12 Takeaways on Happiness from Epicurus

It is important for each of us to create our own doctrine on living, to discover for ourselves the ingredients for obtaining vitality and happiness. We cull information over time and file into a loose manifest on achieving the life we desire, changing it along the way as new experiences and data present themselves. Chiefly, our beliefs come by way of personal insights from those experiences, as well as by the teachings of others.

I enjoy reading the theories on life laid down by philosophers, prophets, and writers that came before me. Finding connection between my thoughts and those of someone from another time and place is strangely comforting. It lends credence to my belief that there is one natural, or spiritual, base of knowledge in the Universe; in time we all come to similar understandings and ideas regardless of what era one was born. Rather it has to do with how introspective one can become in order to listen and hear the truths that lay within. All that separates us is at what point in our lives we unlock these truths, and how open we are to accept them.

I recently completed the book, Epicurus, The Art of Happiness. Epicurus theorized that all good and bad derive from the sensations of pleasure and pain: moral good is pleasurable, moral bad is painful. We should instinctually understand the difference between the two and strive to minimize the amount of physical and mental pain we experience by pursuing that which is morally pleasurable.

Epicurus didn't eat meat, didn't drink alcohol, and abstained from sex infamously quoting, "...for a man never gets any good from sexual passion, and he is fortunate if he does not receive harm." While these activities can provide pleasure, he saw it as short term pleasure and believed eventually they caused bodily pain and mental anguish. Thus, his moral obligation was to reduce pain and avoid indulging in meat, alcohol, and carnal desires. While I can understand his views on the negative reprecusions of partaking in the aforementioned, I don't feel I could emulate him in such restrictive thinking. Some pleasure is worth the pain, but each of us must draw that imaginary line for ourselves.

Epicurus, however, did spend the majority of his time studying, writing, teaching, and in conversation. This is a lifestyle I can embrace. Below are twelve aphorisms by Epicurus that I'll adopt and add to my own doctrine of living with vitality.

1. The purpose of all knowledge is to achieve what Epicurus called ataraxia; freedom from irrational fears and anxieties of all sorts — or peace of mind.

2. Spiritual health depends on acceptance of our senses, deny them and one will not find tranquility.

3. Not what we have, but what we enjoy, constitutes our abundance.

4. Epicurus believed the spiritual ills of men stemmed from unnatural pursuits of money and power, and by their ignorance of nature and the life of simplicity nature prescribes.

5. The good life for the Epicurean involves disciplining of the appetites, curtailing desires and needs to the absolute minimum necessary for healthy living, a detachment from the goals and values and withdrawal from society at large, but in the company of a few select friends. Essentially, plain living and high thinking.

6. No one should postpone the study of philosophy when he is young, nor should he weary of it when he becomes mature, because the search for mental health is never untimely or out of season.

7. Refer all moral choice and aversion to bodily health and imperturbability of mind, these being the twin goals of happy living.

8. Good judgement is the highest of values.

9. One who understands the limits of the good life knows that what eliminates the pains brought on by needs and what makes the whole of life perfect is easily obtained, so that there is no need for enterprises that entail the struggle for success.

10. Of all the things that wisdom provides for the happiness of the whole man, by far the most important is the acquisition of friendship.

11. You have no power over the morrow, and yet you put off your pleasure. Life is ruined by procrastination, and every one of us dies deep in his affairs.

12. The most important consequence of self-sufficiency is freedom.