Was Epicurus happier than Diogenes of Sinope

Winner essay 06/07 by Schneebacher Jakob Franzi-Gymn. Bolzano 5th class

Epicurus 1st quote

"If you want to make a person happy, do not add anything to his wealth, but take away some of his wishes."

(Epicurus of Samos)


Man wants to be happy. “Find a job that makes you happy.” “Live your life so that you are happy.” But what is happiness? How can you say that you are happy? What makes us happy and from this then arises the central question that will probably occupy us all our lives: "How do I get to happiness? How do I manage to be happy with myself and my life? ”After all, who wants to eke out a life in misery?

And because man is so busy with his search for true happiness, great thinkers have repeatedly thought about how one could possibly achieve the greatest possible happiness.




1. Epicurus: Satisfy your desires with measure and aim

Epicurus claims in the quotation above that the only way to make a person really happy is to take away some of his wishes. Thus, in his opinion, man is a being who yearns for more and more and is never really satisfied with his situation.

If we know the core of Epicurean philosophy, which lies in the exercise of pleasure, this seems somewhat paradoxical at first glance. Shouldn't you then live out your wishes to the full? Enjoy the pleasure? Live your life in luxury? But Epicurus should hardly be viewed in such an elementary way. After all, he was by no means a wild lecher who had nothing else in mind than to give himself up to his desires completely. Rather, you have to understand it in such a way that you should very well surrender to your desires and desires, should fully enjoy something, but you should by no means overstep the arc of enjoyment. The effect is reversed very quickly into its opposite. To cite a very banal and yet very meaningful example: It probably makes us all satisfied when we sit at a nicely set table and enjoy a delicious meal. But if we overdo this enjoyment and fill our stomach without measure or aim, our satisfaction and the feeling of happiness will probably evaporate very soon - rather, a rather unpleasant feeling spreads in us - precisely because we have overdone it. And this is precisely where the path to happiness lies - the right measure - everything with measure and goal - you also have to recognize when is enough.

But man is by no means so simple. Isn't it just in human nature that he always longs for more? If you sit in front of a delicious meal and then take a look at your neighbor's plate, your own meal suddenly seems undesirable, you want that of your neighbor.

The human being is a being who is very strongly oriented towards material issues. Everyone wants more - more money, more power ... If you fulfill a wish and manage to achieve a goal, you may feel happy for a brief moment, but the desire for more soon arises. You cannot live out your happiness because there is always this urge for more. This cycle goes on and on, you can never reach true happiness in this way, because with every fulfillment of a wish a new wish automatically arises - over and over again, without ceasing. But if you take away part of a person's wishes, they can suddenly be happy. For example, he has fulfilled a wish and is completely satisfied with it, because no new wish arises in him. Because the more we have, the more wishes we develop. An African child, for example, would be completely satisfied with a bowl of soup, while a child from our latitudes needs a Gameboy and a Playstation and a new bike to be satisfied for a short time. But luck is by no means satisfied, because then you still need the right game for the Gameboy - which one then gets bored after a short time, and so you have to keep getting a new one - and the right equipment for the bike, which, however has to be replaced after half a year because the friend has a much newer and more modern one. Nowadays we are born into a consumer society in which people are never really happy with what they have, because there is always something new that is simply "part of good reputation" - the newest car, the most modern cell phone ... Maybe we should just remind ourselves more often of the true values ​​it takes to be happy. Does it really always have to be more? Can't we be happy with what we have too? I am of the opinion that Epicurus is expressing a very good thought here, because he has already known a lot about the human psyche. If he were to live in our time, he would be dismayed at how marginally we deal with our wishes. A wish is there to be satisfied and this wheel keeps turning.


2. The Cynics and Diogenes: Needlessness as a way to happiness

But isn't it precisely these wishes that drive us into disaster and prevent our happiness? Couldn't we be happier if we had absolutely no more wishes, i.e. totally needless? Some philosophers have also taken this view, for example to cite the Cynics and Diogenes.

Diogenes of Sinope also saw the goal of gaining happiness, but he took a much more radical path than Epicurus, for example. In his opinion, the only way to achieve happiness is to live completely without need - total needlessness. Only when one lives free from all desires can one become happy. And Diogenes set a good example. According to legend, he lived in a barrel, even threw away his drinking cup when he saw a boy who scooped the water from the river with his bare hands and then finally died of food poisoning because he ate a raw squid because of his In my opinion, cooking is unnecessary. Diogenes renounced all needs and believed that this would lead to a happy life.

I have my doubts about whether it is really possible to live free from all needs. Certainly Diogenes also longed from time to time for a warm meal and a comfortable bed. With the best will in the world, I can't think of a person who is really happy to live in a bin and eat raw food.

