Epicurus 2012?


There was a recent article in the New York Times that reminded me ever so much of Epicurus and his premise that material wealth does not bring happiness.  A nice little reminder that more things will not guarantee a happy life.

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/08/opinion/sunday/dont-indulge-be-happy.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all

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Ingredients


Ah… the ingredients of happiness according to Epicurus:

1. Friends (companions)
2. Freedom (financially independent – not imprisoned by unbearable bosses)
3. Analyzed life (time to think, reflect, leave the distractions of the world)

It sounds like an easy enough recipe to follow, but I’m increasingly convinced that our modern lives are making it almost impossible for a person to achieve the happiness Epicurus spoke of.  Why?  Well, to begin with, lets look simply at freedom.  Epicurus suggests that we need to free ourselves from desire.  It sounds like an attainable goal, and yet, I find that it is a daily struggle because while I don’t need to be rich, I do want to be secure.

My DESIRE for security drives many of my decisions and keeps me imprisoned.  Why do I need a home in this neighborhood and not that neighborhood? Security.  Why do I need this car and not that car? Security. Why do I need to work fulltime instead of parttime? Security. Yes, the security that comes from living in a “good” neighborhood, the security that comes from owning a “reliable” car, the security that comes from having a job that provides health insurance and a retirement plan. I give up some of my freedom for the promise of security.

So, perhaps, at least from my perspective, it seems we need to add one more element to the list. Maybe if we could fulfill our need for:

1. Friends (companions)
2. Freedom (financially independent – not imprisoned by unbearable bosses)
3. Analyzed life (time to think, reflect, leave the distractions of the world)
4. Security

maybe then we could find the happiness that alludes us.

 

Crazy Maze


In chapter one, McCarty reminds us that the world around us pushes us to do more, be more, consume more:

page 11 “We’re all looking for an ideal life”

Sometimes it is hard for us to break out of the “crazy maze” and make a simple life for ourselves.  I think this song is a nice reminder.

page 8 “Leave behind the swirling pace set by those around you”

Crazy maze

Money don’t make my world go ’round
I’m reaching up for the higher ground
to a warm and peaceful place
I can rest my weary face
Life’s answers we’re trying to find
battling inside our minds
where do I go from here?
Will all my friends be there?

Cause we’re livin, livin in a crazy maze
and we’re fighting, we’re fighting to rise above the haze
Light’s at the end of the tunnel
Sometimes the journey is long
There are many theories
on who’s right and who’s wrong

Pressure is on I have to choose
I’ve got nothing to lose
I close my eyes I take a chance
Now I dance a different dance
What’s the key to a happy life?
A healthy mind and lots of spice.
Running barefoot through the trees
that’s my idea of free

I’ve packed my bags I’m on my way
I don’t know where I’m going to stay
I’m on a train bound destiny
I can set my spirit free

Cause we’re livin, we’re livin in a crazy maze
and we’re fighting, we’re fighting to rise above the haze
Light’s at the end of the tunnel
Sometimes the journey is long
There are many theories
on who’s right and who’s wrong

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kUfnwMC4jZk

Okay, I get it, now what?


So, I’ve read Epicurus, and I think I get it.  Our happiness comes from having friends, freedom, and reflection.  Or perhaps better framed, happiness will come our way only when we have these things.  But can it really be that simple?

Let’s start with friends.  It is easy enough to have chums you enjoy a beer with after work, but finding the kind of friends Epicurus was talking about, how easy is that? Or am I simply setting the bar too high.  Maybe he was talking about the guys at the bar?

And freedom. Freedom from what? From desire.  Easier said than done in our consumer world, but certainly worth working towards.

Finally, there is the reflection part.  This one would be easy enough to fulfill if only I didn’t have to work for a living.

So, what is the answer? How can we find the essence of the kind of life Epicurus champions while living in the modern world?

The best things in life AREN’T things!


