Leon’s Existential Cafe

What Hip-Hop Music and Philosophy Teach Us About Happiness

What Does Happiness Mean?

Now that the year is reaching its end, I began looking back on what Alen and I learned from the guests on our podcast. We had philosophers, psychologists, and a hip-hop icon on, all to teach us important lessons about life. Since philosophy was invented, and even before then, thinkers have been asking what it means to live a good life, pondering the ingredients of happiness. Philosophers used experience and reason to create their models, while poets, musicians, and even rappers used melody and rhyme to convey their wisdom. So, as I explored the past episodes of Seize The Moment Podcast, several themes emerged, ones concerning happiness and a life well-lived.

Emmy van Deurzen
Emmy van Deurzen (Guest on Ep.23)

In essence, Emmy van Deurzen, Mutah “Napoleon” Beale, Jamie Lombardi, Meg Van Deusen (who’ll be a guest on the show next week), Liz Dorval, and Gordon Marino were telling us the same things in their own ways. Describing his life in the music industry, Napoleon spoke about feeling deeply depressed because his values were at odds with each other. Compromising his code of ethics, he attained the fame, wealth, and status he believed he needed for happiness. But, as his mentor, Tupac Shakur, warned him and the rest of us in his music, fame was a mirage. For, in order to gain it, you have to lose yourself, and, thus, the love you receive is a bastardization of the real thing. You have to be who they want you to be, Mutah told us, calling success ‘sick-cess’ “because it’s sickening.”

Being Loved

Emmy taught us about the importance of community, and the need to share our wealth. To her, joy encompassed being seen and loved for who one really is. In her conception of love, one’s full self is revealed, radiating out beauty in her flaws. Those who wish to present themselves in an elevated light suffer Napoleon’s fate, fostering a profound sense of misery, which replaces the momentary joy one receives from adoration and exaltation. This was evident in her retelling of the life of existential psychiatrist, R.D. Laing, who, despite his notable following, seemed to have been struggling with severe depression. As she told us about him, I began to wonder how someone who had so much (who was famous, wealthy, brilliant, and attractive) could have been so miserable. Then, I realized, that no one really knew him. No matter how much he attained, it was never a sufficient substitute for intimacy; he was loved, or at least admired, for many things but never for who he was.


Being Heard

In exploring happiness with us, writer and philosopher Gordon Marino (@GordonMarino) mentioned that so many of us were obsessed with the rat-race and spent little time focusing on developing our characters.  The implication was that happiness meant being “a good and loving person,” which reminds me of Napoleon telling us that fame causes people to sell their souls; it corrupts and transforms them into the opposites of Gordon’s ideal, basically, destroying them, as Tupac had once warned.

Gordon Marino
Gordon Marino (Guest on Ep. 11)

Additionally, Gordon noted the importance of being heard, and how it relates to our ability to listen to ourselves, or “get in touch with what you feel.” To hear someone is to listen to her vulnerabilities, reducing the sense of shame we tend to feel about our weak spots, which, in turn, increases the likelihood that she’ll be honest with herself. And, if we were to take it one step further, to love someone is, also, to love her vulnerabilities; and, I’m sure Emmy would agree.

The Happiness Found in Community

Individual success is really an illusion, Jamie taught us, because we can’t separate our achievements from all of the support that we received. She noted that a strong network, which included nurturing mothers, was behind many successful individuals. Consequently, if we were to take Emmy’s advice and share our wealth with others, we would do so knowing that we didn’t achieve it on our own, helping others as we’ve been helped.

Mutah Beale (Guest on Ep. 24)

Community was a major theme among our guests, present in Napoleon describing his happiest moments as those that were spent with his friends laughing and joking with one another, in Emmy’s prescription of sharing one’s fame with others, in Jamie’s assertion that the self-made individual doesn’t exist, in Liz Dorval’s elucidation of the loneliness epidemic and its ties to self-absorption and a decline in organized participation, in Gordon’s association of self-discovery with a mirror that reflects your importance back to you, and in Meg’s research on the emotional effects of different core values.


In her upcoming book, Stressed in the U.S., Meg cited research on the values of fame and wealth, stating that they are merely “short-loved Band-Aids to contentment,” as real relationships are the sources of lasting joy, which explains why Napoleon’s happiest moments, while on top of the music industry, were when he felt at home with his closest friends. Relationships, community, perceiving ourselves through the eyes of those who see and love us; that’s the embodiment of genuine happiness. So, whether you’re a rapper, a philosopher, a clinical psychologist, or just a regular Joe, somewhere deep inside, all of us know this to be true. If being heard creates self-esteem, then fame engenders self-confusion. If my goal is to be loved for who I am, my well-curated Instagram page will never afford me that experience.


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