Emily Austin is a professor of philosophy at Wake Forest University.
Below, Emily shares five key insights from her new book. Living for Pleasure: A Foodie’s Guide to LifeListen to the audio version read by Emily herself in the Next Big Idea app.
1. Joy enriches life.
The idea that pleasure is good may not sound like a “big idea,” but how powerful it is to hear that life’s rich and varied pleasures should be prioritized rather than treated as an afterthought. Don’t lose sight of what brings liberation. We are often warned about the dangers of the pursuit of pleasure and how it can mislead us, but we fail to see that pleasures, both large and small, give shape and color to our lives. may be lost. When you think about why your life is good, you think of the birth of a child, a long and lively dinner with friends, a concert in the park, a sunny autumn day, or a lifelong friendship with someone you trust. . Yet, in the hustle and bustle of everyday life, we find ourselves wasting time on unimportant things and missing opportunities to create memories and build relationships that lead to stories we tell ourselves about what. made our lives better. Epicurus believes that a philosophy that does not encourage us to give real value to life’s various pleasures fails to comprehend what makes our lives meaningful.
The underlying Epicurus philosophy of life is therefore hedonistic, saying that he was an advocate of gluttony and some kind of ringleader of a lifelong flat boy who wore a toga appropriate for the times. Gourmet hedonism is nuanced, intellectually sophisticated, and grounded in science. Thousands of years before Darwin, the Epicureans provided an evolutionary explanation for the origin of species. As a result, Epicurus recognizes that humans are animals, even though they are very sophisticated and highly evolved animals. For Epicurus, humans innately desire joy and tranquility. That’s mainly because, like any evolved animal, they want to survive and feel safe. Like any animal, I don’t want to feel anxiety or fear.
But unlike other animals, we have an enhanced brain that allows us to strategically seek pleasure and avoid pain. In other words, we can use our imaginary brains to make informed calculations about what actually creates joy and tranquility. , you may find yourself wasting your time chasing things you don’t need (such as great wealth) and ignoring what you’re doing, such as developing relationships. with friends you can trust. Our insecurities tell us we’re doing joy wrong, and the Epicurean can help us get joy right.
2. Some desires are necessary, while others are corrosive.
If you want joy and tranquility, you must learn to regulate and limit your desires. Now, some philosophers may say that the best way to get rid of anxiety is to eliminate all desires, but that is not Epicurus’ approach. We believe that some desires are necessary and others seek harmless luxuries that add variety and joy to a happy life. Our peace of mind depends on meeting our necessities. we really need things. And if you pursue and savor them with the right attitude, you can derive memorable pleasure from harmless waste. live with joybut for now I would like to turn my attention to the third desire of Epicurus: the corrosive desire.
“Simply put, greed contradicts contentment, and tranquility is a form of contentment.”
A core feature of corrosive desires is that they spread without natural limits. Unlimited desires complete the sentence “There is never too much _____”. You can never be too rich, too popular, too powerful, or too profitable. You can never live too long, have too many followers, get too many clicks, or get too many likes. Epicurus believes that there are several reasons why corrosive desires undermine our well-being, but the main problem is that they simply cannot be satisfied. I’m going to grow. Simply put, greed contradicts contentment, and quietness is a form of contentment.
We should desire what Epicurus calls “natural” wealth, wealth within limits, but the desire for unlimited wealth and profit undermines personal and communal tranquility. The desire for infinite time or life to live forever prevents us from experiencing the satisfaction and joy of being with us every day. Transforming us into compliantists out of control of our own values and seeking endless approval is giving up the rudder of our lives to the whims of millions of strangers wanting to watch on YouTube.
When we impose natural limits on our desires, when we focus on what is important, many of us find that everything we need for joy and tranquility is already at hand, especially if we make it a priority. If you stop wasting your time chasing elusive bunnies of desire, you will find the kind of relationships and hearts that offer pure joy to content minds. In particular, it gives us time for one of the most characteristic human needs: friendship.
3. We need friends, good friends.
Given that humans are vulnerable and sociable, Epicurus believes that choosing good friends is the best thing we can do for our happiness and peace. While many may think it’s obvious that they need friends, Epicurus’ view is actually quite controversial. For example, his stoic competitor thought needing friends was a sign of weakness. In fact, they ridiculed Epicurus for admitting that he needed a friend.
And today, even after modern research shows the importance of strong social ties (sorry, stoic!), many of us don’t have the friends we need. They report not having good, trustworthy, long-term and supportive friendships. So what’s going wrong? Frankly, Epicurus thinks our priorities are wrong — we don’t prioritize making friends or spending time.
“Good friendships are rooted in things we can control: loyalty, kindness, and care.”
The guiding principles of Epicurean friendship are: friends don’t make friends uneasyEpicurean friendships have two key characteristics: trust in mutual support, and friendships that are rooted in shared and stable values. We’ve already talked about social support, but what about the other criterion: shared and stable values? For example, consider “drinking buddies.” Friendships are rooted in drinking together, and when one of your friends’ girlfriends stops drinking, the foundations of friendship are lost. Similarly, many friendships are based on popularity, wealth, business advantage, beauty, or coolness, all of which depend on luck. , rooted in what we can control. Once that foundation is laid, friends should create as many happy memories together as possible.
4. Manage unhappiness.
Epicurus’ strikingly modern natural science influences how he approaches the problem of suffering. Some philosophies, such as stoicism, see misfortune as part of a divinely ordered plan, while the gastronomic natural sciences view our universe as a product of the unintended movement of atoms. claims. So for Epicurus misfortunes have no cosmic purpose, they just happen. Epicurus is also a hedonist, so by definition he thinks pain and suffering are bad. Epicurus therefore offers people strategies for coping with misfortune, not for denying that misfortune is really bad, or for pretending that misfortune is good. The strategy has a surprising amount of empirical support. let me talk
A very good friend of mine was in his early twenties when his longtime friend accidentally shot him in the gut with an arrow fired from a compound bow. was a temporary employee. A friend of mine had multiple surgeries, was in the hospital for 15 days and now has a huge scar. When he first told me this story, I found his story to be a foodie. When he finds out that he’s been lying in a hospital bed for a month, and realizes that the older he gets, the more likely it is that memories of you are the only good, soon Of the sources of joy available he said to be one. He decided to fill his life with as many things as possible worth remembering.
My friend’s story points to replaying Epicurus’ favorite tool in his toolkit for surviving misfortune: pleasant memories, and research shows it’s a highly adaptive behavior. Research psychologists call it “positive distraction,” and you probably did it too during the pandemic when you called an old friend to reminisce. Epicureans believe that when we reflect on past and present joys, we express “thank you,” and Epicureans believe that we can strengthen our capacity for gratitude. You can make building your memory library a daily habit by cherishing the time you spend with friends and welcoming opportunities for joy every day.
“Epicureans believe that we express ‘gratitude’ when we reflect on past and present joys, and Epicurus believes that we can enhance our capacity for gratitude. “
Of course, memories alone cannot survive misfortune. Epicurus believes that it also takes time and the ability to come to terms with the fact that the past cannot be changed. When we face adversity or misfortune, a friend helps us in two ways. It’s about being there to support us and appearing in joyful memories that help us get through difficult times.
5. Appreciate science.
Much of Epicurus’ advice is based on his natural science. While their rivals the Stoics sought to predict the future by interpreting the entrails of sacrificial birds, the Epicureans were developing an account of the world that remained unfashionable for another 2,000 years.
Now, when Epicurus said that we should study and appreciate science, he did not mean that we should all devote our lives to it. We believe that sufficient scientific understanding is required to explain the difference, the difference between the expert and the minion.
Consider how perversions and rejections of science have made it difficult and unnerving to navigate the COVID pandemic. People called the virus a hoax, refused a vaccine because of what they saw on YouTube, and even killed each other over masks. There were no horse anthelmintics on the shelves, and charlatans were hawking all sorts of ridiculous elixir. A basic understanding of science alone could have saved us many fears. even wrote This phenomenon seems to be timeless.
Epicurus’ natural science also conveys some of the deeper and heavier parts of his philosophy of life. Epicureanism is perhaps the only school of ancient philosophy that seriously addresses how to find purpose and tranquility in a universe that has no ready-made meaning. His physics assumes that suffering has no cosmic meaning, but nevertheless he thinks we can find true joy. means that death is the end of our existence, yet he argues that death is not something to fear and that life itself gives us enough pleasure without needing more. His natural science reminds us that we are animals, but that animals like us can use our powers to live healthily and create safe communities. We also show that we can.
The Epicureans created meaning by finding joy in friendship, wonder in studying the natural world, and security in bonding with neighbors. And yes, the Epicureans really loved a great dinner party! Epicurus wrote that we should “philosophize and laugh at the same time.” I hope my book captures both the seriousness and the playfulness of Epicureanism.
To hear the audio version read by author Emily Austin, download the Next Big Idea app today.