- The Epicurean Philosophy for Happiness: How To Be Happy & Seek Pleasure
- The Epicurean philosophy
- Factors for happiness
- Epicurus on How to be Happy
- What is Hedonism?
- So what would make us happy according to Epicurus?
- 1. Friendship
- 2. Freedom and Self Sufficiency
- Types of Desires
- 3. Philosophical Thought
The Epicurean Philosophy for Happiness: How To Be Happy & Seek Pleasure
The pursuit of happiness is a lifelong process. Following the Epicurean philosophy for happiness can help you seek comfort, pleasure, and happiness in the simplest of ways.
Most people find happiness by earning money, eating good food, or spending time with friends. However, most of us don’t have any clear idea about what will actually make us happy. The Epicurean philosophy can help us understand what makes us happy and what we can do to experience happiness and pleasure in life.
Epicurus of Samos is an ancient Greek philosopher who lived from 341-270 BCE. He was a sage who established Epicureanism, a school of philosophy known in Athens known as “the Garden.” According to Britannica, Epicureanism “means devotion to pleasure, comfort, and high living, with a certain nicety of style.”
Epicurus had his own unique beliefs and philosophy about the notion of happiness. He believed that the supreme human pursuit is happiness and it greatly influences our behavior and decisions. Un other philosophers who claimed that happiness and pleasure can only be attained through indulgence and excess, Epicurus believed happiness can be actually derived from the simplest of things.
“According to Epicurus, reason teaches that pleasure is good and pain bad, and that pleasure and pain are the ultimate measures of good and bad,” explains psychiatrist, philosopher, and writer Neel Burton, M.D.
He adds “Epicurus agrees with Aristotle that happiness is an end-in-itself and the highest good of human living.
However, he identifies happiness with the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain rather than with the pure exercise of reason.”
Read also: 4 Easy Ways To Let Go Of Negativity From Your Life And Find Happiness
The Epicurean philosophy
According to Epicurus, the things we run after on a daily basis are very different from the things that actually make us happy.
His philosophy shows that looking for pleasures to experience tranquillity, ataraxia (freedom from fear) and aponia (absence from bodily pain) is the “greatest good.
” It is believed that a combination of all of these can lead to happiness.
Many philosophers believe that Epicureanism is basically a variation of Hedonism even though it is conceptually very different.
The Epicurean philosophy for happiness focuses on the absence of pain as the path towards happiness and advocates living a simple life.
“To experience tranquility, Epicurus suggested that we could seek knowledge of how the world works and limit our desires,” explains professional counselor and mental health experts Jodi Clarke, LPC/MHSP.
The Greek philosopher Epicurus believed that true happiness and pleasure can only be experienced through:
- A temperate life
- A virtuous life
- Abstinence from bodily desires
Living a temperate life refers to having self-restraint and taking steps to enjoy a modest and mild life. Although our goal is to seek pleasure and happiness, Epicurus believed that indulgence was not the way to attain happiness.
Read also: 17 Daily Choices You Can Make To Choose Happiness In Life
In fact, studies have found that mild Epicureanism can actually help us develop a therapeutic attitude.
A 2008 study by Carlo Strenger at the Department of Psychology, Tel Aviv University, found that “Mild Epicureanism means to soften attachments to all belief systems, even therapeutic theories, to lower their potential inhibition of personal growth.
” The research paper concluded that “mild Epicureanism is consistent with most therapeutic approaches, and allows addressing clients’ belief without interfering with their right to make up their own minds.”
Factors for happiness
According to Epicurean philosophy, there are 3 basic states which lead to happiness. These are:
- Freedom from fear (ataraxia)
- Absence of bodily pain (aponia)
Jodi Clarke, MA, LPC/MHSP writes “It is this combination of factors that would, ultimately, allow people to experience happiness at the highest level.” Even though following the epicurean way for happiness may appear difficult to accomplish or sustain, numerous individuals across the world follow the Epicurean philosophy and enjoy this type of happiness.
Epicurus on How to be Happy
Let no one delay the study of philosophy while young nor weary of it when old.
You may not know a lot about Epicurus (ancient Greek philosopher from 341-270 BCE), but you have ly heard of an epicurean.
An epicurean is someone who indulges in worldly pleasures. This includes sensual pleasure, as well as luxurious eating and drinking habits.
