Rational Hedonism? What's That?
It's Not as Easy to Explain as I'd Thought!
Rational Hedonism draws from a rich background of Greek philosophy and continued to evolve and grow over the centuries to become relevant for a happy life, which psychologists and social research are verifying today. If you live outside the smallest towns, odds are you've probably met one without knowing it.
From ancient Greek society we have inherited democracy, philosophy and debate, and much of our math and scientific foundation, including the theory of atoms.
After experiences seeing other people's reaction when proclaiming they are a Rational Hedonist, some R.H.-ers will classify themselves as something else.
Rational Hedonism often get confused with plain old "hedonism".
When I started this, I thought it would be easy, a topic I could finish in one day - after all I spend several weeks out of the year traveling; lecturing and teaching about Rational Hedonism to people who are either unfamiliar, have only heard negatives, want a wedding or other ceremony, or just want me to visit their group's "Garden". In asking myself what I would want to know summed up in just a few paragraphs, suddenly small paragraphs grew over explanatory and awkward. I kept adding this and that ... then realized one thing would lead to a whole new topic. I finally reached the point where I think most of the basic information is here, but more details can be found here. I will try to make other pages to deal with side issues and updating and tweaking this page as needed.
(Photo from Wikimedia Commons)
Rational Hedonism traces its roots back over 2500 years ago, when the earliest Greek philosophers began pondering the puzzle of human nature, the world and our place and purpose in it.
The earliest roots reach back to the atomists Leucippus and his student, Democritus. They first hypothesized that all things on the earth, including animals and people, are made up of tiny, "uncuttable" particles called atoms. It was the first recorded scientific pondering of what we, the other life forms inhabiting this planet, and our world itself are made up of and how connected we are.
Very briefly, Aristippus had what we'd call, "caveman" ethics when it comes to hedonism -- Pleasure Good, Pain Bad. He believed in physical, bodily pleasures; seizing the pleasure of the moment without concern for regret later, doing whatever you liked at the first opportunity. He was much like the spoiled Veruca Salt in the movie, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, " I want ____ and I want it NOW!" Aristippus would have fit in well at the love-fest at Woodstock. He believed that life was all about going from one pleasurable moment to the next, not in an overall happy life.
Most Rational Hedonists trace the movement's actual roots to Aristippus, who introduced hedonism; but following him was Epicurus, who is much better known and from whom R.H.er's evolved the "Garden" concept. Epicurus is considered the one who refined hedonism and made it "rational". Both believed in not fear or regret and minimalizing pain in your life.
(Photo from Wikimedia Commons)
Epicurus, on the other hand, believed in making a happy life instead of a life consisting of pleasurable moments. His "big picture" view was opposite of Aristippus wanting now, Epicurus believed that part of the joy was the journey, learning, discovery, accomplishment - delayed gratification could be a bigger reward. He promoted peace of mind which was the result of intellectual pleasure, surrounding yourself with enjoyable people, doing what you love, enjoying what you have, and along your path in life, enjoying each place you are at at the time.
An example of this is although Epicurus is more widely known as pleasure seeking, epicurean... he didn't believe in gluttony, living instead on bread, water, fruits and vegetables from his garden, sometimes indulging in a slice of hard cheese. Aristippus, however, would pay a small fortune for a partridge when he had a hankering for one.
Of course, there are many others who came after Epicurus who were influential in the development of Rational Hedonism, especially during the Renaissance period, and I may add a few of them later.
(Photo from Wikimedia Commons)
"Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence." Aristotle
What do Rational Hedonists Believe?
To pursue pleasure and live a happy life . . .
And that is the part that is up to the individual.
After that, it gets a bit more complicated.
Life is short, and a gift. Each one of us is lucky to be here; ours were the ancestors not killed in famines, plagues, wars, military/political takeovers, pogroms, natural disasters, drowned at sea, or murdered. The right combination of the right couple at the right time made you, you.
It's not about sitting about having a lot of money to idle or sleeping life away, or looking for the next good party. Humans need to work. Even if it's volunteering at an animal shelter or Goodwill. We need to have a sense of responsibility, a work ethic, pride in earning money, as well as pride in being able to pay for a place to live and the comforts within.
- R.H. does not believe man is born in a fallen, sinful state. This concept did not exist until later.
- There is no such thing as predestiny. You create your own opportunities.
- The "Seven Deadly Sins" were created by the Church, which has made human nature sin instead of celebration.
- Your actions have consequences.
- Personal responsibility, ethical, honorable and virtuous behavior.
- Self-destructive behavior, such as over-indulging in alcohol, drugs, cigarettes is unhealthy and destroys creativity, motivation and can make you dead.Take care of your body, it's the only one you have. Exercise or find a sport you like. Or just walk more.
- Control what surrounds you; living conditions, friends, family - inspiring your creativity and happiness.
- Avoid and/or eliminate those who belittle, tear you down, lie, take advantage of you, or always have a crisis, drama, or need money. Life is too short to be stifled and stunted by people around us who belittle, discourage, hurt and suck the life from us emotionally or psychologically
- Express your feelings appropriately, don't repress.
