Philosophy professor Marietta McCarty, and New York Times bestselling author questions one of her college students about “what is a good life”.
“Good living means having the time to actually think…”, said the student as reported by Marietta McCarty in her book “how philosophy can change your life, 10 ideas that matter most”.
Good living is about investing time to produce ideas which are the building blocks of our lives. Thinking produces ideas which help us to find our way and know what really matters.
Clear thinking is a lasting benefit of quiet introspection, solitude, and good conversation which cultivate our sense of wonder.
The first idea developed in this book turns around the concept of “Simplicity.”
McCarty gives us food for thoughts about simplicity. She develops this topic based on ideas of ancient philosopher Epicurus, and modern thinker Charlotte Joko Beck.
Epicurus, 341 BCE, a citizen of Athens, decided to lead a private life for his tranquility. He decided that public life and politics in particular made tranquility impossible.
Charlotte Joko Beck is an American pianist who delved into the study of Zen Buddhism after assuming the responsibilities of a single mother of 4 children.
With the conceptual framework. and the ideas of these thinkers, McCarty invites us to reflect and hold conversations on simplicity, prudence, needs, wants, independence, and freedom from our own ego and self-concern.
Charlotte Joko Beck calls life “a very simple matter”. What is simplicity? What is a simple way of living? It is as simple as having the basics that we must have for good living.
We need to leave behind complicated lives to “savor a life spent enjoying the simple pleasures which feed our essential selves.
Our first priority is to be a mental and spiritual well-being. We do not need much to satisfy our material needs. We overlook “ordinary” joys when we overextend our reach into the world of things. We are moving fast to acquire things and lifestyle. Debt conquers our peace of mind. We become “multitasker”. We are not in the center of our lives. Our energy is scattered and depleted.
We are racing to nowhere. This prevents us to think and produce ideas. Clear thinking is impossible if material concerns remain our priority and our goals.
This endless race of materialism and acquiring stuff is a dead end of anxiety and sadness.
Simplicity is a prerequisite for thinking clearly. It clears the mind as a dust cloth, and as the mind brightens, clear thinking is possible, and the fountain of ideas and simple pleasures is open.
Charlotte Joko Beck agrees with Epicurus on living a life’s simple pleasures.
“Go slow to go fast”, said Best-selling author Chris Brady in his acclaimed book “One month in Italy and Rediscover the art of Vacation.”
Epicurus in his “Letter to Menoecus” said “Pleasure is the end…. Freedom from pain in the body and trouble in the mind.”
His philosophy evolved from his life experience: pleasure is the main ingredient of a good life and simplicity is the key to obtaining pleasure and minimizing pain.
Extravagance has consequences, he said inviting us to discover the freedom that comes from needing little.
Prudence vs Desire
Epicurus is known for his accent on pleasure as the aim of life. But, in my studies of his philosophy as mentioned by McCarty, his central virtue is prudence. This requires a rigorous examination of the circumstances of our lives.
While pleasure is the goal of life, we must be very smart in how we go about achieving it. Desire is a powerful fuel. Prudence can keep desire in check with its sensible detection of the true needs in our lives.
Epicurus made a critical distinction between needs and wants. Some desires are natural, other desires are vain, he said.
We have the power of discernment and we can figure out what is essential for a pleasurable life and what is not.
Just as Epicurus departed from public life in Athens, Professor McCarty invites us to shift- not necessarily physically, but surely mentally and spiritually- away from the roar of mainstream culture’s advertising and media glitz.”
Bestselling author Orrin Woodward invites us to “escape the financial matrix” which is a web of debt which brings control and profit for the elite, stress, debt, and anxiety for the masses.
Epicurus is optimistic. His idea is we have the ability to deal with mental disturbance using our reasoning power to adjust our lives accordingly. He elevates mental pleasures over physical pleasures. Mental pleasures are more numerous; more easily controlled, and rarely have painful consequences.
We can temper our desire by disciplining ourselves to need less.
Beck said desire causes suffering. We have to let go our ego by avoiding to manipulate life to suit our expectations. We need to be our own measure of success, and grow confident that an unadorned life is also full of pleasure and lasting satisfaction.
-What are some of your life’s simple pleasures? Why do you forget them?
– Do you confuse what you need and what you want?
– Describe what you need for a satisfying life? Are you surprised at the things that you do not include?
-Are you “too busy”?
– When was the last time you just sit and do nothing?
If you have a good appetite for food for thought, I invite you to read Marietta MacCatty’s book “How Philosophy can save your life, 10 ideas that matter most”.