The only problem with all of this is that it is all wrong. Well, maybe not all wrong, but there is some confusion that should be cleared up.
Epicurus 341-270 BCE
Many people associate Epicurus with the idea of eating and drinking for all of pleasures sake. This is not what Epicurus endorsed.
While it is true that the philosophy of Epicurus is a hedonistic philosophy, (the idea that pleasure is the highest good and is what will bring us happiness) his idea of pleasure is much different from what some might imagine.
To clarify, Epicureans (capital ‘E’) are individuals who follow the philosophy of Epicurus, while epicureans (lower case ‘e’) pursue a life filled solely with luxury and pleasure; they are very different.
What is Hedonism?
Hedonism is generally seen as the philosophical idea that everyone should seek pleasure to the extreme. That is, enjoy whatever sensual relationships you want, eat all of the food you want and drink to your contentment. This is happiness for the hedonist.
While Epicurus also believed that pleasure was the greatest good, he believed that it should be attained by living modestly and learning about the world around us – not the ‘eat, drink, and have all the sex you ’ philosophy.
Epicurus recommended a virtuous and somewhat ascetic (self-disciplined) life as the best means to finding happiness and pleasure. This is very different from the Cyrenaics (4th century BCE, Greece) who were extreme hedonists.
Let’s look into his philosophy a bit more
Epicurus was one of the most famous philosophers of his day. He wrote many books and had many followers. One could say that his philosophy was focused on one thing: How to be happy. He even started a School for Happiness.
Aristotle, Epicurus believed that happiness is the highest good and the end to all other actions. That is, we seek happiness for its own sake and not for the sake of anything else (it is our end goal in life).
Where the two split is in how they believe we attain happiness. Epicurus believed that happiness was attaining pleasure (and avoiding pain). Aristotle, on the other hand, believed that we attain happiness by cultivating virtue.
Some typical ways in which people try to find happiness
Many people think they will find happiness in a romantic relationship. Once they find the love of their life and get married then they will be happy.
However, Epicurus points out that oftentimes romantic love leads to feelings of jealousy, anger, and other complications (not happy times).
Some people believe that money and material possessions will bring happiness. Epicurus, however, believed that in order to have a lot of money we need to work very hard. This is not something that will make us happy.
He believed that what we really want from work is to do something meaningful and helpful in some way. Working for lots of money will leave us unfulfilled. We want to work to bring value to the world.
So what would make us happy according to Epicurus?
He believed there were 3 key components of a happy life:
- Freedom and Self-Sufficiency
- Philosophical Thought
In order to better understand his philosophy, it is best to look at the school he created. The school was called ‘The Garden’ (it was actually set in a garden) and it can be thought of as the very first commune.
Epicurus purchased a large plot of land and built a house with several rooms and common areas. He and all of his friends would live there.
One of the keys to happiness for Epicurus was having friends, but seeing our friends only on occasion will not make us happy. He thought that we should see our friends every day and spend time with them every day.
The house in ‘The Garden’ had individual rooms for privacy, but there were common areas throughout the property where everyone would spend time together.
Friends and minded individuals bring us so much happiness and we need to spend more time with them. Friendship is very different from romantic relationships. Friendships are supportive, positive and fun, while romance can lead to negative feelings.
2. Freedom and Self Sufficiency
Freedom and self-sufficiency are other components of happiness. We want to be free to do the things we and also be able to live sufficiently among friends. What does this mean though?
Looking at the community that Epicurus developed, everyone worked to sustain the community. There were farmers, tailors, wood workers, etc. The work they did was meaningful and needed by others. They, therefore, felt good about the work they did.
It is true they may not have had a lot of money, but all of their needs were met and they had time and freedom to do the things they enjoyed with their friends. That is, they had freedom and self-sufficiency.
Living in this community today
It would be quite different from the life we are used to. We would have to do something about all of the things (material possessions) we are used to having.
The question is, are all of these things making us happy? We seem to have a hard time understanding how to be happy. Maybe some of this advice could be helpful?
Epicurus realized there was a problem with desire. We want things in life because we think that they will bring us happiness. The problem is they only bring us temporary happiness, but nothing long-lasting.
What are we to do? He believed that our focus needs to be on moderating and limiting our desires.