- It is normal for human beings to be wired to enjoy touch, taste, music, physical pleasure.
- Our minds love to imagine and invent, we are problem solvers, story tellers, singers, laughers, communicaters. Our hands create, farm, draw, comfort, heal, play music, build
- It's about embracing personal individuality and what it means to be human. Instead life is about joy and personal discovery, learning and enjoying your talents and abilities, not about guilt and sin.
- Separation of church and state.
- The application of human intelligence, reason and science, rather than supernatural explanations.
- You don't control who you love, when it happens, it happens, regardless of economic status, race or sex.
- Fear of death comes from anxiety over going to heaven or hell. In ceasing to be, we are no longer afraid. One simply returns to the state of, "not here-ness" that you were in before birth. This is why life is a celebration of the senses and of being alive, a gift never thrown away or wasted.
- To some, R.H. may sound like a selfish religion, but the truth is in getting in touch with yourself, for some, for the first time, can be a freeing, weight and guilt lifting feeling, giving you permission to truly enjoy life. When you are happy within your life, self-confident and are being yourself and not what other's expect you to be, resentful or what you feel obligated to be; it frees you to be more loving and giving to others, if you chose.
- For those who would say Rational Hedonism can't be a religion if there is no god, consider Buddhism, Taoism, and Confusionism. They are also philosophical religions.
Pursuit of Happiness
and the Avoidance of Pain
An ancient Greek concept of happiness was called "eudaimonia". While it roughly means happiness, it actually means much more. It also means, your human nature "flourishing" and "living well".
Hedonism has a reptuation for seeking out physical pleasures and popular images are of a tangle of scantily clad sexy men and women or folks laying about indulging in platters of food. Some people think if they just won the lottery or were rich they'd be able to buy anything they want, do anything they want. The reality is, the grass is usually greener on the other side of that fence. Rational Hedonism is about finding happiness firstly, where you are now. If you aren't happy where you're at, will you really be different inside if you lost all that weight? If you left your spouse for someone younger or wealthier? Are you still blaming your past for not being where you're at now? If you suddenly were rich, or had a body makeover, lived and traveled anywhere you wanted, could do anything you wanted, then what?
The reality is, happiness is not about money or having things. That either wears off or gets spent.
The ancient concept of "eudaimonia" ties in with today's search for happiness. We have shelter and food, but we enjoy decorating and trying out special recipes. Humans have within them the need to invent, create, be artistic, make music. We like to connect with others who have the same interests, whether it's to discuss that day's soap opera, reality or talent show, a sports game, Star Trek episode, or special interest. Human beings need to work, whether to keep busy, for money, or if lucky, doing a job they love. Earning money to pay for essentials is important, but so are the things that can't be bought. Relationships, happy memories and experiences, creative intelligent conversation, figuring things out, such as puzzles, sudoku, mysteries, video games.
Rational Hedonism epitomizes the ancient Greek concepts of happiness, tranquility, and human virtues. People are encouraged to evaluate their life, let go of past hurts caused by family or friends, to joyfully explore the things they love - it doesn't matter how good you are. It's about being happy with yourself, enjoy the life you have, without all the hangups holding you back or sending negative messages, and moving forward with a life that gets better and better, dropping off the negative people and surrounding yourself with those who "get" and accept you.
Life Events and Special Days
Birth and Naming Ceremony - The day you are born is when the world begins for you. Every person alive is here, against difficult odds. Although every day of life is a privilege, your day of birth is important. Parents have a naming ceremony inviting close family and friends whom they hope to be a positive, educational influence during their child's life..
R.H. parents strongly believe in homeschooling.
Coming of Age Ceremony - Rite of passage - for girls similar to Quinceañera; for boys a cross between Bar Mitzvah or Confirmation. A rite of passage that recognizes the boy is becoming a man, and needs to learn how to be a good man... a girl has much female knowledge to learn from the women.
Marriage - There are a few things that make R.H. weddings distinct, after these it's however elaborate, formal or not as the couple decides.
One is the wedding dress is never all virginal white. Whether it's a sash, in the train, or on the dress itself, there will be a splash of color, either the bride's favorite, or to match the theme. Another is the use of crowns (as in a traditional Greek wedding) connected by a ribbon for the couple, signifying their individuality, their bloodline, like royalty, coming together to combine to make something more with the two. Either both parents (not just the father) or surrogate parents/friends walks with the bride from one side, while the groom's parents do the same - again signifying two families combining.
Life Celebration - why wait until someone special is gone before gathering loved ones together? Life Celebrations celebrate and highlight the fun and happiness, tears and sadness, anecdotes and life stories. Let people know how much they are loved, what they've meant to you, what they've given. It's not for dying, or the old, it can be for a major move, or life changing thing. For elderly R.H.ers, it can be a chance to give away special gifts, the emerald necklace and the story that goes with it to a granddaughter, signed books, figurines or family dishes. This is a much more gentler way of family then waiting until death and squabbling over things. This is done with love and allows the person the joy of giving and seeing the face of the one being given to, and is part of a letting go process for all. (Of course, some things won't actually be taken until later).
