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Epicurus explains how to be happy with little


Epicurus was the founder of the Epicurean school, which was parallel to the Stoic school. Epicurus himself was misjudged as a lecher because his teachings placed a strong emphasis on the principle of pleasure. This was for a long time primarily related to the sexual and intemperance as a whole.

But that was actually not at all what Epicurus actually wanted to draw attention to with his teachers. In this article, we look at a quote that addresses something quite different:

"Contented poverty is an honorable estate." 


That he was a leading spirit can also be seen from the fact that even philosophers who belonged to a different camp took note of his teachings. For example, Seneca mentioned the above quote in one of his letters to Lucilius. In this letter, he speaks of occasionally visiting other camps. However, he still noted that he does this like a scout and not like a defector.

In any case, he found that this statement held much truth. In fact, there is some material in Stoicism that was devoted to the same idea.

Both the Epicurean school and Stoicism demonstrate that those who manage to be satisfied or happy with little to nothing have mastered the highest art of freedom - which, moreover, would be at least theoretically attainable by everyone. 

Why we find it hard to be happy with little

But this thought is especially difficult for us nowadays; we are far too much influenced by the media which make us believe that we need this, that and the other (and of course a lot of everything).

You can easily check this for yourself:

When was the last time you were made aware on a medium - whether smartphone, tablet, TV or magazine - that what you have is more than enough?

If this has happened to you recently, you are definitely in the minority. Congratulations. But even then, it's likely that you're also regularly exposed to impulses that suggest you need more. Of whatever.

It is completely absurd to believe that materialism goes hand in hand with happiness. I believed that for many years and only with time and after reading and listening to many philosophical works did I understand how wrong I was. However, this was not directly my fault, but, as perhaps also with you, that of your environment.

The whole thing is due to the perverse level of consumption that saturates our society. I would not like to go into much more detail on this subject here. I think you know very well what I mean.

In any case, this system is known to be based on the fact that we consume faster and faster and more and more in order to pursue the unlimited pursuit of growth. For this, a narrative is usually chosen according to which you will be happy when you have bought XY. There are also social narratives, such as happiness through marriage, many sexual partners, and so on. 

Oh, how many good quotes I never found again. So that this does not happen to you: just pin 🙂

All these promises have one thing in common (apart from the fact that they are empty): They depend on external factors. And we can only influence these to a very limited extent. This means that we are already giving the rudder out of our hands to a very significant extent.

In addition, we are working towards something that will in no way bring about a change in ourselves. Instead of working on ourselves, we are working on a so-called extrinsic goal (if you want to learn more about extrinsic and intrinsic, you can find a related article here).

It is also disregarded that in most cases we already possess an incredible wealth. Provocatively speaking, the mere fact of living at all would suffice as an example, but let's take it a little easier:

Chances are you'll get regular meals (though maybe not always what you want), have a warm place to sleep (though it might not be as fancy as the ones on Instagram), and you'll probably have a person or maybe a free pet to confide in. These are the basic pillars with which you are actually already more than well positioned.

In the West, however, we usually have an incredible amount more. I heard a podcast a long time ago where the guest pointed out that, due to the progress of the last decades, we have an average wealth that corresponds to that of the Rockefellers almost 100 years ago. Just to illustrate what that means, the Rockefellers were the richest people in the world at the time - and you probably have a higher wealth than they did. You may not be able to buy as many houses as they did, but your room will be warm with a simple wave of your hand (that was just wishful thinking back then) and the medical care you get today was unattainable back then.

Crazy, right?

How to manage to be happy with little

Maybe the above account has made you curious or maybe even a little pissed off.

So it should be possible for us to be happy even in poverty. Sounds easy in theory, but in practice?

I understand your objection and I would also like to say that although I grew up with little by German standards, I was extremely wealthy by global standards. I am therefore not quite in a position to claim that I lived in poverty and was happy.

But (it was obvious there was a but, right?):

I have learned to be happy about all kinds of things:

  • A plain butter sandwich
  • A beautiful tree (although I must say: I have never seen an ugly one)
  • An invitation to an event
  • An invitation to an event
  • etc.

Material things hardly have any significance for me anymore. On the contrary, it is often only ballast for me; a shackle that I do not want to put on myself.

And therein lies the trick:

To get you comfortable with the idea that happy poverty is "an honorable thing," you need to start questioning the cost of your riches.

For one thing, it's very literal: how much time do you have to spend working on a certain thing. A day? A month? A year? But also how much ongoing cost the thing will incur: does maintaining the new car eat up a third of his monthly salary? Then it could be that the costs are actually too high for you. In connection with these two questions, you should always consider whether it is worth it to you to be tied to this particular thing for this particular period of time.

So the question you're sort of asking yourself is this:

Is the cause justification enough for the amount of freedom I would have to give up?

The answer to this question may (and will) always be yes. Understandably so. But:

The more you ask yourself this question, the more often you will decide against more material wealth, because you enjoy the freedom you now consciously know you should have given up.

In addition, the knowledge that this lifestyle is achievable with very simple means. Who knows: maybe this new way of thinking and living will even help you make your next career decision completely without the money factor, but based only on your passion.

More on the topic Happiness with low income

The topic of happy poverty is very old and is discussed in almost every philosophical school and is usually considered a valuable goal. I believe we need to rethink in this direction especially today in order to overcome materialism and become happy again.

As noted earlier, it may not have been your fault that you were chasing materialism, but, from the moment you begin to understand, it is a kind of moral responsibility to take action. i don't want to tell you what to do, of course, and i don't think you should give up everything and become a hermit. rather, i think it is our responsibility to seek out and have conversations with others under the roof and remind ourselves that happiness comes from within and not from without. you will realize how much more freedom you will experience.

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