If thou wilt make a man happy, add not unto his riches but take away from his desires.

If thou wilt make a man happy, add not unto his riches but take away from his desires.Epicurus

Does happiness come in a box? Which will bring more happiness, more riches or less desire?

Does happiness come in a box? Which will bring you greater happiness, adding to your riches or reducing your desire?

What does that mean?
This is a description of an age old battle. Do we become happy by adding to our riches, or by reducing our desires? It appears in our nature to choose the former.

But many philosophers, both of the East and of the West, have come to the opposite conclusion. The path to happiness isn’t having more stuff, but having fewer desires.

The basic premise is that happiness does not come from the things we have. Pride, both the useful and the un-useful kind, may come from our possessions, but not true happiness.

Once you realize how useless things are for the attainment of happiness, you also come to the conclusion that reducing our desires is the simplest and quickest path towards happiness.

Why is curbing our desires important?
Ambition is not the same as excessive desires. At TheFreeDictionary.com, ambition is define as being “An eager or strong desire to achieve something” and “The object or goal desired.” Of course one can pervert ambition, as anything else, by taking it too far. But ambition is a useful tool.

An excess of desires is that kind of a perversion of desire. Desire is defined at TheFreeDictionary.com as “To wish or long for; want.” and “To express a wish for; request.” One key difference is the concept of achievement, which exists with ambition, but not even inferred in desire.

By reducing your desire, you are moving your target for happiness closer to where you are. If you limit what things you need to have to be happy, it becomes easier. When you get to the point where you have all you desire, you have no choice but to be happy. At least that’s how the logic works.

The point is that we need to decouple our feelings of happiness from the quenching of our desires. The flip side of tying our happiness to our desires is how we feel when we are unable to attain our desires. This time logic says we should be unhappy. Do you want to tie your happiness to things which might not happen?

Where can I apply this in my life?
How many times have you said it, or at least thought it? If I only had the right partner. If I only had the right clothes. If I only had the right car. If I only lived on the right side of town. If only… How well did any of that work out for you? For me, every one was a disaster.

Eventually I learned that the problem was indeed what I didn’t have, but it was what I didn’t have on the inside, now what I didn’t have on the outside. I was what my problem was. Or, more accurately, what I wasn’t was the problem. A jerk with a nice car is still a jerk, right?

So, the basic way I would use this quote in my life is to look at what I desire, and how the lack of it causes me disquiet or some other flavor of less-than-happy. One example is my desire for a newer tablet. Mine is nearly 4 years old, which is ancient in computer years. I desire a new one.

However, I am not going to get one just yet. While I may like the shiny new toy, the presence or absence of it will not impact my happiness. My productivity, perhaps. But my happiness? Nope. I do not need to add that to my riches to be happy. That is still my job, and happiness is within me, not in the things outside me.

Take a moment and think about the things you believe will bring you happiness. I gave some examples earlier, or you can add your own. But the question I hope you are answering is what are your desires, specifically, the less helpful ones. If we can find them, we can work on taking them away.

With what are you burdened? To what have you improperly and unfortunately tied your happiness? How will your life be if you never are able to get it? Do you want to live like that? I’m not saying that one shouldn’t have a dream, just that it should be something not tied directly to your happiness.

We can be happy with just what we have. Today, right now, we can be happy, if we choose to be. Or we can choose to be unhappy, but falsely promise ourselves that we’ll be happy if only we had the thing we desire. But it never works out that way. The shiny always wears off. Then it’s just another thing, and we feel as empty as before.

It’s your life, feel free to live it how you choose. Just understand that we aren’t the first generation to face the challenges of how to become, and how to remain, happy. This problem has been solved before. There are two schools of thought, the School of the Ad Agency, and the school of Philosophy.

Chose carefully the fountain from which you will drink. One leads to endless waves of disappointment, the other to lasting happiness. I’ve tried both, and you should be able to guess my position on which school is which, and which one I follow.

From: Twitter, @philo_quotes
confirmed at : http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/e/epicurus148958.html
Photo by Maria Morri

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4 Responses to If thou wilt make a man happy, add not unto his riches but take away from his desires.

  1. doug 4 March 2014 at 2:25 pm #

    I saw a quote from someone the other day ” the second place finisher is really just the first looser” this is not a piece of wisdom, but ignorance, would you agree?

    • philosiblog 4 March 2014 at 5:02 pm #

      To me, this is more about an attitude. The statement is true to a point, but is interpreted in what I believe is a rather unhelpful way. It’s just not a very good attitude. Said this way, it punishes honest effort and learning. It encourages quitting if you don’t win. In life, as in cards, not every hand dealt is a winner.

      I would agree that it is not a wise way of looking at things, nor does it teach much that is of use.

      However I’m not sure I’d call it ignorance. Is there a reason you chose that word, or was it chosen simply because it was an antonym to wisdom? Just curious.

  2. doug 3 March 2014 at 2:27 pm #

    making me think hard again, hard to reconcile with the efforts to accomplish something, if its true, then the guy living under a bridge who wants to stay there has got it made?

    • philosiblog 4 March 2014 at 4:52 am #

      Absolutely. And there are those people who live with almost nothing, and like it that way. Take a look at where and in what circumstances Gandhi lived most of his life. Very minimalist, and by choice. That said, there are people living under bridges who don’t like it, and would like a little more, but may be in transition, or more afraid of something else.

      Again, this isn’t a lecture on “ambition evil, destitute good” but a reminder that you can have too much desire. Or put in a more comprehensible way, you can make yourself unhappy by desiring too much. Hope that makes a little more sense.

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