Self Knowledge

What do you desire? The Epicurean path to a fulfilled life

Oct 13, 2020
money being burned

Almost everything I've bought in life has been through the same: at first, I've felt a strong desire accompanied by expectations of how would it be to satisfy this desire. Then I worked to get money so I could finally buy, unbox and use what I wanted. I remember playing my Nintendo Wii for hours and hours during weeks after I've bought it. But then, eventually, what was once novelty became familiar, and I've put that aside to become interested in something new.

What I had was not enough, and I wanted more.

That's basically the hamster wheel our society has put us in. No matter if what you want is a new phone or an expensive Ferrari, the moments of satisfaction will be fleeting. Curiously, this dynamic goes further from buying things: what you achieve in life (be a gold medal or a diploma) has also its fleeting moments of satisfaction followed by boredom, emptiness and even depression.

Luckily we have ways of dealing with this. Buddhism teaches us that desires are the root of suffering: if you don't want to suffer, practice being unattached from desires, ambitions and expectations. If you find it hard to live by these principles, which most of us do, then epicureanism might give you some insights.

The three types of desires

According to Epicurus, there are three types of desires:

Natural and necessary

This desire wants to put an end to pain. To eat when you're hungry, to drink when you're thirsty, to wear warm clothes when you're cold.

Natural and unecessary

This desire exceeds your basic needs. Why would you have a simple meal if you can have an expensive and delicious one?

Vain and empty

There's no limit to this kind of desire: you'll never be satisfied. If you're hungry there's a finite amount you can eat, but there's no limit to how much money, fame, influence or power you can achieve.

Questions to be answered

If one of your life goals is to have a mansion by the beach, a Ferrari and to fly first class only, what's the cost of pursuing these things? What are you sacrificing to get them? For how long will they give you satisfaction?

We live in a capitalist world in which there's no defined limit to how much money one can acquire. Social media platforms don't give us limits to how much followers, or in other words, influence, we can have. The result is that we end up being conditioned to pursue things we don't really need - both to survive and to be fulfilled.

The epicurean logic encourages us to ask ourselves: how much _____ is enough?