I could think of:

  • Stoicism, say in Seneca who sees pleasures as "low, slavish, perishable", contrasting pleasures with virtue, which he sees as the highest good. Seneca argues that one who pursues virtue is likely to find happiness, but that happiness should only be seen as a benefit of virtue, and not as an aim by itself.
  • Maybe one could also mention catholicism, which viewed amusements with contempt, and in general sensual pleasures as a tool of Satan to distract us from righteous path, an attitude exemplified in the excommunication of actors.

But I wouldn't qualify those as modern. And this brings me to my question: which philosophers, say in the last couple of hundred years, have developed ideas around a distrust of happiness and pleasures, and put those ideas at the center of their philosophy?


Schopenhauer was one of the first modern philosophers who treated happiness as a central theme, but he is also responsible for the modern ‘philosophical fear of happiness’

Arthur Schopenhauer was such an extreme pessimist that he thought we live in the worst of all possible worlds and happiness is an illusion.

Schopenhauer thought that happiness was the absence of pain, frustration and dissatisfaction. Our will, or our desires, are continually demanding things from the world that cannot always be satisfied. And so we are continually frustrated. Seeking happiness could be a form of slavery. He was a kind of extreme hedonist.

Schopenhauer thought of happiness as the satisfaction of desires. The opposite of happiness—suffering—was caused by hindrance of ‘the will’, through an obstacle placed between it and its temporary goal

Schopenhauer does not believe that wealth is important for happiness and states that satisfaction with one’s wages is strongly related to subjective factors. One man can be satisfied with small wage, whereas another man will feel poor with twice the amount. We need enough wealth to live, but more is not necessary. It is preferable to look after our health and try to grow intellectually. Wealth can free us from working, but for many people this is not a blessing as most people would be terribly bored.




Mindfulness is the modern revamp of Buddhism and contains the same core doctrine regarding the cessation of desire. This doctrine is, of course, an apperceptive appreciation of basic drives, where they are brought under rational control. Since this doctrine is so old it is difficult to see how another one could do better, but the modern revamps are adjusted for modern sensibilities and are very popular.

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