Tuesday, 16 June 2015


“Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.” - Epicurus

Remember Julie Andrews in “Sound of Music” as she burst into full song and listed some of “her favourite things” – things that made her happy? She certainly got the von Trapp children out of their melancholy mood… Isn’t that a wonderful idea, I thought, reflecting on all of those warm and fuzzy things, happy occasions that we experience… We sometimes appreciate them for what they are, but at other times ignore them, or miss them as they pass us by fleetingly, or even worse, we take them for granted. Reflecting on happy experiences makes us appreciate them all the more when they occur, but also they are the stuff of joyous memories, a storehouse of pleasure that we can resort to when we are feeling unhappy.

Epicurus (born 341 BC, Samos, Greece - died 270, Athens) was a Greek philosopher, author of an ethical philosophy of simple pleasure, friendship, and retreat. He founded schools of philosophy that survived directly from the 4th century BC until the 4th century AD. Very often his common sense, humanist views are misunderstood and his name has been perversely associated with the word “epicure” now signifying a person who takes particular pleasure in fine food and drink – a mere gourmet!

This is a gross simplification and distortion of his philosophy. Epicurus stated that pleasures of the mind, as opposed to the coarse pleasures of the body, are the ones to pursue. He taught that the highest pleasure obtainable is the pleasure of tranquillity, which is to be obtained by the removal of unsatisfied wants. The way to do this is to eliminate all but the simplest wants; these are then easily satisfied even by those who are not wealthy. There is difference between eating a simple meal to satisfy one’s hunger and indulging in the finest food and drink in a sumptuous banquet that will jade one’s palate, if carried to excess. What in fact Epicurus said about eating was that it’s not important what we dine on, what is most important is whom we share our meal with…

I am an epicurean at heart, and by that I mean that I embrace Epicurus’ philosophy: I pursue things that are “good”. How do we know if something is good? Epicurus enjoins us to ask if it increases pleasure or if it reduces pain. If it does this, it is good as a means; if it does not, it is not good at all. Thus, for example, to be just is good but is merely useful as it prevents mutual harm. Would we commit an injustice if we could get away with it? No, Epicurus says, because the constant fear of discovery will cause a painful anxiety – not good! Epicurus also glorified friendship, and the Epicureans were famous for the warmth of their personal relationships; but, again, they proclaimed that friendship is good only because of its tendency to create pleasure.

“Freedom from pain in the body and from trouble in the mind” is the ultimate aim of a happy life, Epicurus states. In addition, the wise man must also provide himself with security. This he achieves in two ways: By reducing his needs to a minimum and withdrawing, far from human competition and from the noise of the world, to “live a hidden life”; and by adding the private compact of friendship to the public compact from which laws arise. Epicurus established his philosophical school in his own garden, and he saw his students and friends there, in his home. Even when old and ill, he was still occupied in writing letters of reprimand, guidance, and comfort - announcing his teachings of peace, and (under the name of pleasure), inviting to love one’s fellow human beings.

Epicureanism was adopted by Lucretius who flourished in the first century BC. His name in full was Titus Lucretius Carus. He was a Latin poet and philosopher known for his single, long poem, De rerum natura (On the Nature of Things). The poem is the fullest extant statement of the physical theory of the Epicurus, but it also alludes to his ethical and logical doctrines. A useful book to read if you want to know more of Epicureanism is: “The Philosophy of Epicurus: Letters, Doctrines, and Parallel Passages from Lucretius”, translated by George K. Strodach (1963).

Now, having set the stage, let me populate it with the players in the form of my ten favourite, things that happened to me last week, things that gave me happiness and pleasure, and for which I am deeply grateful:
1. Seeing my eyes reflected in the eyes of my beloved as we held hands and listened to some quiet music, while rain fell outside.
2. Receiving a letter from my sponsored child in India and seeing his smile in the accompanying picture.
3. Coming back home safely after a long drive at night on congested roads and walking into the warm glow of a peaceful house after braving the cold, wet darkness outside, feeling grateful that all had gone well.
4. Enjoying a simple impromptu meal with friends after they called in unexpectedly. Compatible company, pleasant conversation, soft music in the background while we had a crisp garden salad and some freshly-baked savoury scones.
5. Feeling good - not having a health problem, appreciating my wellness of body, spirit and mind.
6. Appreciating my family, around me. Knowing that they are there for me when I need them and vice-versa.
7. Having a useful occupation. Furthermore, an occupation that I enjoy doing and feeling that I am helping a little bit to make the world a better place through my job.
8. Rejoicing in our garden, watching it through the window and appreciating the growth of flowers, vegetables and greenery in it, knowing that I am in the lucky minority around the world, in having one.
9. Receiving an unexpected card in the mail from an ex-student, saying she remembered me now that she is practicing her profession and thanking me for all she learnt with me as it is helping her much now.
10. Receiving some wonderful messages from my friends here on my blog.

What are your 10 favourite happy things that happened to you last week?


  1. Ten?
    Lovely day..Last Friday ... I wrote a poem about it " Friday Flowers"

    Today ...a double rainbow outside my window...oops the second one has gone....enjoying a Sydney magical view ,writing and listening to the currawongs:) Too beautiful ...Does not get much better for me than this .

    Congratulations on a great interview at Poets United. You are a man who appears to be very much in love with his life...Lucky eh !

  2. What a wonderful list! Your feelings of happiness will spread to others who read this post.

  3. Excellent post. Poor old Epicurus is so misrepresented...
    My list:
    1) Thankful for having a home to live in
    2) Good friends and wonderful family
    3) A job
    4) Living a peaceful life
    5) Being able to take vacations
    6) Food on the table, clean water to drink and wash with
    7) Heating in winter, warm clothes
    8) Feeling happy most of the time
    9) Hearing from an old friend a couple of weeks ago and looking forward to catching up
    10) Thank you for your blog!