You might have heard of positive psychology. It has been all the rage in the media for a while now, especially thanks to the high profile work of its founder, Martin Seligman. Positive psychology (PP, henceforth) focuses on the achievement of a satisfactory life, rather than on illness, on personal growth rather than pathology. But what is the relationship, if any, between Stoicism (ancient and modern) and positive psychology?
(from artist Kevin Nordstrom, illustrator of awesome things. Reproduced with permission.)
Recently I went to see this year’s New York City Opera Renaissance production of Puccini’s Tosca, which originally premiered in Rome in 1900. The action is set in the year 1800, also in Rome, and the story provides quite a few points of reflection from a Stoic perspective.
Briefly (you can read a more in-depth summary here) the three main characters are the painter Mario Cavaradossi, his lover, the singer Floria Tosca, and the brutal chief of the Roman police, Baron Scarpia.
Seems like these days the movies are presenting us (unwittingly, I’m sure) with a number of good Stoic role models, sometimes entirely fictional (astronaut Mark Watney in The Martian), at other times based on real life people (lawyer James Donovan in Bridge of Spies). Of course, a good explanation of this phenomenon is simply that I have started looking at things in general from a Stoic perspective during the last year or so, which means I’m just now paying attention to what was already there.
This seems to be the season of movies featuring what I would consider strong Stoic characters. I have recently written about The Martian, the story of astronaut Mark Watney, played by Matt Damon, who faces overwhelming odds against his survival as a stranded human being on the red planet.
The Martian, a movie directed by Ridley Scott, starring Matt Damon and based on the book by Andy Weir, is one that Stoics would want to see. (It’s good for non Stoics as well…)
I read the book last year, and immediately wondered why nobody had done a movie off it yet. It is a very geeky book (and a somewhat geeky movie), with pages after pages of detailed explanations of how “Martian” (actually a NASA astronaut stranded on Mars) Mark Watney manages to hang around by himself on the Red Planet until he can be rescued by another mission.
Stoicism was meant from the beginning as a living philosophy, something to practice throughout your life, not just discuss from the armchair. Accordingly, I have recently started to apply a Stoic perspective on a number of things I do or experience. One of these is watching movies and documentaries. What follows, then, is an attempt at a “Stoic” review of the 2015 documentary “Amy,” centered on the tragic figure of British singer Amy Winehouse, who died in 2011 at the age of only 27.The documentary — directed by Asif Kapadia — is, in my opinion, well done, though it includes a lot of low quality footage of Winehouse’s childhood and, at 2 hours and 8 minutes, is arguably unnecessarily long.