While on his death bed, after a protracted pain and suffering from kidney stone, he wrote of that day as his happy day. In his letter, he mentioned his pains and that he became cheerful even in the face of death when he recalled his philosophical ideas. Who we are talking about is Epicurus while he was dying. He died a happy man despite the pains and discomforts.
Do you know what made him face death with such courage? Would you like to have his tips on living a happy life? Your answers are obvious; please read along as we dissect his philosophy.
The Man Called Epicurus
He was an ancient Greek philosopher and founder of the school of philosophy called Epicureanism. He suffered and died of kidney stone at age seventy-two. Epicurus lived a simple and happy life. He left 300 manuscripts on various subject – physics, love, justice, the gods, etc. Read more about him here: Epicurus’ Historical Narratives.
For us to discover his tips on living a happy life, we have to consider his philosophy – Epicureanism.
We must not confuse the Epicurean way of life to living in absolute pleasure and enjoyment. Epicureans (upper case ‘E’) are people who follow Epicurus’ philosophy and teachings while epicureans (lower case ‘e’) are people who pursue a life filled exclusively with luxury and pleasure.
Epicureanism is the system of philosophy which was based fundamentally on Epicurus’ teachings. The main central doctrines of Epicureanism include:
- Pleasure is the supreme good and primary goal of life
- Intellectual pleasures are chosen to sensual pleasures
- Sensual pleasures disturb peace of mind
- True happiness is the peacefulness resulting from the defeat of fear of death, pain and the retribution of the gods.
- The soul comprises of fine particles distributed throughout the body. Dissolution of the body in death causes that of the soul.
- The soul cannot exist out of the body; thus there is no life after death
Based on his philosophy, the following lead to happiness:
- Friendship: The Epicurean way of life highlights friendship as a vital component of happiness. That was the real essence behind the establishment of his school. The school was just like a community of friends living together. He held that it was not enough to have friends but to see them and spend time with them on a daily basis. He submitted that doing that will lead to happiness. The school is constructed to have individual rooms for privacy and also common areas for all to spend time together. He made a distinction between friendship and romance or love. He said the former brings happiness while the latter causes negative feelings.
- Desires: Epicurus advised that his followers should focus on needs in a reasonable fashion and limit their desires. He propounded the following ways to handle desires:
- Endeavor to fulfill the desire
- Control or Get rid of the desire
The second method was his approved way of controlling desires. According to him, if we control or get rid of our desires, reaching them becomes easier. On the other hand, when we pursue our desires, we would discover that we are unhappy and only desire more.
Furthermore, Epicurus divided desires into three, thus:
- Natural and Necessary Desires: These desires are basic and include food, shelter and clothing. These desires are required and must be met. By nature, these should be satisfied because they are necessary for our survival and continual existence.
- Natural but not Necessary Desires: These desires are extensions of the natural desires e.g. luxury foods, extravagant shelter, trendy clothing and so on. We need shelter, but we undoubtedly do not need an extravagant one. If you desire that but you cannot afford it, it will lead to disappointment and unhappiness. The point here is clear, enjoy what is available. Once you focus on the most basic things that are available, you will always be rich and happy. The less you desire, the richer you become.
- Vain and Empty Desires: These desires include desires for power, fame, wealth etc. Epicurus said to satisfy these desires is a herculean task since that are limitless. For instance, if you desire fame, you will want to have more and more of it when you attain it. They are not natural desires but part of our society. Epicurus believed that to think that these desires will bring happiness is foolish because they are limitless. In other words, they should be eliminated.
The bottom line here is that natural desires bring happiness because they are easily satisfied. The other two desires can never be satisfied and therefore lead to unhappiness. We must learn to want less to be happy and peaceful.
- Philosophical Thoughts: Epicurus in his letter on his death bed wrote: “I have written this letter…the last day of my life.….But the cheerfulness of my mind, which comes from the recollection of all my philosophical contemplation, counterbalances all these afflictions.” He mentioned that his reflection on all his philosophical thoughts made him happy even at the cold hands of death. Epicurus was not just all words; he lived his words. Epicurus believed that it is paramount to think about our lives, thoughts and feelings. The premise is that if we explore and reflect on our lives, fear and anxiety will give room for happiness. On his reflection on death, he said death should not be feared because when one dies, he no longer feels the pain of death. The bottom line here is that rational or philosophical thought is a component of happiness. Live an analyzed life.
Practice leads to excellence, why not start today to live the Epicurean way. Curtail your desires, spend more time with your family and friends, and think about your life frequently. If you can abide by the above principles, like Epicurus and his followers, happiness will be your reward.
Photo Credit: NewEpicurean.com