How to be an epicurean – and it’s not about eating posh pickles.

25Nov17

I’ve been studying philosophy since a couple of years before I retired. Although much of the work was done over 2000 years ago, the thoughts of philosophers are as relevant now as they were when written with reeds on papyrus.

Epicureanism is all about the pursuit of pleasure. A selfish lifestyle choice? Maybe not when you consider that, by achieving happiness yourself, you can help others to do the same. You can become a radiator as opposed to a drain. Everyone likes to be around happy people.

According to the ancient Greeks, Epicurus in particular, the way to attain pleasure is to “live modestly, gain knowledge of the workings of the world, and to limit one’s desires. This would lead one to attain a state of tranquility (ataraxia) and freedom from fear as well as an absence of bodily pain (aponia). The combination of these two states constitutes happiness in its highest form.” (Wikipedia)

Happiness in its highest form – a goal worth pursuing to be sure. The freedom from fear and pain sounds pretty good too. Apparently, there is a fairly easy way to reach this enviable state. Just take the three steps described below:

1. Do an audit on your desires – get rid of the worthless ones that add nothing to your enjoyment of life. Epicurus lived on bread, water and olives with an occasional lump of cheese. His view was that occasional luxuries have more power when enjoyed less often. So turn your back on expensive cars, restaurants, clothes or whatever else has held you in thrall for so many years and see how you feel. Deprived, impoverished and bored or enlightened, enriched and excited about simple pleasures?

2. Write your own obituary – take stock of your life to date. Which parts are you happy with? And which could be improved? Do this once a year. It’s never too late to change.

3. Be a good friend – contact friends regularly and nurture good relationships. Good friends are all we really need to enjoy life once our basic physical needs have been met (bread, water, olives, a roof over our heads and a couple of sets of clothes).

So there it is. The formula for a happy life. According to the epicureans anyway. It seems to make good sense when you think about our over-consumption in so many areas of our lives. So many people are working too hard in jobs they dislike to buy things they don’t really need. Or can we only afford to take this view when we’re nearing the end of our working lives with pensions in place and all our belongings around us?

What do you think? Did Epicurus have a good philosophy or was it unrealistic? Can Epicureanism work for people in business? Does a simpler life always lead to happiness?

Your feedback, as always, is welcome.

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