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(Published: 2012-12-24)

The shopping is done, the packages are sent, the cards are mailed, the stockings are hung, the fire is laid, and the cookies are baked. Even the driveway is shoveled. Christmas is finally here. It’s been a busy holiday season, and I’ve been putting off writing this newsletter. I hesitate to publish another ‘philosophical’ missive, but hey, ‘tis the season, it’s what I’m feeling, so here goes.

I love shopping for the perfect gift…that special little (or big) something that will make someone else happy…show them how much I care…let them know how important they are to me. It makes me happy to make others happy. I offer this quick caveat, however: I do understand that it’s not THINGS that make people happy. Material possessions may add to our enjoyment of life, but being happy doesn’t depend on what we buy or what we have….or even what we give.

This got me thinking about the pursuit of happiness. (Here comes the philosophical part.) Epicurus was an ancient Greek philosopher and founder of Epicureanism--the study of what makes us happy. Ironically, people think of Epicureans as people who lavishly enjoy fine wines and gourmet food. Not exactly so.

Epicurus himself was a simple man that advocated living a simple life. His ideal meal was bread, fresh vegetables, some olives, and a glass of water. To him, a pot of cheese was a luxury, especially when shared and eaten in the company of good friends.

I don’t want to mislead you. Despite his simplistic nature, Epicurus was an advocate for pleasure. He believed we shouldn’t feel guilty about wanting to have a good time. He saw happiness as a tricky pursuit however, mostly because we are horribly confused about what would make us happy.

He thought he could help, so he did what any good Greek philosopher would do. He founded a school whose mission was to assist others in the pursuit of happiness. (By the way, his was the first Greek philosopher’s school to admit women as a rule rather than an exception—but I digress.)

Epicureans define pleasure as the absence of pain in the body and of trouble in the soul. The school defined three ingredients for a happy life: 1) friends, 2) freedom, and 3) an analyzed life. Friendship was a baseline ingredient of happiness—his school was essentially a community of friends living together. Freedom meant self-sufficiency, freedom from fear and worry, and having nothing to prove to others. An analyzed life is one where we take time off to reflect on our worries and analyze what is troubling us. The philosopher believed that our anxieties would quickly diminish if we gave ourselves time to think them through.

My parting gift of wisdom as 2012 draws to a close is a quote from Epicurus:

“Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not: remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.”


Robyn Waters is president and founder of RW Trend, LLC. She is the author of The Trendmaster’s Guide: Get a Jump on What Your Customer Wants Next, and The Hummer and the Mini: Navigating the Contradictions of the New Trend Landscape. Learn more about Robyn at All Rights Reserved.

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