Celebration of Life - When death comes, it is a goodbye to someone loved, a presence in your life no longer there. In all history past, they did not exist, for a brief time their life here burned, then flickered, winked out, and now for all future to come, again do not exist. Rational Hedonists value life and mourn death, but ensure their loved ones are not forgotten, and memorialized in a fitting way.
Day of Mourning - Last Saturday in July - Many events combined to bring about the deterioration of the Greek empire. One of these was the death of Alexander the Great. But as to changes from within, nothing spelled the beginning of the end more than the verdict of Theodosius, decreeing only Christianity would be the accepted religion of the now Roman empire. Greeks loved to ponder theories and debate, and were open to other paths of thought. Since the time of Jesus of Nazareth death on the cross, there was healthy, open debate as to whether He and God were equal, or whether the Holy Spirit entered Him at baptism and left on the cross, the difference between the disciples who'd known Him and Paul's teachings. There were Greeks who even added Him to their other deities.
Suddenly there was a list of what had been decided was true, period. No more discussion. For early Christianity it caused splintering still going on today. For everyone else, it was the beginning of dark times bringing persecution, torturing, conquering nations and death. Statues were covered up with fig leafs, scrolls burned, an entire people's culture, language and art destroyed. Original thinkers, men of science, inventors, killed. - throughout the world over and over again - as the dark age of the church spread. All in the name of the "Holy" Church and for the glory of it's God and Son.
So this day is a day of mourning. A day we allow ourselves to feel sadness for the loss of the times of reason, debate and open-minded-ness. To think of those who's ideas, music, art and inventions were never gifted to us, along with the hope that perhaps in these more recent times, thanks to modern creations such as the internet, people throughout the world can come together online to discuss, exchange ideas and good-natured debate.
Lunar Feast (or, Lunar Fest - Monthly) - This has evolved to be a monthly dinner party/"Thanksgiving"-style meal where friends and/or family are invited. Rational Hedonism is about enjoying the simple pleasures of life, which includes surrounding yourself with people you like and enjoying good company and good food. In a hectic world of everyone in the family on different schedules, parents and kids alike unable to tear away from texting for even a half hour, and fast food or microwavable dinners, Rational Hedonism says, "Stop! Time Out!". Home cooked food doesn't contain the hydrogenated fats and super sugared or salted ingredients, the apartment/home is bathed in mouth-watering smells, Cell phones off, gradually unwinding and catching up with those in your circle. That's connecting.
A Rocky Road With the Church
Rational Hedonism predates the Christian church. Greek culture was in full swing and even the mighty Roman empire emulated it. Most people think it was the Niacene Council that made Christianity the official religion of Rome and it's territories, suddenly taking a small religion and making it world wide for that time. But it was actually Theodosius in 381 who shut down all other religions and other paths of Christianity. Until that time, other cultures' gods were accepted, and even in early years after Christ, churches differed on official writings to go into what would be the New Testament. When once the Greek way of open debate and acceptance ot the "other" was stifled, after 381, the official church doctrine was the only accepted way.
To show the influence and history, "Apikoros" or "Epikoros" was from the name of Epicurus and his teachings which developed into the meaning, "heretic" or "apostate".
A Rational Hedonist is NOT Epicurean.
Rational Hedonists went underground during harsh times, dropping the open Garden concept and meeting together as secret societies, emerging briefly in the Renaissance. After the 1800's Rational Hedonists slowly began resurfacing and with today's more accepting, modern era, through the international access of the internet, began connecting with each other.and growing once more.
The Gardens Today
If Rational Hedonism is so old and in full swing today, why do you never see buildings announcing services for Rational Hedonists?
Rational Hedonism centers on you and your life, and the circle of friends and family you chose to be with. Rational Hedonists do get together for important events, weddings, funerals, milestones in a child's life, or for religious events.
Rational Hedonists divide themselves into special interest groups. These are called "Gardens" in memory of Epicurus and his original Garden. R.H.-ers believe one of the best forms of happiness is ataraxia.
Everyone's experienced this, where you're having such a good time talking with friends, playing video games, watching or playing sports, listening to music or playing it, scrapbooking or tinkering in the garage. They are the moments where you're so involved in what you're doing, time flies; you are lost in the moment. Those are moments of true happiness.
People may not always agree with their leadership, and there can be division within congregations, but doing the things you love with others who love it puts you in a good place. Rational Hedonists can belong to several Gardens.
Do Rational Hedonists Have Use For The Greek Gods?
Rational Hedonists may own statues or art representing the Hellenic gods for the traits and qualities we relate or admire in them. We may show honor to them, but in no way do we worship them. R.H. does not seek to revive the ancient Hellenist empire, it has evolved and adapted into the modern age, but we still honor the heritage and philosophical roots, keeping them firmly entrenched, vibrant and alive.