However, one also has to distinguish which knowledge this person brings with him. In my opinion, a person who knows how pleasant life can actually be cannot possibly be happy with such a minimalist way of life in the long run. You can certainly withdraw from everyday life for a while and lead a totally needless life, but after a while you will certainly look forward to your normal life again. However, a person who has never known anything else can perhaps be happy with such a needless way of life. Because for him there is nothing else, he doesn't know anything else. For example, someone who has never eaten a banana will hardly crave it. But once he has enjoyed one, he may feel like a banana from time to time. What a person does not know, he cannot long for it. But as soon as he knows something, desires and needs automatically arise. So, in my opinion, it is hardly possible to really live completely without need. You may be able to reduce your needs and desires to a minimum, but there will always be needs that need to be satisfied in order to be happy. For example, can you be happy when you are hungry and cold? In my opinion, hardly. It is precisely the basic human needs that have to be satisfied in order to be at least satisfied. So I cannot take Diogenes' view that man can only become happy through lack of needs.


3. Kant: Only by fulfilling my duty do I achieve my happiness

To go one step further. Fortunately for Kant, the source lay in the fulfillment of his duty. Only when man fulfills his duties can he feel happiness. Kant was probably very strongly influenced by his environment - the Prussians of that time. Obedience and duty were the top priority here. Only those who do their duty can be happy.

In my opinion there is a real core to this statement. Every human being has his duties, unfortunately it doesn't work without duties. If you keep pushing these duties off and dread performing them, you are constantly depressed by the burden of thoughts of this unpleasant duty. You cannot get rid of these thoughts and this unpleasant feeling will always be in you. But if one now fulfills one's duty, one can have a clear conscience, one knows that one has done what was necessary. For example, a student has a duty to do his or her homework. But if you postpone this again and again, you will be constantly haunted by the thought of this work. If you do it, however, you can get it out of your mind.

In my opinion, however, this does not mean that the fulfillment of a duty must always lead to happiness. If duty is now completely opposed to your own view, your own opinion and your own wishes, can you really be happy if you do your duty? A soldier in war has the duty to kill the enemy. But does that really mean that fulfilling this duty makes him happy? What if the opponent is now his old friend? He would have the duty to kill him, but isn't his heart actually saying something completely different? Which path should he choose now? Wouldn't it be better for him now if he left his duty aside and listened to his wish to save his friend's life? Will he not be much happier about it later when he knows that he has saved this person's life? Otherwise, wouldn't he torment himself with allegations all his life? In this example, would the fulfillment of the duty really lead to happiness - hardly. So, in my opinion, you always have to weigh up which path to choose - do you fulfill your duty or do you represent your own opinion and give in to your wishes? Not an easy decision.

In my opinion, it is certainly very often necessary to do one's duty in order to be happy. Even if it sometimes looks from the outset that this fulfillment of our duty makes us unhappy, it often turns out in retrospect that the opposite is the case and that it is precisely this performance of our duty that has contributed to our happiness. But then there are also situations in which one should completely abandon one's duty and surrender to one's wishes.



4. Utilitarianism

The utilitarians have also asked themselves how happiness can be achieved. To name two representatives of this trend:

- In Bentham's view, the goal is to gain pleasure. At the same time one should avoid the displeasure. But can you really get to happiness just by gaining pleasure and avoiding discomfort? Sure, if something gives you pleasure, you are in and of itself happy. But don't you have to know the displeasure and feel it on your own body every now and then to really appreciate the pleasure? Those who have never lived in poverty will never appreciate wealth; those who have never been thirsty do not know what joy a glass of water can bring.

- John Stuart Mill, on the other hand, said that it was better to be a dissatisfied Socrates than a satisfied pig. But what is he actually trying to tell us with this rather provocative statement? Isn't he really just paraphrasing Epicurus' view? In my opinion, this Mills quote is to be interpreted in such a way that an educated, intelligent person (i.e. Socrates) is on a higher level than a simple person (the pig). The educated person knows more, has perhaps seen more, knows more and therefore has completely different needs than a simple person. More precisely, he has greater, greater needs. To come back to the example again: a person who does not know a certain thing will hardly long for it. But whoever knows that something exists can have a desire for it. Thus, a person's needs increase proportionally to their level of education. The more you know and know, the more you can ask for. But, unlike Epicurus, Mill does not say that one should simply leave some of one's wishes aside and be content with the situation in which one finds oneself. No, in his opinion it is better to keep what you want. This may make you dissatisfied - but it is better to have your wishes and not be satisfied than not to have any wishes and to be satisfied.

In general, utilitarianism can be divided into two areas. Personal utilitarianism and social utilitarianism.

