The Ataraxia Series

The Happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts.

—Marcus Aurelius, Roman emperor and stoic philosopher

Neel writes:

In my work as a psychiatrist, I help to treat mental disorder—and, I’m delighted to say, most of the people I see do get better.

But why stop here?

I believe that there is much more to mental health than the mere absence of mental disorder.

Mental health is not just about surviving, but about thriving, about developing and expressing our highest, fullest potential as human beings.

Before Christianity, there were, of course, the pagan gods, Zeus and Jupiter and their ilk. But, especially for the high-minded, there were also a number of philosophical schools, the major ones being cynicism, stoicism, skepticism, and epicureanism. Although each with its own outlook and method, all four schools aimed at the attainment of mental tranquillity and mastery, or ataraxia—making them, in my view, much more similar than different.

Ataraxia [Greek, ‘lack of disturbance or trouble’] is also the guiding principle of this series, with each book, like each philosophy, adopting a distinct but complementary approach to peace of mind: exploring the deep origins of our distress in The Meaning of Madness; guarding against the demons of self-deception in Hide and Seek; refining our emotions in Heaven and Hell; regulating our relations with others in For Better For Worse; developing our thinking skills in Hypersanity; and, finally, redefining our concept of success in The Art of Failure.

Although the series is numbered, each book can happily stand on its own—meaning that you can read just one or all six, and in whichever order you like.

Ataraxia is closely linked with eudaimonia, which is often translated as ‘happiness’ but which is, in fact, a much deeper, fuller, and richer concept, sometimes articulated in terms of flourishing, or living a life that is worthwhile and fulfilling.

The stakes could not be higher.