3 timeless lessons on happiness from ancient philospher Epicurus

We sometimes include products we think are useful for our readers. If you buy through links on this page, we may earn a small commission. Read our affiliate disclosure.
3 timeless lessons on happiness from anicent philospher Epicurus

In today’s fast-paced world, it’s easy to get lost in the chase for more—more money, more status, more stuff.

But are these the keys to true happiness?

Epicurus, an ancient Greek philosopher, didn’t think so.

Living over 2,000 years ago, Epicurus taught about finding joy in simple things and the value of genuine connections.

Do his messages still hold meaning for us today? 

They sure do; maybe more than ever. 

Today, we’ll explore three key teachings from Epicurus that can guide us in finding contentment in our modern world.

01 Limit your desires 

Epicurus believed that the best pleasures in life are the simplest ones.

He emphasized the avoidance of pain.

To him, many of the pains we experience come from our unchecked desires and wants.

By understanding and limiting these wants, we can lead a life of greater serenity and joy.

Epicurus classified desires into three categories:

  1. Natural and Necessary: These are basic needs like food, shelter, and companionship. They are essential for our survival and well-being.
  2. Natural but Unnecessary: These desires, such as gourmet food or luxurious clothing, enhance life but aren’t essential for happiness or survival.
  3. Vain and Empty: These are the wants instilled by societal pressures, such as the desire for fame or excessive wealth. They are insatiable and neither natural nor necessary, and pursuing them often leads to more pain than pleasure.

By understanding these categories, we can prioritize our desires, focusing on what truly matters and letting go of vain and unfulfilling pursuits.

This idea is somewhat mirrored in another ancient philosophy which we have already posted about, Stoicism.

One of the most famous Stoics, Epictetus, told us, “Wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants.”

Another celebrated Stoic, Seneca, echoed this sentiment by writing:

“It is not the man who has little, but he who desires more, that is poor.”

In our modern age of relentless consumerism and digital distractions, we could all do with taking this on board.

These great thinkers remind us to be discerning with our desires and to differentiate between genuine needs and societal impositions.

And to find contentment by aligning our wants with our true nature and values.

02 Cherish relationships 

Epicurus placed a significant emphasis on the value of friendship as an essential component of a happy and fulfilling life.

He advocated for fostering relationships that provide emotional security and companionship; again, as a means of avoiding pain. 

Modern research, such as the Harvard Study on happiness, backs up the wisdom of this ancient philosopher.

This study, which has been ongoing for over 80 years, has tracked the lives of hundreds of individuals and has consistently found that strong, meaningful relationships are a key factor in leading a happier and healthier life.

One of the most compelling insights from the Harvard study is the profound impact of dependable friendships on overall well-being.

The ability to “count on” someone—whether it’s for emotional support, practical assistance, or simply companionship—has been linked to increased happiness, lower stress levels, and even a longer lifespan.

Those with close, trustworthy friends are better equipped to navigate life’s challenges, which can include anything from personal setbacks to health crises.

Epicurus’ emphasis on maintaining friendships aligns with the findings of this long-term study.

We could all do with considering taking a page from Epicurus’ philosophy on this one. After all: 

No man is an island” – John Donne 

Invest in nurturing and cherishing your friendships; for they are not just a source of joy but also a vital support system that can significantly enhance your overall well-being.

03 Reflection is key to a happy life

Epicurus encouraged philosophical reflection and introspection as essential practices for leading a happier life.

In today’s fast-paced world, where distractions are abundant and constant, taking the time for self-reflection is more important than ever.

Reflection allows you to:

01 Gain Self-Awareness: By reflecting on your thoughts, emotions, and experiences, you can gain a deeper understanding of yourself. This self-awareness can help you identify what truly brings you joy and satisfaction, allowing you to make more informed choices that align with your values and desires.

02 Manage Stress and Anxiety: Regular reflection can act as a therapeutic tool, helping you manage stress and anxiety. It provides an opportunity to process difficult emotions, understand their roots, and develop strategies for coping with life’s challenges.

03 Set and Achieve Goals: Taking time to reflect on your goals and aspirations allows you to clarify what you want to achieve and create a roadmap for getting there. This process can lead to a sense of purpose and direction in life, contributing to your overall happiness.

04 Appreciate Life’s Blessings: Reflection can shift your focus from what you lack to what you have. Gratitude is a powerful driver of happiness, and by reflecting on the positive aspects of your life, you can cultivate a more optimistic and content outlook.

05 Improve Relationships: Reflecting on your interactions with others can help you become a better friend, partner, or family member. You can learn from past interactions, identify areas for improvement, and work towards building healthier, more fulfilling relationships.

In essence, Epicurus’ emphasis on reflection is a timeless lesson for achieving happiness.

Again, this practice has been championed by modern thinkers and authors, such as Ryan Holiday and Greg McKeown

While some don’t need a pen, I have found self-reflection is most effective when done through journalling; if you are interested in finding out how to get started with this, you can find my full post below:

Unleashing Your Best Self: 10 Daily Journaling Tips Every Man Should Know

By setting aside time for introspection and contemplation, you can navigate life’s complexities with greater clarity, make choices that align with your values, and ultimately find contentment and happiness in the process.

So, make reflection a regular practice in your life, and you’ll discover the profound impact it can have on your overall well-being.

The bottom line 

In our quest for happiness, Epicurus offers timeless wisdom. Keep it simple, cherish real connections, and reflect on life.

Do you have any other insights from this ancient philosophy?

If so, we’d love to hear from you in the comments below.