While personal utilitarianism is about finding happiness yourself (to put it drastically - without regard to others), social utilitarianism goes one step further. Its basic principle is: the greatest possible happiness for the greatest possible number. Something will always make some people happy while it makes others unhappy. Take, for example, the broadcast of a soccer game. If a large number of people might be happy to watch this game on television, many would prefer to watch something else. But now you should choose the option that makes more people happy, regardless of the fact that many are not necessarily happy with it.




At this point, however, another question has arisen:

- Is there actually a difference between contentment and happiness?

- And what makes this difference?

- When are you satisfied and when are you happy?

In my opinion, satisfaction is a precursor to happiness. One can be satisfied about / with something that does not mean that one is also happy. Satisfaction is a feeling that arises as a result of an act, an event, the fulfillment of a wish, the achievement of a goal. For example, I've set myself a goal, now I've achieved it and now I'm happy with the result. But this satisfaction is short-lived, we quickly forget it again. All that needs to be done is a new event that may not necessarily appeal to us, and that satisfaction turns into dissatisfaction. To give an example: you make an effort at your job and finally achieve the promotion you long for with the associated wage increase. At first you are satisfied with yourself, that you made it. But then it turns out that the additional income suddenly puts you in a higher tax bracket and there is actually no longer such a big difference between what you have earned before and now. Suddenly you are no longer satisfied. But there are new things every day that make us satisfied. May this be a good meal, a nice word or a wish fulfilled.

However, this does not mean that you are also happy at the same time.

In my opinion, happiness is a much more complex matter, much more difficult to understand and also to achieve. In contrast to contentment, happiness is not a momentary affair, but rather something lasting, all-encompassing. In my opinion, if you are happy - with yourself, your life and the situation you are in - that does not mean that you may not be dissatisfied from time to time. Because there will always be something that doesn't quite go according to our plans, what goes against our ideas, what disappoints us. No one is free from these moments of discontent, that is utterly impossible. But if a person is really happy now, then he is able to accept these moments of dissatisfaction, not to be depressed by them. Because he knows that this is simply part of life and instead of worrying too much about this undesirable situation, he looks forward to new moments of satisfaction.For me, a happy person is, so to speak, someone who is satisfied with the situation as a whole, who cannot be influenced by ups and downs. This person takes life as it comes. And even if the times don't look so rosy, he is still happy because he knows that things will look up again.




But the question has by no means been answered, how do I actually get to happiness? But it is difficult to find an answer that is valid for everyone to this question. It is already evident from the opinions of the philosophers enumerated that the views on this diverge widely. While some argue that happiness can only be achieved through complete lack of needs, some argue that moderation leads to happiness, while others advocate indulgence.

But which path do you choose for yourself, what really leads to happiness? I believe that it is actually impossible to give an answer that really applies to everyone. So I think that every person is different and therefore it cannot be the same for everyone how they get to happiness. If a person is perhaps happy with just doing his duty and disregarding all feelings, the other will find happiness by letting his feelings and desires run free.


But in general I think that the path taken by Epicurus here shows a very important aspect: Man is so driven by his desires that he yearns for more and more and can never find happiness because of constantly new desires. But instead of always fulfilling the wishes and thus creating new wishes, it might sometimes be much better if you simply abandoned your wishes. Because why do you always want more and more? Can't you just draw a line at a certain point? At one point, they say so, now I'm satisfied with myself, with my life, perfectly happy? Wouldn't that be the goal? That you fulfill a certain number of wishes but then at some point also realize that you don't really need more to be happy?

Perhaps modern man in particular should orient himself more towards it. And above all, differentiate between: What do I really want? Is this really what I want, what I need to be happy? Do I really need a new TV? Does this really make me happy? Does it make me really happy when I work overtime every day in a job that I don't really like but that brings in money to be able to afford a new car when the old one is only 2 years old? Wouldn't it make me a lot happier to spend this time at home, with my family, doing an activity that I enjoy and driving around in a slightly older car? Today's people actually don't even know what they want, what they need for their personal happiness. By and large, society, the media and the advertising give him what he supposedly needs to be happy. He is influenced in such a way that he actually no longer perceives his true desires. And perhaps this is precisely where the opportunity lies for people to find happiness: By listening to themselves and not being guided by what others want and demand. By really differentiating between what he wants for himself and what others just tell him to want. I am sure that our supposed "wishes", which we think we need in order to become happy, would be decimated by a multitude.


It may have been more than 2000 years by now, but people's basic problems have still remained the same and maybe it would sometimes not be so wrong if we remembered our predecessors a little more and their thoughts were not simply considered unrealistic and would dismiss them out of time. Because precisely this quote from Epicurus clearly shows how much the situations then and now are alike and that people have actually always remained the same in their roots and that, if we would take his advice a little more to heart, we would probably unite small or large step towards our true goal: our happiness.