Upon reflection, Marietta McCarty states:

“We overlook ‘ordinary’ joys completely when we overextend our reach into the world of things.”

This is one of the basic tenets of Epicurean philosophy.  In order to find the freedom he speaks of, we must stop letting ourselves become slaves to desire.

All you want is
What you can’t have
And if you just look around man
You see you got magic
So just sit back relax
Enjoy it while you still have it
Don’t look back on life man and only see tragic

Because you could be better than that
Don’t let it get the better of you
What could be better than now
Life’s not about what’s better than
You can be better than that
Don’t let it get the better of you
What could be better than now
Life’s not about what’s better

All the time while you’re looking away
There are things you can do man
There’s things you can say
To the the ones you’re with
With whom you’re spending your today
Get your gaze off tomorrow
And let come what may

Because you could be better than that
Don’t let it get the better of you
What could be better than now
Life’s not about what’s better than
You can be better than that
Don’t let it get the better of you
What could be better than now
Life’s not about what’s better

All I know is sometimes things can be hard
But you should know by now
They come and they go
So why, oh why
Do I look to the other side
‘Cause I know the grass is greener but
Just as hard to mow

Life’s not about what’s better than.

All you want is
What you can’t have
And if you just look around man
You see you got magic
So just sit back relax
Enjoy it while you still have it
Don’t look back on life man and only see tragic

Because
You could be better than that
Don’t let it get the better of you
What could be better than now
Life’s not about what’s better than
You can be better than that
Don’t let it get the better of you
What could be better than now
Life’s not about what’s better than
[x2]

A Day Away … and time to reflect


Epicurus believed that one ingredient that leads to happiness is time for reflection.  Here, Maya Angelou talks about the importance of taking some time away from the world.

A DAY AWAY by: Maya Angelou

We often think that our affairs, great or small, must be tended continuously and in detail, or our world will disintegrate, and we will lose our places in the universe. That is not true, or if it is true, then our situations were so temporary that they would have collapsed anyway.

Once a year or so I give myself a day away. On the eve of my day of absence, I begin to unwrap the bonds which hold me in harness. I inform housemates, my family and close friends that I will not be reachable for twenty-four hours; then I disengage the telephone. I turn the radio dial to an all-music station, preferably one which plays the soothing golden oldies. I sit for at least an hour in a very hot tub; then I lay out my clothes in preparation for my morning escape, and knowing that nothing will disturb me, I sleep the sleep of the just.

On the morning I wake naturally, for I will have set no clock, nor informed my body timepiece when it should alarm. I dress in comfortable shoes and casual clothes and leave my house going no place. If I am living in a city, I wander streets, window-shop, or gaze at buildings. I enter and leave public parks, libraries, the lobbies of skyscrapers, and movie houses. I stay in no place for very long.

On the getaway day I try for amnesia. I do not want to know my name, where I live, or how many dire responsibilities rest on my shoulders. I detest encountering even the closest friend, for then I am reminded of who I am, and the circumstances of my life, which I want to forget for a while.

Every person needs to take one day away. A day in which one consciously separates the past from the future. Jobs, family, employers, and friends can exist one day without any one of us, and if our egos permit us to confess, they could exist eternally in our absence.

Each person deserves a day away in which no problems are confronted, no solutions searched for. Each of us needs to withdraw from the cares which will not withdraw from us. We need hours of aimless wandering or spaces of time sitting on park benches, observing the mysterious world of ants and the canopy of treetops.

If we step away for a time, we are not, as many may think and some will accuse, being irresponsible, but rather we are preparing ourselves to more ably perform our duties and discharge our obligations.

When I return home, I am always surprised to find some questions I sought to evade had been answered and some entanglements I had hoped to flee had become unraveled in my absence.

A day away acts as a spring tonic. It can dispel rancor, transform indecision, and renew the spirit.

From WOULDN’T TAKE NOTHING FOR MY JOURNEY NOW by Maya Angelou, copyright © 1993 by Maya Angelou.