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. Unlike 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.”
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.
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.
However, there is one hindrance in our pursuit for happiness. Epicurus believed that worrying and being anxious about our future is a guaranteed way to ruin our inner peace and happiness. Clarke adds “Although he suggested this has more to do with not fearing gods or death, the idea that we would be fearful about anything in our future was considered an obstacle to our experience of pleasure, tranquility, and happiness.”
What makes you happy
According to the Epicurean philosophy, the are 3 primary aspects of happiness:
- Self-sufficiency & freedom
- Philosophical Thought
Enjoying the company of good friends is one of the secrets to happiness, believed Epicurus. However, with our chaotic personal lives it is often difficult for us to meet or spend quality time with our friends and loved ones. Hence, seeing our friends occasionally will not lead to happiness. The Epicurean philosophy claims that we must meet our friends on a daily basis and spend enough time with them to be happy.
“Friends and like-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,” explains writer L. A. Brandenburg.
Mental health expert Jodi Clarke, MA, LPC/MHSP writes “Epicurus believed that connection with friends offered a sense of safety, whereas lack of connection can lead to isolation, despair, and peril.”
Self-sufficiency & freedom
Everyone wants to live free. Want want to have the freedom to make our own decisions and live our life on our own terms. However, to be free we need to learn to be self sufficient as well. Being free and living self sufficiently with our friends will enable us to experience happiness.
Epicurus himself lived with his friends in his school of philosophy “the Garden”, which is considered as the first community. Brandenburg explains “Looking at the community that Epicurus developed, everyone worked to sustain the community. The work they did was meaningful and needed by others. They, therefore, felt good about the work they did.”
Even though the members of the Garden were not wealthy, their needs were met. They were free to do what they wanted, they enjoyed the company of their friends and they were happy. “They had freedom and self-sufficiency,” adds Brandenburg.
Being involved in rational and philosophical thought is the final aspect of happiness. Accoring to the Epicurean philosophy, we need to think analytically about out thoughts, feelings and emotions. Although we may try to live a temperate life and abstain from desires, we may still feel anxiety about our future.
Engaging in philosophical thought enables us to observe our fears about the future, explore difficult feelings and understand ourselves better. Brandenburg writes “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.”
According to Epicurus, human beings should not fear death, says psychiatrist Neel Burton, M.D. One of the reasons for this is “The mind is a part of the body, and, just like other parts of the body (and everything else in the universe), is made up of atoms. The death of a person entails the death of both body and mind and the re-dispersion of their atoms. As there is no longer any person to be troubled, death cannot trouble the person after she is dead. And if death cannot trouble the person after she is dead, then nor should it trouble her while she is still alive,” adds Burton.
Happiness is uncomplicated
Although following the Epicurean philosophy may appear unrealistic to most of us, some people actually tend to live a life based on the beliefs of Epicurus. Given the complications of modern life, we may feel that it is impossible to stay happy constantly as life keeps throwing new challenges at us every day. Yet, with a little effort we can experience true happiness if we take every decision to seek pleasure and comfort even in the face of challenges.
Professional counselor Jodi Clarke, LPC/MHSP concludes “Find sources of information and inspiration that speak to you, your beliefs, your desires, and your purpose. Allow yourself an opportunity to discover what happiness is to you and how to go about achieving that in your life.”