Tuesday, December 20, 2011



Over the years I have realized that two main reasons for unhappiness are:

(i) dissatisfaction caused by unfulfilled desires
(ii) anxiety that you will not be able to fulfill your desires in the future

There is a close connection between happiness and desire-satisfaction

When you get what you want you feel happy and when you do not get what you want you feel unhappy.

If happiness results from getting what you want (desire-satisfaction) and unhappiness results from not getting what you want (desire-frustration), then there are two strategies you can pursue with respect to any given desire:

(i) you can either strive to fulfill the desire
(ii) you can try to eliminate the desire.

No philosopher has better explored this than Epicurus, a Greek Philosopher of the Third Century BC. 

Epicurus (341-270 BC) espoused a strategy for achieving genuine human happiness by emphasizing the delights of the mind (over which a person has control) rather than the delights derived from material things (which are so often beyond your personal control).

Epicurus advocates the second strategy of scaling down your desires to the basic minimum which can easily be satisfied.

Epicurus distinguishes between three types of desires:

1.      natural and necessary desires
2.      unnatural and unnecessary (or vain and empty) desires
3.      natural but non-necessary desires

How we tackle each of these three types of desires determines our tendency to happiness (or unhappiness).

Natural and Necessary Desires

Examples of natural and necessary desires include the desires for food, shelter, health, sense of security and basic physical needs, cravings which will necessarily lead to greater pain if they are not fulfilled.
These basic desires are easy to satisfy yet difficult to eliminate since they are 'hard-wired' into human beings naturally and create a sense of well-being when satisfied (“Happiness begins at the stomach”) 
Furthermore, natural and necessary desires are necessary for life, and these desires are naturally limited: that is, if one is hungry, it only takes a limited amount of food to fill the stomach, after which the desire is satisfied.
Epicurus says that you should try to satisfy natural and necessary desires.
Vain and Empty or Unnatural and Unnecessary Desires

Vain, unnatural and unnecessary desires include desires for excessive powerwealthfame, and other egoistic ambitions which have all the trappings of status and prestige.

Vain desires are difficult to satisfy, in part because they have no natural limit

If one desires wealth or power, no matter how much one gets, it is always possible to get more, and the more one gets, the more one wants.

These desires are not natural to human beings, but inculcated by society and by false beliefs about what we need, for example, believing that being very powerful or wealthy or famous will guarantee us happiness

In actual fact, Opulence may attract thieves and other dangers, and Power and Fame may attract sycophants. Yes, such vain desires, which are unnatural and unnecessary, are sure to put you into the spiral of unhappiness.

Epicurus says that such vain and empty desires should be eliminated.

Natural but Non-Necessary Desires

An example of a natural but non-necessary desire is the desire for luxury food. Although food is needed for survival, one does not need rich expensive gourmet food to survive. 

Thus, despite his hedonism, Epicurus advocates a surprisingly ascetic way of life. 

Although you should not spurn extravagant foods if they happen to be available, becoming dependent on such luxury food (and other luxuries) ultimately leads to unhappiness.

These natural but non-necessary desires are those cravings that are not necessary for life, but give you great happiness. However, should you become dependent on them, such desires can lead to great unhappiness if they are not fulfilled. These desires are typically recreational in nature and examples of such desires include Sexual Gratification, Friendship, Aesthetic Desires, Entertainment, Social Intercourse, Creative Expression and Intellectual Stimulation, Liberal Arts, Reading, Social Networking, Sports, Travel etc

In the case of natural but non-necessary desires you must approach life like a banquet

Think of your life as if it were a banquet where you would behave graciously.
When a dish is passed to you, extend your hand and help yourself to a moderate portion. 
If a dish should pass you by, enjoy what is already on your plate. 
And if a dish hasn’t being passed to you yet, patiently wait for your turn.


To paraphrase Epicurus, "If you wish to make a man truly happy, don't give him more money; rather, just try to reduce his desires".

By eliminating the unhappiness caused by unfulfilled desires, and the anxiety that occurs because of the fear that your desires will not be fulfilled in the future, adopting this wise Epicurean philosophy of life will enable you to attain tranquility and enjoy everlasting happiness.

Copyright © Vikram Karve 2011
Vikram Karve has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
© vikram karve., all rights reserved.

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About Vikram Karve

A creative person with a zest for life, Vikram Karve is a retired Naval Officer turned full time writer. Educated at IIT Delhi, ITBHU Varanasi, The Lawrence School Lovedale and Bishops School Pune, Vikram has published two books: COCKTAIL a collection of fiction short stories about relationships (2011) and APPETITE FOR A STROLL a book of Foodie Adventures (2008) and he is currently working on his novel. An avid blogger, he has written a number of fiction short stories and creative non-fiction articles in magazines and journals for many years before the advent of blogging. Vikram has taught at a University as a Professor for almost 15 years and now teaches as a visiting faculty and devotes most of his time to creative writing. Vikram lives in Pune India with his family and muse - his pet dog Sherry with whom he takes long walks thinking creative thoughts. 

Vikram Karve Academic and Creative Writing Journal: http://karvediat.blogspot.com
Professional Profile Vikram Karve: http://www.linkedin.com/in/karve
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Email: vikramkarve@sify.com        

© vikram karve., all rights reserved.

1 comment:

Deepak Karthik said...

Awesome one as usual :)