How to tap this 2,000 year old secret to happiness amid chaos and anxi

In a testomony to its resiliency, happiness, in accordance to this year’s World Happiness Report, remained remarkably secure all over the world, regardless of a pandemic that upended the lives of billions of individuals.

As a classicist, I discover such discussions of happiness within the midst of non-public or societal disaster to be nothing new.

Hic habitat felicitas“–”Right here dwells happiness”–confidently proclaims an inscription present in a Pompeiian bakery practically 2,000 years after its proprietor lived and probably died in the eruption of Vesuvius that destroyed town in A.D. 79.


What did happiness imply to this Pompeiian baker? And the way does contemplating the Roman view of felicitas assist our seek for happiness at present?

Happiness for me however not for thee

The Romans noticed each Felicitas and Fortuna—a associated phrase meaning “luck”—as goddesses. Every had temples in Rome, the place these in search of the divinities’ favor might place choices and make vows. Felicitas was additionally portrayed on Roman coins from the primary century B.C. to the fourth century, suggesting its connection to monetary prosperity of the state. Cash minted by emperors, moreover, join her to themselves. “Felicitas Augusti,” for instance, was seen on the golden coin of the emperor Valerian, iconography that urged he was the happiest man within the empire, favored by the gods.

By claiming felicitas for his personal abode and enterprise, subsequently, the Pompeiian baker might have been exercising a name-it-claim-it philosophy, hoping for such blessings of happiness for his enterprise and life.

However simply past this view of cash and energy as a supply of happiness, there was a merciless irony.

Felicitas and Felix have been generally used names for feminine and male enslaved individuals. As an example, Antonius Felix, the governor of Judaea within the first century, was an ex-slave—clearly, his luck rotated—whereas Felicitas was the title of the enslaved lady famously martyred with Perpetua in A.D. 203.

Romans perceived enslaved individuals to be proof of their masters’ larger standing and the embodiment of their happiness. Seen in this gentle, happiness seems as a zero-sum recreation, intertwined with energy, prosperity and domination. Felicitas within the Roman world had a worth, and enslaved individuals paid it to confer happiness on their house owners.


Suffice it to say that for the enslaved, wherever happiness dwelled, it was not within the Roman Empire.

The place does happiness actually dwell?

In at present’s society, can happiness exist solely on the expense of another person? The place does happiness dwell, as rates of depression and other mental illness soar, and work days get longer?

Over the past two decades, American staff have been working extra and extra hours. A 2020 Gallup poll discovered that 44% of full-time staff have been working over 45 hours every week, whereas 17% of individuals have been working 60 or extra hours weekly.

The results of this overworked tradition is that happiness and success actually do appear to be a zero-sum equation. There’s a value, typically a human one, with work and household enjoying tug-of-war for time and consideration, and with private happiness the sufferer both manner. This was true lengthy earlier than the COVID-19 pandemic.

Research of happiness appear to change into extra well-liked in periods of excessive societal stress. It’s maybe no coincidence that the longest-running study of happiness, administered by Harvard College, originated in the course of the Nice Melancholy. In 1938, researchers measured bodily and psychological well being of 268 then-sophomores and, for 80 years, tracked these males and a few of their descendants.

Their most important discovering? “Shut relationships, greater than cash or fame … maintain individuals glad all through their lives.” This consists of each a contented marriage and household, and a detailed group of supportive pals. Importantly, the relationships highlighted within the examine are these primarily based on love, care and equality, relatively than abuse and exploitation.

Simply because the Nice Melancholy motivated Harvard’s examine, the present pandemic impressed social scientist Arthur Brooks to launch, in April 2020, a weekly column on happiness titled “How to Build a Life.” In his first article for the collection, Brooks loops in analysis exhibiting religion and significant work—as well as to shut relationships—can improve happiness.

Discovering happiness in chaos and dysfunction

Brooks’ recommendation correlates with these findings within the World 2021 Happiness Report, which famous “a roughly 10% improve within the quantity of people that stated they have been apprehensive or unhappy the day past.”

Religion, relationships and significant work all contribute to emotions of security and stability. All of them have been victims of the pandemic. The Pompeiian baker, who selected to place his plaque in his place of job, possible would have agreed in regards to the important connection amongst happiness, work and religion. And whereas he was not, so far as historians can inform, dwelling by a pandemic, he was no stranger to societal stress.

It’s doable his alternative of décor mirrored an undercurrent of tension—comprehensible, given among the political turmoil in Pompeii and within the empire at large within the final 20 years of town’s existence. On the time of the ultimate volcanic eruption of A.D. 79, we all know that some Pompeiians have been nonetheless rebuilding and restoring from the earthquake of A.D. 62. The baker’s life should have been crammed with reminders of instability and looming catastrophe. Maybe the plaque was an try to fight these fears.

In any case, would really glad individuals really feel the necessity to place an indication proclaiming the presence of happiness of their dwelling?


Or possibly I’m overanalyzing this object, and it was merely a mass-made trinket—a first-century model of a “Dwelling Candy Dwelling” or “Reside, Chortle, Love” placard—that the baker or his spouse picked up on a whim.

And but the plaque reminds of an vital fact: individuals in antiquity had desires of and aspirations for happiness, very similar to individuals do at present. Vesuvius could have put an finish to our baker’s desires, however the pandemic needn’t have such a everlasting influence on ours. And whereas the stress of the previous year-and-a-half could really feel overwhelming, there was no higher time to reevaluate priorities, and bear in mind to put individuals and relationships first.