An Animated Introduction to Epicurus and His Answer to the Ancient Question: What Makes Us Happy?

These days the word Epi­cure­an tends to get thrown around in regard to things like olive oil, cut­ting boards, and wine aer­a­tors. The real Epi­cu­rus, an ancient Greek philoso­pher of the third and fourth cen­tu­ry BCE, might not have approved, know­ing as he did that hap­pi­ness does­n’t come from prod­ucts that sig­nal one’s appre­ci­a­tion of high-end comestibles. But where, then, does hap­pi­ness come from? Epi­cu­rus devot­ed his school of phi­los­o­phy to find­ing an answer to that ancient ques­tion, and these two brief ani­mat­ed intro­duc­tions, one by Alain de Bot­ton’s School of Life and one from Wire­less Phi­los­o­phy, will give you a sense of what he dis­cov­ered.

Epi­cu­rus pro­posed, as de Bot­ton puts it, that “we typ­i­cal­ly make three mis­takes when think­ing about hap­pi­ness.” Num­ber one: “We think hap­pi­ness means hav­ing roman­tic, sex­u­al rela­tion­ships,” nev­er con­sid­er­ing the like­li­hood of them being “marred by jeal­ousy, mis­un­der­stand­ing, cheat­ing, and bit­ter­ness.”

Num­ber two: “We think that what we need to be hap­py is a lot of mon­ey,” with­out fac­tor­ing in “the unbe­liev­able sac­ri­fices we’re going to have to make to get this mon­ey: the jeal­ousy, the back­bit­ing, the long hours.” Num­ber three: We obsess over lux­u­ry, “espe­cial­ly involv­ing hous­es and beau­ti­ful serene loca­tions” (and, nowa­days, that with which we stock their kitchens).

Only three things, Epi­cu­rus con­clud­ed, can tru­ly ensure our hap­pi­ness. Num­ber one: “Your friends around,” which led the philoso­pher to buy a big house and share it with all of his. (“No sex, no orgy,” de Bot­ton empha­sizes, “just your mates.”) Num­ber two: Stop work­ing for oth­ers and do your own work, which the mem­bers of Epi­cu­rus’ com­mune did in the form of farm­ing, cook­ing, pot­ting, and writ­ing. Num­ber three: Find calm not in the view out your win­dow, but cul­ti­vat­ed with­in your own mind by “reflect­ing, writ­ing stuff down, read­ing things, med­i­tat­ing.” The big meta-les­son: “Human beings aren’t very good at mak­ing them­selves hap­py, chiefly because they think it’s so easy.”

Wire­less Phi­los­o­phy’s video, nar­rat­ed by Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia, San Diego phi­los­o­phy pro­fes­sor Monte John­son, draws more rules for hap­pi­ness from the teach­ings of Epi­cu­rus, break­ing down his “tetraphar­makos,” or four-part cure for unhap­pi­ness:

  1. God is noth­ing to fear
  2. Death is noth­ing to wor­ry about
  3. It is easy to acquire the good things in life
  4. It is easy to endure the ter­ri­ble things

John­son expands on the fine points of each of these dic­tates while accom­pa­ny­ing his expla­na­tions with illus­tra­tions, includ­ing one draw­ing of the bread on which, so his­to­ry has record­ed, Epi­cu­rus lived almost entire­ly. That and water made up most of his meals, sup­ple­ment­ed with the occa­sion­al olive or pot of cheese so that he could “indulge.” Not exact­ly the diet one would casu­al­ly describe as Epi­cure­an in the 21st cen­tu­ry, but dig into Epi­cure­anism itself and you’ll see that Epi­cu­rus, who described him­self as “mar­ried to phi­los­o­phy,” under­stood sen­su­al plea­sure more deeply than most of us do today — and a cou­ple mil­len­nia before the advent of Williams-Sono­ma at that.

To fur­ther delve into this phi­los­o­phy, read Epi­cu­rus’ clas­sic work The Art of Hap­pi­ness.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

A Guide to Hap­pi­ness: Alain de Botton’s Doc­u­men­tary Shows How Niet­zsche, Socrates & 4 Oth­er Philoso­phers Can Change Your Life

Alain de Botton’s School of Life Presents Ani­mat­ed Intro­duc­tions to Hei­deg­ger, The Sto­ics & Epi­cu­rus

An Ani­mat­ed Intro­duc­tion to Sto­icism, the Ancient Greek Phi­los­o­phy That Lets You Lead a Hap­py, Ful­fill­ing Life

Albert Camus Explains Why Hap­pi­ness Is Like Com­mit­ting a Crime—”You Should Nev­er Admit to it” (1959)

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

by | Permalink | Comments (0) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.