Philosophy Friday: Do you appreciate what you have?

“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.” —EPICURUS, GREEK PHILOSOPHER (341–270 BC), HEDONIST

Or, as my mother would say, “Don’t spend your life wishing it away”.

There are aspects and concepts overlapping with many other philosophies in this advice from Epicurus, such as that of “mindfulness” from Buddhism and “existence before essence” of Existentialism. Let’s explore what this means in modern life in the Western World.

How many of us sat in front of TV last night watching Eastenders, or your national soap (!), eating your dinner on your lap, updating your Facebook page, whilst wondering what to buy the kids for Christmas or how to save up enough money to buy a bigger TV?

Epicurus understands and explains this making two related points: First, desiring what we do not have now reduces or even removes our appreciation of what we do have now; and second, when we take a moment to consider the outcome of actually getting that something else that we now desire, we will realise that it is just going to put us back to square one—desiring something else, then something else…. The overall lesson from Epicurus is: Enjoy the present, make the most of it, —it’s as good as it gets.

From a very personal perspective, a few years back we closed down our education charity in Nepal after 10 years. Whenever people asked me about it I described it as a failure, we hadn’t met our objective of changing the country’s system of Primary Education and this was all I could see. Today however I see things quite differently focusing only on the myriad of positive things we achieved; 200 schools developed, 2000 teachers trained, an online teacher learning programme still active, a fully integrated teacher training programme, and best of all …. a legacy of probably the 8 best teacher trainers in all Nepal! Epicurus and a good friend from Cumbria opened my mind to these things and stopped me from wishing I had/could even now do things differently.

A tree reflected in water symbolic of Epicurus living in the present

So Epicurus’s Zen-like lesson does hit home for me, in fact more now than it did when I first read it. Although generally I do not drift away from the present by desiring more, frequently I do reflect and wish some things could have been done differently. Just writing this helps me to STOP, I hope it helps you too?

Categories: Buddha, Philosophy & Psychology

14 replies

  1. I appreciate the words of wisdom in this post in many ways. Your personal reflections as well as the overall lesson of Epicurius were exactly what I needed to read today. Thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I think modern day capitalism does not want us to be satisfied with what we have and, maybe as a direct consequence, modern society in much of the developed world is essentially anti-epicurean. You make an interesting point applying this philosophy to actions rather than materials though. While ambition is generally regarded as a positive quality, it does seem to lead to an inherent discontent with what we have achieved in our lives, of never quite hitting the mark or fulfilling an expectation rather it be internally or externally sourced. I’m curious about how you see the connection between epicurean philosophy and existentialism in regards to living a fulfilling life of purpose.

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    • I guess my personal philosophy has to begin with the fact that I am a Buddhist, not a robe wearing sandal shuffler, just an ordinary bloke who tries to live a moral life set by an eightfold path. This path seems to tie up with Epicureanism and being free from “pain” and living a pleasurable life, but not as stringent as Epicurus did. Part of Buddhism is about mindfulness, especially through meditation to focus on the here and now, removing the barrage of thoughts we are continuously besieged with. This is where Existentialism enters, especially the “existence before essence” bit and focusing on a single aspect or object or act or action in “real time” removing other extraneous “noise”. So, if I’m in a wine bar, Buddhist practice makes me take in my whole surroundings …. the room, the people, the sounds, the wine, and keeps me away from worrying about how to pay the bills, tomorrow’s meeting, painting the kitchen! Existentialism takes me further and makes me focus on ONE part of this for example the wine I am sipping and it’s “existence” at that moment, much narrower. But it’s bloody difficult! A good intellectual and cognitive challenge though!

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      • I don’t know how far Epicureanism aligns with Buddhism, but I would say that Buddhism and existentialism are, for some aspects, worlds apart. While a feeling of zen is, I think, a feeling of oneness with the universe (a loss of self), the existential crisis is incredibly individualistic. I also think a distinction needs to be made between objects and actions in regards to “existence before essence”. In terms of an object, it first exists in-itself: wine is a liquid, it is dark or light in colour, it contains chemicals that release odours perceptible to human beings, etc. It’s essence is successively contemplated by our consciousness, the for-itself, which makes perceptual distinctions, for example this wine smells like ripe fruit and not old socks, I enjoy drinking wine. An action on the other hand is much more ambiguous… the atheistic existentialist believes that since their is no god, he/she has no purpose given to them by a higher being. One exists first, one’s essence is then defined by one’s choices/actions/reactions. The responsibility of freedom is to act, in good faith, in accordance with a self-defined purpose. Drinking wine may help one be mindful, for example.


        • Epicurus was a Buddhist 😂😂! I don’t think drinking wine helps me to be mindful, but applying an existentialist approach to actually drinking the wine is an example of extreme mindfulness.

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        • That settles it then! 🤣 I really don’t know that much about him, so I’ll have to do some reading. That last thing was just an example, but humor me a second… surely doing something in an extremely mindful way helps you to be more mindful, as opposed to, say, not doing something in a mindful way. In regards to your post, I think a Buddhist/Epicurean approach to reflecting on what you have and have done is perhaps more gentle because it encourages you to look at the whole (outside of your self), while an existentialist approach would put all the responsibility on the individual and one’s exercise of free will.

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        • 😂😂😂😂😂😂😂😂
          I don’t need to humour you because I absolutely agree! Compared to Buddhism, Existentialism is extremely harsh or less gentle, also narrower. I think you’ve nailed it the way you’ve described it. I suppose that as a Buddhist “practitioner” I tend to measure other philosophies against it much too quick. I am reasonably well read about Existentialism but absolutely not a practitioner, except when I open a bottle of wine and I tell myself “focus”! You will know far more about it than I do because of your more recent studies? But I also recently compared Epictetus with Buddha and if you want a quick look it’s here
          By the way, drinking a glass or two of relatively cheap Vermentino from a supermarket as I cook our Sunday lunch ✅✅👍👍 and it’s really rather good! I think Italy, Hungary and Greece could become my cellar fillers quite soon.

          Liked by 2 people

        • I wrote my thesis on nothingness, exploring existentialism and meditation in performance (maybe I already told you?), so I find the relationship between the two very interesting. Reading your post on stoicism and Buddhism, it would seem that the east and west aren’t always so different after all! Glad you enjoyed the Vermentino ☺️

          Liked by 1 person

        • I bow to your superior knowledge on philosophy, wine ……..

          Liked by 1 person

        • Don’t flatter me, or I might take it for sarcasm 🤣 keep your philosophy Friday coming!

          Liked by 1 person

        • What was it my best client said ……. “you might not like what Brian tells you but it will always be the truth” Next week I’m beginning 30 days of photography posts … The Photo Behind The Story!

          Liked by 1 person

  3. So true and a good reminder. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

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