“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.
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?