Epicurus was born in Ancient Greece in 341 BC. By the age of fourteen, he was travelling to learn philosophy from such masters as the Platonist Pamphilus and Nausiphanes. He is said to have written 300 books on love, music, nature and life. He founded his own school of philosophy, its far-sighted teachings still relevant today.
Probably thanks to his famous axioms “Pleasure is the beginning and the goal of a happy life” and “The beginning and root of every good is the pleasure of the stomach", we associate Epicurean philosophy with pursuit of sensual pleasures, enjoyment of food and comfort. The word “epicure” is mostly used to describe a person with refined taste in food and wine, a person devoted to sensuous pleasures and luxurious living.
It turns out, Epicurean philosophy of happiness is based on the principles of friendship, freedom and mindfulness:
1. Value friendship
At the age of thirty-five, Epicurus bought a large house in Athens and moved in with a group of friends. Everyone had private quarters but there was also a common room for sharing meals and conversations. Epicurus observed that "of all the things that wisdom provides to help one live one’s entire life in happiness, the greatest by far is the possession of friendship."
Alain de Botton observes: "We don’t exist unless there is someone who can see us existing, what we say has no meaning until someone can understand, while to be surrounded by friends is constantly to have our identity confirmed; their knowledge and care for us have the power to pull us from our numbness."
"True friends do not evaluate us according to worldly criteria, it is the core self they are interested in; like ideal parents, their love for us remains unaffected by our appearance or position in the social hierarchy, and so we have no qualms in dressing in old clothes and revealing that we have made little money this year."
Indeed, whilst some may seek riches and status, their ambitions motivated solely by deep down yearning for respect and attention, people who appreciate friendship enjoy love, respect and happiness money can’t buy.
2. Enjoy freedom
Epicurus and his friends left jobs in the commercial world of Athens and set up a commune, growing their own vegetables and trading for other supplies, down-shifting and accepting a simpler way of life in exchange for independence from what we would now call corporate clutches. As someone who now earns a fraction of what I used to earn and having to make choices about how I spend my money, I can definitively say that ‘free range’ freedom and flexibility are infinitely inspiring and rewarding vis-a-vis politics and stresses of working for a large corporate.
3. Practise mindfulness
Meditation, philosophical thought, writing a diary, being present and appreciating small things like a flower blossoming on your balcony or a stunning sunset, watching children play or baking an apple pie are very much in line with Epicurean philosophy of decluttering our minds from unnecessary baggage. Anxieties over money, death, status are preventing us from the simple enjoyments of the daily life.
The teachings of Epicurus are delivered much better in this short and fun video by the School of Life. Enjoy.