When you grow up you slowly begin to realize that the world adores growth a prompts people to strive for more. Even though this, in a way, is the right path in a lot of occasions and it’s surely something we need in order the human population to survive, it’s actually the last thing you need on a personal level. Born and raised in a modest family, I swore to myself that I will earn enough money to a point when I don’t have to worry about this resource. Even though I kept my promise, this initial seed planted in my mind had a negative effect over my life – I reached a point where nothing was enough and more was always the thing I wanted.
Contrary to all views of the modern man, the true path towards ultimate happiness is abstinence, not excess.
Epicurus, a Greek philosopher, who lived around 341–270 BC, was the first person who introduced this to the world. He believed that pleasure was the major good in life and pursuing it was the right path for every living creature. However, according to what he preached, this doesn’t mean that you should party like crazy and have a relationship with multiple people to achieve the above. Quite the opposite. His belief was that one should not focus so much on feeling pleasure or aim for things that will bring him pleasure, what he advocated was to do everything possible to avoid suffering. Sounds confusing, doesn’t it?
In this post, I will explain why abstinence, not excess will ultimately make you a happier person and what you can do today to start feeling better. And no, you don’t have to buy a product about it.
Why More is Suffocating?
Teenagers now, will never, hopefully, understand what its like to go to the store and have only one type of chocolate, cheese, or bear to choose from. The other day I was shopping for groceries and I’ve spent 30 minutes deciding what type of beer I want. Now, you can choose from 100+ brands, different tastes, different level of alcohol, different shapes… After some time comparing the different beverages, I began to feel stupid. Then, I stopped for a moment and I reminded myself how easy was before. You simply go to the store and you buy beer, bread, or whatever you need without thinking about the brand, or the freaking taste, mostly because there was only one type of bread and one type beer in the store.
We all know how things are today, diversity is present in every type of business, which is actually good. This means that there are a lot of factories. A lot of jobs. This means that more people are able to do what they want. To get money for what they do best. The gold rush which people were obsessed more than 100 years ago, has now been replaced by an entrepreneurial rush.1
If the government decides to prohibit the registration of small businesses or make freelancing and cryptocurrencies illegal, this will mean the term entrepreneur will be something of the past.
Even though I love the idea of becoming self-sufficient by doing what you do best to support your lifestyle, yourself, and your family, there is one nasty bioproduct of all that hustle happening around: There are simply gazillion of stuff that are fighting for our attention:
- We don’t have only one social media channel, we have several.
- We don’t have only one website about minimalism and productivity, there are plenty.
- There isn’t only one brand of smartphones, there are a lot.
- There isn’t only one post when you access your Facebook profile, the number of publications is infinite.
- When you go to the store to buy groceries, you have to decide between thousands of products.
- When you go to Starbucks to order a coffee you don’t know what type to choose because there are so many options.
- When you open your wardrobe you’re feeling stressed and you don’t know what to wear because you have so many options. Unless, of course, you have a capsule wardrobe.
We’re basically making decisions every minute. And these decisions have a negative effect on our daily routines and our productivity. You spent so much time thinking about what to wear, what type of hair product to buy, what type of post or book to read. This abundance is the reason so many people are suffering from the FOMO effect.2 When you order a dish at the restaurant and there are a lot of options for a main course, you aren’t really satisfied with your choice because you’re constantly thinking about the other options. This leads to a feeling of regret, thus you’re not happy.
But what we can do about all of this? We’re surrounded by stuff and decisions constantly.
I thought that someone who was living more than 2000 years ago has better answers than young Youtubber who only thinks about the number of his subscribers:
The purpose of Epicurus’ philosophy was to attain the happy, tranquil life. That good things have to be pursued and bad things have to be avoided. Even though a lot of people think that his main mission in life was to pursue pleasure, it was more about striving for an absence of pain and suffering. He stated that when we are not hurt, tormented, in agony, in bad mood, we don’t actually need to pursue pleasure, and at that moment we enter a state of calmness and peace.
There are two types of pleasure identified in his studies: “Moving” pleasures and “static” pleasures. The first occurs when a person is in the process of satisfying a certain desire. For example, when someone is thirsty and he is drinking water. While he drinks he feels pleasure. The static pleasure comes afterward. Once this person finishes with the drinking water process, he’s now satisfied and he now feels good. I’m sure that you can easily imagine the state of the “moving” pleasure when you’re eating, drinking alcohol, or having sex. Also, imagine the “static” pleasure right after the previously mentioned activities.
If you think about it for a moment, you will realize that we can’t be in that pleasure state for too long – the moving one. You can’t drink water forever. You can’t have sex that you enjoy for hours. You can eat 10 pounds of chocolate. You can’t constantly get sales on your online store. You can’t listen to your favorite song all day. Or can you?
The problem we nowadays have is that we constantly want to be in the “moving” pleasure state. That’s why we overeat. That’s why we spend hours scrolling through our social media feeds, hoping something new and exciting will happen. That’s why we watch TV for days. That’s why we spend money like crazy for things we don’t actually need. That’s why we publish new posts on our Social media account couple of times per day, to get more lies, thus feel better when we get more likes.
We do all type of crazy shit to feel better. The sad part is that we’re doing them too often and at some point, these things are becoming habits.
Pursing blindly pleasure, as Epicurus put’s it, is the beginning and end of a happy life. The previous must be moderate, controlled and reasonable. Pleasure should be pursued to a level where it will satisfy the body and the mind.
Types of pleasures
Besides what we previously mentioned, Epicurus additionally separates the different types of pleasures into the following types:
- Natural and necessary (basic physical needs) – feeding, quenching thirst, warmth, feeling of secure.
- Natural and unnecessary – communication, sexual desires, the arts.
- Unnatural and unnecessary – political power, prestige, pursue of money.
Epicurus formulates several recommendations related to the types of pleasures:
- One has to find ways to satisfy his natural needs and desires in the most economical way possible – the easiest way.
- You should not risk health, friendship, your financial state to satisfy an unnecessarily desire. This will only provoke future misfortunes.
So, where this whole philosophy lead us?
One Instead of Many
Everything we mentioned above is tightly related to what minimalism preaches: Having just enough clothes. Eating the right amount of food. Having one car instead of five.
The problem occurs when the individual confronts with the real world.
We are well aware that we can’t drive two cars at the same time, it’s not physically possible unless we learn how we can duplicate ourselves. We know when we had enough food or enough drinks. We see that our wardrobe is full of clothes. We know that we have a lot of work to do but we still take a “quick” peek into our Facebook profile to see what’s happening.
We’re well aware of all of the above things, yet we continue to do them nevertheless. Even though we know that they aren’t beneficial for our own health, body, and mind.
Well, there are several reasons that are making us act stupid and are preventing us from becoming better and more focused creatures:
- We lack self-control. We never understood the importance of being persistent, focused and determined. This leads to procrastination.
- We lack self-confidence. That’s why we seek approval from other people. We want to feel important and appreciated. This leads to a lot of time spent on social media and a lot of debt.3
- We don’t actually care what’s going to happen. Meaning, we’re irresponsible.
- You are stressed for some reason and you can’t think clearly.
It all comes down to this: We don’t know who we are and what we should do with our lives.
If you’re an artist, you draw paintings, you love doing this, you will never exchange this action for spending time on social media. If you’re confident in yourself and in your own skills, you will never have to buy your way into the cool kids club by spending thousands of dollars on clothes and gadgets.
Why is Abstinence The Way to Happiness?
It’s going to be hard to digest this but the only way to be truly satisfied with yourself and with your existence is to learn to abstain yourself from a lot of things in your life.
The more we earn the more we want. That’s normal human behavior. We want more because we never know what will happen tomorrow and we want to be sure that we’ll have enough resources to survive. That’s reason number one. Number two, which is the most common one, is as I mentioned earlier is: We want to constantly be in the moving pleasure state. Where we’re feeling constantly good. Imagine it like eating your favorite food 24/7.
We need to:
- Chose pain over pleasure in the cases where this will lead to a greater pleasure in the long run: The list here can be really long: The most simple example is going to work (pain) to afford a place to live (pleasure). Exercising daily and eating healthy food (pain) to lose weight and feel good in your own body (pleasure).
- Give up on small pleasures in order to achieve a greater good: Stop drinking alcohol (pleasure) to enjoy the rest of the night with your date (greater pleasure). Get up early and sleep a bit less (pleasure) to have enough time to exercise (greater pleasure). Terminate your contract with your cable provider (pleasure) to save enough money for a vacation (greater pleasure).
- Change your mindset: We need to accept the fact that we can’t, or actually we don’t need to, become the richest people in the world. You don’t need 10 million YouTube followers to do what you want. You don’t need $20,000 to start a business. You don’t need a house full of clothes to be and to look pretty. You don’t need 5 million Instagram followers to live the life you want. We need a couple of essential things: a place to live, money to buy the basics, friends, and one major goal in our lives that we can pursue.
What can you do today?
Deciding that you will restrain yourself from things you don’t need but you’ve used for years is surely something that won’t happen for a day, a week, nor a year. Some people spent their entire lives trying to become better and more focused. These people spent a lot of money on self-help books, personal coaches, diets, go to coaching sessions, create a mastermind group, and a lot of times all these efforts are in vain and they end up eating junk food again or drinking alcohol.
You don’t need 100 self-help books to become a better person. You need yourself doing the right things daily to do so.
I look at things at this perspective: To have just the right amount of clothes. The keep a good relationship with just a few people without constantly seeking approval of the others around me. To do work that feels meaningful, impactful, and helpful to others. To spend my time wisely. And most importantly, to avoid the pursuit of more, and replace it with creating a lifestyle that feels good for myself.
To wrap up, I will tell you this: Find one thing you truly love doing and focus all of your efforts towards doing it. Everything you don’t actually need, the things that won’t add real value to your life, you can go without.
- On January 24, 1848 gold was found by James W. Marshall in Coloma, California. The news of gold brought approximately 300,000 people to this state – source. Now, this is happening once again but this time people are investing time and money into machines that dig cryptocurrencies.
- FOMO is the abbreviation of Fear of missing out, which is basically a state of mind that your brain constantly thinks that there are other better things to do than the thing you’re doing right now. In short, you’re never truly satisfied with what you’re doing right now because you’re convinced that there are other better things. This effect is largely reinforced by the social media channels.
- One of the main reason people shop for clothes too often is because they don’t feel content with themselves. They buy more stuff so that they can get this dose of dopamine even if it’s going to be just for a quick moment.