The purpose of life is the pursuit of pleasure, and the quest for those objects and experiences that will make our life more enjoyable.
As I recently discovered while reading “The Consolations of Philosophy” by Alain de Botton, this was exactly the philosophy held by Epicurus, an ancient Greek philosopher born on the island of Samos in 341 BC.
To summarise his philosophy in a single sentence, Epicurus believed that:
Pleasure is the beginning and the goal of a happy life.
What are the first images that spring to mind when you think of pleasure? You might think of a fast car, an opulent villa overlooking the ocean, or limitless money.
Imagine you had all three. Would you be happy? Maybe you would. However, it is possible to imagine that a fast car without a friend to show-it-off to would not make you happy, an opulent villa without the time to enjoy it would not make you happy, and limitless money accompanied by high levels of anxiety and no time to relax or contemplate the good life would also not make you happy.
Not every type of pleasure will lead to happiness (or be sufficient for happiness) in the same way that not every type of medicine will lead to good health.
If we assume that Epicurus is right, and that pleasure is indeed the goal of the happy life, then it would seem important to develop a clear understanding of the types of pleasure that will actually lead to happiness.
In his book, Alain de Botton outlines the three simple pleasures that we need to pursue and acquire if we are to enjoy a life of Epicurean happiness:
- Freedom; and
Although sometimes difficult to acquire, it turns out that the three essential pleasures of life are goals that we can all afford to pursue.