There was an error in this gadget

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Acheiving Happiness Without Pain

Epicurus was a Greek philosopher who was born over 2300 years ago. One of his major concerns was discovering how to achieve happiness. That his ideas are still widely known today, says that quite a few people over time must have found them of benefit. His basic theory is that all good and bad things come from sensations. All pleasure is good, and all pain is bad. Therefore, in order to achieve happiness, we should try to maximize the amount of pleasure we experience. He contended that nothing in life has any value except that which can bring us pleasure. If we focus on maximizing our potential for happiness, then ultimately we'll reap the rewards of this focus. Of course, Epicurus wasn't dumb enough to believe that we should instinctively try to experience only pleasure and always avoid pain. We live in reality, after all. Instead, he thought we should try to fill our lives with as much pleasure as possible, while experiencing as little pain as humanly possible.

So something like taking drugs, for example, doesn't fit with this principle. Even though it may give immediate pleasure in the form of a high, drug-abuse causes us long-term pain because it introduces addiction, bad health, and confusion into our lives. Epicurus warned against overindulgence, in fact, because it often leads to negative consequences. Likewise, some work which we don't enjoy and causes us pain may often be worthwhile if it increases the amount of pleasure we experience in the future.

He divided pleasures into two types: moving and static. Moving pleasure occurs when we are in the process of satisfying a desire— such as eating when we're hungry. Static pleasure occurs after a desire is satisfied and so we are no longer in need. Static pleasures are generally the more enjoyable. When a person has unsatisfied desires, this is painful. When those desires are satisfied, they move into the state of static pleasure. He felt the worst killer of happiness is fear of the future, as it introduces pain in the form of fear. If someone can face the future with the utmost confidence, then they are more likely to be happy.

Since pleasure involves desires fulfilled, and pain desires denied, Epicurus thought a great deal about the nature of desire itself. In order to increase your pleasure, you can either strive to fulfill your desire, or eliminate it thereby removing it as a source of pain. At the core of the Epicurean philosophy is eliminating as many desires as you can, so your remaining wants are easy to satisfy and you'll attain a state of tranquility. To identify which wants should be eliminated, Epicurus divided them into three separate categories— natural and necessary wants, natural and unnecessary wants, and unnatural and unnecessary wants.

Natural and necessary wants include the basics such as food, shelter, safety and so on. These are generally easy to meet and almost impossible to eliminate. Finding enough food is fairly straightforward for most people, while going without it is impossible. For this reason, you should work to satisfy these desires. Natural and unnecessary wants include things like luxury goods such as fine dining. While food is necessary for survival, and a source of pleasure, we can do without luxury food such as caviar and foie gras. In fact, it's arguable whether these expensive goods give us any more pleasure than simple foods such as eggs on buttered toast.

Another example may be spending a weekend at a luxury resort, which takes a month of work for two days of pleasure. Is there really more pleasure to be had from this than a picnic is a public park on a sunny day, which is so cheap that it's essentially free? Epicurus wasn't against luxury goods under any circumstances. He thought we should consume them if they're easily available. Instead he felt the pain of gaining them often wasn't worth the pleasure of consuming them. Because of this, becoming dependent on such needs is a path to misery, as it creates more pain than pleasure.

Unnatural and unnecessary desires include power, wealth and fame. These are very difficult to satisfy and relatively easy to eliminate. No matter how much someone who desires these things has, it's never enough. The desire for food can be met in a few short minutes of eating, the hunger for money can remain for an entire lifetime without ever being satisfied.

Epicurus felt that these wants were not natural, but given to us by society and false beliefs. The more we possess, the more we have to worry about. Therefore, unnatural and unnecessary desires should be eliminated as much as possible. Ultimately the outcome of this philosophy is to simplify your life by reducing your wants. Less wants are easier to satisfy, so you'll achieve tranquility earlier and have to expend less pain getting there. Once you meet your most basic desires, the amount of pleasure to be gained from meeting further ones is minimal, and therefore not worth spending resources on obtaining.

For Epicurus, one of life's greatest pleasures was to be found in friendship. He felt that good friends were relatively easy to obtain, and bought an almost endless stream of pleasure. A grand mansion filled with luxuries but empty of company would bring much less pleasure than a small basic flat which was shared with true friends, according to this belief. Because of this, he advocated that the first thing anyone who aims to be happy should do is strive to find friends. Join a club, start a course, or play a sport in order to form connections with your fellow humans. A sure way to happiness is to spend more time socializing.

He extended his philosophy to say that fear of death is silly. He believed death was simply oblivion with no feelings. Because there was no pain involved, as you can't feel anything he said: "death is nothing to us". Overall, Epicurus is a very interesting philosopher and well worthy of his fame. His recipe is simple and obvious once understood. I wonder if the modern thinkers we so admire today will still be having their ideas discussed in 2300 years?

No comments: