What has your life taught you so far?
I squandered the first 40 years of my life before I realized that Epicurus, the Greek philosopher who lived and taught in Athens some 2400 years ago, had it right when he said that it is our duty to maximize our happiness before we die. Maybe good old Epi had found the meaning of life.
When I told that to a fellow-professor, I thought that he would go ballistic and foam at the mouth in an apoplectic fit, the poor naive bastard. He shouted, “I can’t teach that! My students will think that I am advocating an unlimited supply of beer and toga parties, aka Animal House.”
Not so. Epi disparaged the unbridled pursuit of base pleasures, and would rant against today’s hedonistic antics of the frat boys and girls in movies and real life. He posited that the cause of happiness is temperance, the highest pleasures are intellectual, and the highest of all those pleasures is philosophizing with peers. Today, we might call that serious brainstorming or just batting around a few ideas to encourage creativity.
Centuries after Epi, Sigmund Freud said the secret to happiness is good love and good work. As with Epi, Freud is misinterpreted. By good love, he did not mean sex; he meant meaningful relationships. By good work, he did not mean an endless stream of paychecks; he meant being creative and doing what turns you on. Think of Steve Jobs’ admonition to find your passion; if you haven’t found it, keep looking.
Lucretius, the Roman philosopher who lived in the first century BCE, expanded Epi’s ideas in his erotic masterpiece On the Nature of Things. I shamelessly borrow them in my book, The Power of Being Articulate. In the chapter on happiness, I say, “Very happy people differ markedly from both average and unhappy people in that they all lead rich and fulfilling social and business lives”