February 17, 2017 – The Enemy of Happiness


“It is quite impossible to unite happiness with a yearning for what we don’t have. Happiness has all that it wants, and resembling the well-fed, there shouldn’t be any hunger or thirst.” – Epictetus, Discourses, 3.24.17

My house is littered with objects that brought me joy. Brought. Now many of them simply sit around collecting dust, taking up space or reminding me of money wasted. Is that fair? Must a thing consistently bring joy for it to have value? Some are memory catalysts, awakening experiences and in turn bringing us joy. This is a crisis I encounter anytime I travel. There may be a shirt, magnet, cup, or some artifact I want because it serves as a reminder of the good time(s). Inevitably I don’t buy anything because I can’t justify the object as being more valuable than the memory. It’s why I take so many pictures. Those are free and they capture the where more than any t-shirt can.

Being present, that is where we find our happiness. Toad the Wet Sprocket wrote this beautiful song called “Throw it All Away”.

‘Cause there ain’t nothing you can buy
And there is nothing you can save
To fill the whole inside your heart
So throw it all away
Won’t fill the whole inside your heart

Epictetus is very clear that beauty, and happiness, are found in making the right choices. Materialism feeds materialism. It requires us to seek outward for our desired state. But when interest in that thing disappears we are left with the pursuit of another thing. We cannot allow ourselves to fall into the trap of positing happiness being tied future gains. If we’re making the right choices we are content with the now.

 

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