Change Your Philosophy

Philosophy illuminated the path to happiness long before psychology did.

Posted Sep 19, 2018

 William Berry
Source: William Berry

Most people who are not overly familiar with psychology believe it began with Freud (1856-1939). However, the pursuit of happiness and overcoming suffering has been written about since about the time of the written word. My fourth post for Psychology Today was based on one of these old philosophers’ advice to procure happiness (Epicurus, 341-270 B.C.E.). 

Epicurus was not the only philosopher paving the road to happiness. Plato (429-347 B.C.E.) and Aristotle (384-322 B.C.E.) offered advice long before him, and in the East Buddha (Siddhartha Guatama, 563-483 B.C.E) had already offered his. A quote attributed to Aristotle defining the importance of happiness is, "Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence."

A book I read some time ago suggested philosophical counseling as an approach to making yourself (and perhaps others when you are in the helping profession) happier (Marinoff, 1999). In it the author cites great philosophical thinkers throughout history and makes suggestions for applying their wisdom. He cites and/or quotes dozens of philosophers throughout time. 

Recently I was introduced to another philosopher who offers suggestions for happiness, David Hume (1711-1776). While watching the video it was surprising to see how some of his theories relate to current psychology. For one, Hume didn’t believe there was a consistent personality. He is quoted purporting, “We are nothing but a bundle or collection of different perceptions, which succeed each other with an inconceivable rapidity, and are in perpetual flux and movement.” This is strikingly similar to the modular theory of the mind (see “You Aren’t You at All”). 

Another way Hume’s theory reflects modern psychology is his idea that emotions rule logic. He posits that emotions are much more responsible for one’s choice than logic is. This is reflected in psychology. For example, in their manuscript, Lerner Et al. reason, “many psychological scientists now assume that emotions are the dominant driver of most meaningful decisions in life.” Hume was arguing this in the 1700s. The point: philosophy has demonstrated insights that psychology has adopted as its own, and which are being proven true with more consistency as technology advances. 

With many of the clients I work with, I suggest a change of philosophy is what is needed. This isn’t far from psychological theories either. In REBT (rational emotive behavioral therapy) there is an A-B-C formula for challenging thinking. The steps are A-F, and E is developing an “effective philosophy” consisting of new thoughts. In ACT (acceptance and commitment training), one is asked to adopt the Eastern philosophy of radical acceptance. In other mindfulness-based psychological theories (MBCT, DBT), mindfulness is heavily relied upon and this rose out of Eastern philosophies. And, of course, there is existential theory, which is philosophical in its origins.

Everyone has a philosophy, whether they have made it is perspicuous or not. It would behoove one to explore his or her philosophy of life. If one is suffering, it would then be beneficial to look into alternative philosophies. The issue is you have accepted your philosophy as fact, as the way life is, as the way the world works. It has been deeply ingrained into your psyche. As a result, it will not be easy to change. It can be changed with mindful effort. The first step is to explore other philosophies, other worldviews. The second is to begin practicing them. For many, reminders are extremely helpful. For example, following Facebook or Instagram pages that support your new philosophy. Reading about it, looking for articles, books, or even videos that deepen your belief is also beneficial. It becomes a lifelong process, but life is a lifelong process anyhow. Why not try to make it better by changing your philosophy about it? 

Copyright William Berry, 2018.


Lerner, J., Li, Y., Valdesolo, P., Kassam, K. 2014. Emotion and Decision Making. Manuscript submitted for publication in the Annual Review of Psychology. Retrieved from:

Marinoff, L., 1999. Plato Not Prozac: Applying Eternal Wisdom to Everyday Problems. MJF Books, N.Y. New York. 

The School of Life, 2016. Philosophy- David Hume. Retrieved from: