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Money and Epicureanism: Philosophy Series


your job is to enjoy the life you have rather than sleepwalk through life
❝Not what we have, but what we enjoy constitutes our abundance.❞ -Epicurus

I'm on my deck reading a book about various philosophies of life. I'm learning a lot about eastern philosophies, Greek philosophies, modern western philosophies, and religious philosophies. In the section on Greek philosophy, I come across a philosophy of life called Epicureanism.

I can't remember the first time I heard the phrase, "eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die." I do remember being ambivalent about the phrase. On one hand, I'm drawn to it because I have had an obsession with the shortness and temporary nature of life for as long as I can remember. In that sense, I interpret the phrase as meaning “have some fun while I'm here.” On the other hand, I sometimes hear the phrase and find it a bit reckless, the same way I do when I hear those country songs telling me to live like I'm dying. If I live in a way that only supports my present self, I'm less likely to have future selves.


As I'm reading about Epicureanism, I'm starting to realize that the phrase "eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die" almost certainly is attributed to Epicureans. Thankfully, the author of this chapter addresses my query. I indeed learn that Epicureans focus on enjoying life because it's finite. Still, their definition of enjoying life is far more profound than many give them credit for.


Hedonism


When someone speaks of an epicurean, they usually talk about somebody who pursues physical pleasure above all else. They're traditionally speaking about somebody who eats and drinks too much. It tends to be a criticism when it's used in this way.


It is, in fact, a misperception. An Epicurean, with a capital E, is somebody who follows the philosophy of life called Epicureanism, named after its founder Epicurus.


What people usually mean when they call someone an epicurean is to call them a hedonist.

epicureanism is not the same thing as hedonism

Epicurean Pleasure


Like hedonists, Epicureans believe that the point of life is to be enjoyed. Unlike hedonists, Epicureans take a much bigger picture view. Epicureans, for example, focus on much more than just in-the-moment physical pleasure. They focus on emotional and mental pleasure as well. They also focus on the avoidance of pain, including fear.


They also use something we might think of as hedonic calculus. This simply means that they consider all the consequences of their actions when determining how pleasurable something will be. For example, drinking too much might make sense if you were simply looking at in-the-moment pleasure. However, once you consider the pain of a hangover, you'll quickly find out that an Epicurean will not drink too much because that event would be a net negative.

Epicureans for on long term pleasure, which includes avoiding pain and anxiety and pursuing mental and emotional pleasure

Present You and Future You


Similarly, Epicureans also take into account more than just the present moment. They understand that even though the present moment is the one in which we live, it's highly likely that future present moments will need to be enjoyed and accounted for. Therefore, the Epicurean will balance the pleasure of both their present self and many different future selves.

balance the present and the future

Meaning and Purpose


Epicureans believe that we are very fortunate to be here. If any single thing happened differently in the past leading up to your birth, then you wouldn't exist. Now that you do exist, Epicureans believe you have the opportunity to find a purpose and meaning in your life, much like the existentialist.


This focus on intentionality, or living on purpose, is meant to give a sense of tranquillity. Tranquility is what epicureans are after, not moment-to-moment physical pleasure.

living on purpose leads to tranquility

Death is Nothing to Fear


Part of the hedonic calculus that Epicureans use involves the alleviation of fear. For many humans, the fear of death is a common source of fear and suffering. Death anxiety is the primary driver of human behavior. Therefore, to reduce pain, we ought to alleviate our fear of death.