“The fundamental obstacle to happiness, says Epicurus, is anxiety.”
I know many folks who as they age let excessive anxiety steal happiness from their day to day existence. Far too often we fret over things we cannot control while anticipating the worst. Some of us spend so much time worrying that we become blinded to what is good around us.
What got me thinking about this is that I have friends my age that believe they can see the end of their life’s journey and only focus on what might be, rather than focusing on what has been and the time left to focus on enjoying what is left. I think they would benefit from a little Epicurean philosophy as outlined below.
The four-part cure
Don’t fear god,
Don’t worry about death;
What is good is easy to get, and
What is terrible is easy to endure
Philodemus, Herculaneum Papyrus
The following is a description of each line as the Epicureans understood it.
Don’t fear god
As a prelude to “Don’t worry about death,” the concept of “god” in Epicurus’ time was incompatible to Epicurus’ beliefs. The worrying about whether or not the gods are concerned about the actions of human beings, and the amount of observance and worship ascribed to them, was the general relationship of man’s belief to the gods’ purpose and temperament. But Epicurus and many other Greeks at the time conceived the gods to be a hypothetical state of bliss rather than higher bodies of judgment; they are indestructible entities that are completely invulnerable, enviable to mortals, and, most importantly, unconcerned about anything beyond the bliss and happiness they represent. They are mere role models for human beings “who emulate the happiness of the gods, within the limits imposed by human nature.”
Don’t worry about death
As D. S. Hutchinson wrote concerning this line, “While you are alive, you don’t have to deal with being dead, but when you are dead you don’t have to deal with it either, because you aren’t there to deal with it.” In Epicurus’ own words, “Death means nothing to us…when we exist, death is not yet present, and when death is present, then we do not exist.” Death, says Epicurus, is the greatest anxiety of all, in length and intensity. This anxiety about death impedes the quality and happiness of one’s life by the theory of afterlife: the worrying about whether or not one’s deeds and actions in life will translate well into the region of the gods, the wondering whether one will be assigned to an eternity of pain or to an eternity of pleasure.
What is good is easy to get
Sustenance and shelter, these things can be acquired by anyone—by both animal and human—with minimal effort, regardless of wealth. But if one wants more than one needs (over indulgency, gluttony, etc.), one is limiting the chances of satisfaction and happiness, and therefore creating a “needless anxiety” in one’s life. “What is good is easy to get” implies that the minimum amount of necessity it takes to satisfy an urge is the maximum amount of interest a person should have in satisfying that urge.
What is terrible is easy to endure
The Epicureans understood that, in nature, illness and pain is not suffered for very long, for pain and suffering is either “brief or chronic…either mild or intense, but discomfort that is both chronic and intense is very unusual; so there is no need to be concerned about the prospect of suffering.” Like “What is good is easy to get,” recognizing one’s physical and mental limit and one’s threshold of pain—understanding how much pain the body or mind can endure—and maintaining confidence that pleasure only follows pain (and the avoidance of anxiety about the length of pain), is the remedy against prolonged suffering.
Be happy for this moment. This moment is your life.
Mrs. Moskowitz was trying to describe to the interior decorator exactly how she wanted her house done. She said, “I leave the art and design entirely to you. I ask only that whatever you do, it be spectacular. I want it done in such a way that when my dear best friend, Mrs. Finkelstein, should come in for the first time, she should instantly have a stroke with jealousy and drop dead.”
Abe asked, “Is my face dirty or is it just my imagination?”
Mollie answered, “Your face is clean but I don’t know about your imagination.”
A very zealous soul-winning young preacher recently came upon a Farmer working in his field. Being concerned about the farmer’s soul the preacher asked the man, “Are you laboring in the vineyard of the Lord, my good man?”
Not even looking at the preacher and continuing his work, the farmer replied, “Naw, these are soybeans.”
“You don’t understand,” said the preacher. “Are you a Christian?”
With the same amount of interest as his previous answer the farmer said, “Nope my name is Jones. You must be looking for Jim Christian. He lives a mile south of here.”
The young determined preacher tried again asking the farmer, “Are you lost?”
“Naw! I’ve lived here all my life,” answered the farmer.
“Are you prepared for the resurrection?” the fustrated preacher asked.
This caught the farmer’s attention and he asked, “When’s it gonna be?”
Thinking he had accomplished something the young Preacher replied, “It could be today, tomorrow, or the next day.”
Taking a handkerchief from his back pocket and wiping his brow, the farmer remarked, “Well, don’t mention it to my wife. She don’t get out much and she’ll wanna go all three days.”
Everybody at the FBI seems to be a special agent. Don’t they have any regular ones?
A man went to his lawyer and told him, “My neighbor owes me $500 and he doesn’t want to pay up. What should I do?”
“Do you have any proof?” asked the lawyer.
“Nope,” replied the man.
“Okay, then write him a letter asking him for the $1000 he owed you,” said the lawyer.
“But it’s only $500,” replied the man.
“Precisely. That’s what he will reply and we will have the proof we need to nail him.”
I solved the parking problem. I bought a parked car.
As the passengers settled in on a West Coast commuter flight, a flight attendant announced, “We’d like you folks to help us welcome our new co-pilot. He’ll be performing his first commercial landing for us today, so be sure to give him a big round of applause when we come to a stop.”
The plane made an extremely bumpy landing, bouncing hard two or three times before taxiing to a stop. Still, the passengers applauded. Then the attendant’s voice came over the intercom, “Thanks for flying with us. And don’t forget to let our co-pilot know which landing you liked best.”
I, not events, have the power to make me happy or unhappy today. I can choose which it shall be. Yesterday is dead, tomorrow hasn’t arrived yet. I have just one day, today, and I’m going to be happy in it.
Stay well, do good work, and have fun.
Management is not responsible for duplicates from previous dailies. The editor is somewhat senile.
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