motivation, success, goals, succeed, modern stoicism, values, strength
with Danny & Randy

Do you want more out of life? Do you know what you want, what matters to you?

In episode 153, Danny and Randy discuss why we should examine how bad we want what we want. Listen now and start going after what you want.

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Want to discover more? Please check out my related articles: Reducing Friction, How to Fail Forward, To Feel Differently, Boundaries, Creating a New Narrative, Within Our Control, Meditation & Balance, The Only Proof of Strength, A Formula for Happiness, and Comparisons & Mistakes We Make.

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dobetterwithdan, Philosophy, Pleasant Life

Desire: “To wish or long for; crave; want; a longing or craving, as for something that brings satisfaction or enjoyment.”

dictionary.com

How do we know which desires to pursue? Do some desires cause more pain than pleasure, more suffering than good?

We all know that to pursue certain things that are good for us, we will invariably also experience pain. I know, for instance, that if I have a cavity, I should go to the dentist. The dentist will fix the problem with my tooth, but in doing so I will experience pain.

Sometimes the pursuit of pleasure, of what is good for us, comes with pain. Many of the greatest goods we can achieve involve some level of struggle, strife, and require us to overcome obstacles to obtain them.

For example, we often feel great pleasure when we accomplish something difficult that involves overcoming a significant obstacle or block. Many goods require struggle, overcoming challenges, and effort. In the pursuit of these, we suffer, and the struggle makes the end, the good, more worthwhile.

(See my related article, How to Face Your Fears – 6 Simple Steps to Realize Your Goals)

Epicurus and the Pleasant Life

“Unhappiness comes either through fear or through vain and unbridled desire: but if a man curbs these, he can win for himself the blessedness of understanding.”

Epicurus

Epicurus advocated living a pleasant life. The pleasant life is achievable if we take control, focus on pursuing the right desires, the right goods, and avoid unnecessary desires and fears.

“Every pleasure then because of its natural kinship to us is good, yet not every pleasure is to be chosen: even as every pain also is an evil, yet not all are always of a nature to be avoided.”

Epicurus

We are naturally drawn to pleasure, it feels good, and so it has a “natural kinship to us,” just as we naturally avoid pain, avoid discomfort. We know, however, that simply avoiding pain will make our lives unfulfilling, and we’ll miss out on a lot of potentially important, meaningful pursuits.

(See my related article, Developing a Positive Mindset – Discovering Small Delights)

Imagine, for instance, if you really wanted a family but avoided it because of the pain of childbirth or the difficulties of raising a child.

Similarly, simply pursuing pleasure will invariably cause complications and will not lead to a good life. If we spend all our time pursuing pleasures, we will miss out on important goods and opportunities for self-development and growth. Sometimes the greatest pleasures require some pain.

This is the difficulty in living life. It’s difficult to know what we should pursue, when, and to what extent. To assist us in this, Epicurus distinguished between different kinds of pleasures in an attempt to clarify which to pursue and why.

(See my related article, The Most Important Question)

Natural and Artificial or Vain Desires

“of desires some are natural, others vain, and of the natural some are necessary and others merely natural; and of the necessary some are necessary for happiness, others for the repose of the body, and others for very life.”

Epicurus

Epicurus identifies natural desires, on the one hand, and vain or artificial desires, on the other. The natural desires are either things that are naturally pleasurable given our nature, or they are natural in the sense of necessary for our happiness, for our bodies, or for life.

Consider, for instance, the pleasure associated with eating, sleeping, or drinking. We need to eat to live, to stay alive. We feel hunger pains whenever we need sustenance, and we feel pleasure when we satisfy this desire.  Without food, sleep, or water, we will suffer or even perish.

In contrast, consider, for instance, desires for things that arise simply because of societal pressures or social norms. For example, the desire to have a lot of followers on social media, to get the most likes, is an example of what Epicurus called a “vain” or “artificial” desire. The pleasure we get, the desire we have is not natural, but instead one that arises due to external pressures and norms.

In fact, living in a consumerist society we are confronted with many vain or artificial desires every day. Advertising aims to convince us that we need the newest, the latest and greatest device to live a good life, or it aims to convince us that we need them to fit in, to live a fulfilling life and to be successful.

Vain or artificial desires are desires for things that we want, that we believe we need, because of the society we live in and the values it endorses. They are not, in fact, goods that are needed for life, or happiness, or for basic health.

“The disturbance of the soul cannot be ended nor true joy created either by the possession of the greatest wealth or by honor and respect in the eyes of the mob or by anything else that is associated with causes of unlimited desires.”

Epicurus

Our pursuit of wealth, the desire for the next best thing, to get more followers or more likes, are examples of what Epicurus calls “unlimited desires.” That is, these are things we form desires for but that have no natural limit, no natural point at which the desire is fulfilled or satisfied. We can always make more money, some new product will invariably be released, and we can always increase our followers or the reach of our social media posts.

(See my related post, Can Money Actually Buy Happiness?)

“in reference to unlimited desires even the greatest wealth is not riches but poverty.”

Epicurus

Epicurus points out that natural desires have a natural limit. When we are hungry, we eat until we are full, until the desire for food is naturally satisfied. When we are tired, we rest, and there is a natural limit to the extent to which we need rest.

Understanding which desires to pursue, which are necessary, is an important component of living a good, free life. When we pursue unlimited or vain desires, when we believe they are necessary for a good life, we are never free of desire, we are never in control of our lives.

(See my related article, Freedom & Responsibility)

“The man who follows nature and not vain opinions is independent in all things. For in reference to what is enough for nature every possession is riches, but in reference to unlimited desires even the greatest wealth is not riches but poverty.”

Epicurus

The Takeaway

Epicurus’ view teaches us the value of examining our desires. It reminds us of the importance of asking questions: What do we actually need and want? Are we pursuing something for ourselves, or because society says we should? Is there a limit to our desire, or is it unlimited and impossible to satisfy?

We have the power to take control of our desires and our happiness, to take control of our lives. We need to understand which pains we should and shouldn’t avoid, just as we must understand which pleasures we should and shouldn’t pursue.

Through careful self-reflection, questioning, and through the exercise of self-control, it is possible to live a happy, pleasant life.

“Insofar as you are in difficulties, it is because you forget nature; for you create for yourself unlimited fears and desires.”

Epicurus

Thanks for reading! Please subscribe, like, and share!

Want to discover more? Please check out these related articles and posts: Self Love – How to be your own best friend, Perspective—In Pursuit of Truth, So Many Possibilities, The Importance of Exploration and Experimentation, Are Hobbies Important, Note to Self, Luck – What our view of luck says about us, To Exist Beyond Good & Evil, and Curiosity, Perplexity, and the Wisdom of Socrates.

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