Epicureans vs. Stoics
For years I have been fascinated by the philosophical differences between the Stoics and the Epicureans. I think both have merit and I have seen myself swing back and forth between the two camps at various times in my life.
I always thought of the Epicureans as consumed with pleasing the present self. Seize the moment. Do what feels good right now. Indulge yourself because it makes you happy now.
The Stoics on the other hand seem consumed with pleasing the future self. Plan for the future. Don’t do what feels good right now. Resist your urges because that will make you happy later.
Epicurean + Stoic = Epic
I have tried applying both philosophies in various areas of my life and while I have achieved some short term success with both I haven’t found either of them to be sustainable. I find they are unbalanced in their approach.
One is about indulging and the other is about restraining. One says yes and the other says no. In my experience too much of anything leads to a reaction the other way.
Epicurean – Diet? Ha. I am on a diet of fast food and soda. I know some people say they aren’t good for you but I enjoy eating them. They make me happy. I would rather die early of heart disease or diabetes than eliminate all my favorite foods. Besides, I’ll probably die in a car accident before that happens. Sometimes I eat way more food than I really need to and I end up feeling sick. Still, I love food and I love to eat. Why would I take that away from myself?
Stoic – I love fast food and sugary soda but I resist the urge to indulge in them. Nothing that tastes that good can be healthy for me. I won’t ever have them because I am looking after myself for the long-term. I choose to eat low calorie, low-fat, low flavor food because it is hard to do which must mean it is good for me. Sometimes I get really hungry or feel left out when other people are enjoying these foods around me. But I choose not to indulge. I know that I am making the healthy decision and that it will pay off in the long run.
Epic – I love fast food and sugary drinks and I allow myself to enjoy them every once in awhile. I also make my own healthy food out of fresh and delicious ingredients that are full of flavor and completely satisfying. I have found my cravings for fast food and sugary drinks have reduced as I have moved towards a healthier diet. Still, if I am in a rush or at an event where it is being served I will have some and realize that it isn’t the end of the world. In fact, it tastes pretty damn good.
Epicurean – Exercise is hard and not fun. I would much rather just sit on the couch and watch a movie or enjoy a nice meal. I tried running once and everything hurt. My lungs, legs, heart. Why would I put myself thought that again? Why am I going to spend all my time doing hard work? I would much rather just relax and have a beer. Do you see those people always running on the street? They look miserable. Why would I want to waste my time here on earth sweating and struggling like that?
Stoic – I don’t really enjoy exercise that much but I make sure I do it every day because it is the right thing to do. I am working out because I want to keep my body healthy. I want to get my heart and lungs in good shape because that is what is best for my long-term health. I hate running day after day but I know that it is what my future self would want me to do so I keep doing it. These shinsplints are killing me though!
Epic – I don’t do any exercise that isn’t fun and enjoyable. I realize that exercise doesn’t have to be work and a burden. There are all kinds of sports and activities that I enjoy doing that also workout my heart and body. I find exercises and movements that feel like play and not work. I do them because I enjoy doing them and I also realize that they are helping my body become strong and healthy.
The Epic Lifestyle
These are just two areas of my life where I have found myself fluctuating between an Epicurean and Stoic approach.
Whenever I started a new diet or an exercise program I would sacrifice my current happiness because I thought it was going to lead to better health in the future. After a couple weeks or months I would burn out from all the work and then I would quit the program. I would say to myself that it wasn’t worth being unhappy in the present for a chance at happiness in the future. Then I would begin indulging my present urges until I felt sick with myself because I was too overweight or out of shape.
It doesn’t have to go down like that. Choose to follow the Epic approach and you may find that it is the path that will lead you between the two extremes.