There are 2 ways to deal with desire:
1) Strive until we fulfill the desire, or
2) Curb or eliminate the desire
The second method is the recommended way to deal with desire. If we lower our desires then it is easier to attain what we desire and therefore, we will be happier. When we strive and strive to attain our desire we often find that we are not happy and end up only desiring more.
Read about what the Buddha said about desire in the Four Noble Truths here.
Types of Desires
According to Epicurus, there are 3 types of desires:
1. Natural and Necessary
2. Natural but not Necessary
3. Vain and Empty
Natural and necessary desires must be met. They are things food, shelter, and the . It is natural to want these things and it is necessary for our survival.
Natural but not necessary desires are desires for a particular sort of thing – luxury food, for example. We certainly need food, but we don’t need a gourmet meal. If this is what you desire, but it’s not available, then you will be disappointed and unhappy.
The point is to enjoy something while it is available, but recognize that it is not necessary and should never be counted on. If we focus on meeting our basic needs of simply eating the food that is available, we will always be rich. That is, we become rich by desiring less.
Vain and empty desires are desires for power, wealth, fame, etc. Epicurus said that these sorts of desires are difficult to satisfy because they have no limit. Meaning, if you desire wealth and you attain it, you can always desire more. Once one sees that they can get more, they will want more.
These are not natural desires, but they are a part of our society. Epicurus believes that we have been fooled into thinking that they will bring us happiness. How can something that has no limit make us happy? These desires should be eliminated.
Can you see the difference in these types of desires? If you are hungry and desire food, that’s natural, but once you satisfy your limited hunger you will be happy. The other desires can never be satisfied and you will therefore never be happy.
If we learn to desire less, we will always meet our desires and be happy and tranquil.
One thing to note is that not all pleasures are good and all pains evil. We need to think about our life in the long term and calculate what is in our best interest.
That is, what will bring us long term happiness and not merely short term, immediate happiness? Here is where Epicurus clearly parts ways with the traditional hedonist who will eat, drink, and be merry for all the days.
We can’t eat whatever we want because it is not good for our body in the long run. We shouldn’t drink a bottle of wine every day for fear of becoming a drunk.
3. Philosophical Thought
The final component of the happy life is engaging in philosophical or rational thought. That is, living an analyzed life.
Epicurus believed that it was important to think about our life and examine our thoughts and feelings. Even though we try to limit our desires and do the things that make us happy, we may still occasionally feel anxiety and fear.
If we want to be happy, we need to explore these things and understand them.
This is something that everyone could benefit from – examining and contemplating life and exploring our thoughts and feelings. Nothing but good can come from this.
Epicurus knew that many people feared death – a fear of the unknown. But he said if we engage in philosophical thought and really look at death there is nothing to be afraid of. He says,
Death does not concern us because as long as we exist, death is not here. And when it does come, we no longer exist.
Try this: Think of what your life was before you were born. You can’t because there is no life before you were born. Just as there is nothing when you die. There is nothing to fear because death is what happens when you are dead and it has nothing to do with life.
Here is what an Epicurean community would look :
- A bunch of friends living in a big place together.
- They all do work to support the community and feel good that they are working for a cause.
- They have lots of freedom and time to do what they want.
- They realize that material things will not bring them lasting happiness, so they don’t desire them.
- They talk about life in order to understand themselves, their fears, feelings, and emotions so they can master these things and maintain their happiness.
Strange community? They were very popular throughout the Mediterranean and you can still find Epicureans today.
One thing that does seem obvious is that we are not very good at making ourselves happy.
Might there be something to this philosophy? How can we apply this to our life today? Most of us will probably not want to live in a commune type situation, but what about the core concepts?
- Spend more time with -minded people (friends)
- Do work that makes us feel as though we bring value to the world
- Realize that material possessions do not bring long-term happiness
- Live a simple life, with few possessions
Here is a question – Is the newer movement of minimalism a sort of Epicureanism? Minimalists generally don’t live with a bunch of other people, but what about the other concepts behind minimalism?
People are moving into small spaces, getting rid of there material possessions, living off the land by growing their own food.
They are in search of happiness, simplicity, and tranquility. And many will say they are happier than they have ever been. Maybe they are on the right track – just as Epicurus was!