Mon. Oct 18th, 2021
 
What A Baker From Ancient Pompeii Can Teach Us About Happiness

What A Baker From Ancient Pompeii Can Teach Us About Happiness

In a testament to its resiliency, happiness, according to this year’s World Happiness Report, remained remarkably stable around the world, despite a pandemic that upended the lives of billions of people.

 

As a classicist, I find such discussions of happiness in the midst of personal or societal crisis to be nothing new.

 

“Hic habitat felicitas” – “Here dwells happiness” – confidently proclaims an inscription found in a Pompeiian bakery nearly 2,000 years after its owner lived and possibly died in the eruption of Vesuvius that destroyed the city in A.D. 79.

 

What did happiness mean to this Pompeiian baker? And how does considering the Roman view of felicitas help our search for happiness today?

What A Baker From Ancient Pompeii Can Teach Us About Happiness

What A Baker From Ancient Pompeii Can Teach Us About Happiness
What A Baker From Ancient Pompeii Can Teach Us About Happiness

 

Happiness for me but not for thee

 

The Romans saw both Felicitas and Fortuna – a related word that means “luck” – as goddesses. Each had temples in Rome, where those seeking the divinities’ favor could place offerings and make vows. Felicitas was also portrayed on Roman coins from the first century B.C. to the fourth century, suggesting its connection to financial prosperity of the state. Coins minted by emperors, furthermore, connect her to themselves. “Felicitas Augusti,” for example, was seen on the golden coin of the emperor Valerian, iconography that suggested he was the happiest man in the empire, favored by the gods.

 

By claiming felicitas for his own abode and business, therefore, the Pompeiian baker could have been exercising a name-it-claim-it philosophy, hoping for such blessings of happiness for his business and life

 

Finding happiness in chaos and disorder

 

Brooks’ advice correlates with those findings in the World 2021 Happiness Report, which noted “a roughly 10% increase in the number of people who said they were worried or sad the previous day.”

 

Faith, relationships and meaningful work all contribute to feelings of safety and stability. All of them were victims of the pandemic. The Pompeiian baker, who chose to place his plaque in his place of business, likely would have agreed about the significant connection among happiness, work and faith. And while he was not, as far as historians can tell, living through a pandemic, he was no stranger to societal stress.

 

It’s possible his choice of décor reflected an undercurrent of anxiety – understandable, given some of the political turmoil in Pompeii and in the empire at large in the last 20 years of the city’s existence. At the time of the final volcanic eruption of A.D. 79, we know that some Pompeiians were still rebuilding and restoring from the earthquake of A.D. 62. The baker’s life must have been filled with reminders of instability and looming disaster. Perhaps the plaque was an attempt to combat these fears.

 

After all, would truly happy people feel the need to place a sign proclaiming the presence of happiness in their home?

 

Or maybe I’m overanalyzing this object, and it was simply a mass-made trinket – a first century version of a “Home Sweet Home” or “Live, Laugh, Love” placard – that the baker or his wife picked up on a whim.

 

And yet the plaque reminds of an important truth: people in antiquity had dreams of and aspirations for happiness, much like people do today. Vesuvius may have put an end to our baker’s dreams, but the pandemic need not have such a permanent impact on ours. And while the stress of the past year-and-a-half feels may feel overwhelming, there has been no better time to re-evaluate priorities, and remember to put people and relationships first.

Subhangee Guha

Break the Newz.

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *