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Cast-aside cares

19 Jun

bust of Epicurus

I read this recently in The Beautiful and Damned by F.Scott Fitzgerald:

                        Happiness is only the first hour after the alleviation of some especially intense misery.

The Roman poet Catullus said something similar:

o quid solutis est beatius curis  (poem 31)

                            Oh what is more blissful than cast-aside cares?

Catullus wasn’t offering this as a complete definition of happiness, although he may well have felt that ‘cast-aside cares’ was the nearest he himself was going to get to the experience of well-being.  He’s a poet who is well known for his unhappy love life, and he died at a very young age.

Epicurean philosophy may superficially seem to be sending the same message as Catullus. Epicurus (that’s him in the picture) believes that the optimum of pleasure is reached in the absence of pain. But for him, it is the life-long management of your desires, so that pains are removed as quickly and cheaply as possible, that produces overall happiness. Happiness isn’t just the glorious wave of relief that sweeps over you when something you’ve been dreading has been more or less successfully completed (though that’s certainly a delightful sensation).

When we say that pleasure is the goal of life, we’re not talking about sensual indulgence. No, we’re talking about freedom from physical discomfort and mental anxiety. A life of pleasure isn’t drinking, or partying, or exquisite food, or plenty of sex. A life of pleasure is the outcome of sober reflection. Why? Because sober reflection enables you to examine your motives in every situation, and decide what to do and what not to do…Careful observation of  our various desires enables us to consider the range of options available to us, so that on each occasion we make descisions that enhance our physical welfare and keep our minds free from anxiety. This is the objective which is proper to a life of happiness.

Epicurus, Letter on Happiness