not worth living.

Know thyself.


Key quote on learning and wisdom

I know that I know nothing.


Key quote on money

Virtue springs not from possessions, but from virtue springs possessions and all other human blessings.


Key quote on communication

False words are not only evil in themselves, but they infect the soul with evil.


Key quote on education

Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.


Key quote on the learning organization

A man, though wise, should never be ashamed of learning more.


Key quote on ethics

No evil can happen to a good man, either in life or after death.


Key quote on time management

Beware the barrenness of a busy life.


Key quote on love

From the deepest desires often come the deadliest hate.


Key quote on health

Eat to live, not live to eat.

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