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What is Epicureanism and why it still matters today?

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The Epicurean philosophy is what many people would consider a “good life” philosophy. It involves pleasure, simplicity, and tranquility. The word Epicureanism derives from the Greek philosopher Epicurus and his teachings about living what he thought was a good life. In this article, we will examine what it looks like in modern society (even if you’re not an ancient Greek) and how to live the good life according to Epicurus himself!

What are the principles of Epicureanism?

Two of the principles of Epicureanism is that the way to a good life is to maximize pleasure and reduce pain.

The role of pleasure in Epicureanism

According to Epicureanism, the way to live a good life is to maximize pleasure.

Pleasure comes in many different forms:

  • Physical pleasure can be anything that brings physical enjoyment or release
  • Mental pleasures are things like contemplation, beauty, art, or philosophy
  • Social pleasures come with the company of friends and loved ones

The role of pain in Epicureanism

Another big piece of Epicureanism is reducing pain. Pain can refer to physical pain, but Epicurus put more emphasis on the “pain of the soul”. The goal of living the good life according to this philosophy is tranquility or ataraxia (Greek) meaning “freedom from anxiety” or “tranquillity.”

There are many ways to reduce pain in the soul. One way is by friendship and love, another may be through contemplation or philosophy that can help you feel less anxious or worried about what might happen next.

Short-term vs. long-term pleasure

Some things will give pleasure momentarily but cause more pain overall. We need to consider what gives more pleasure or pain overall. Eating in excess may be pleasurable at the moment but cause health conditions long-term.

Similarly, just because something brings you pain does not mean it cannot also bring you some type of pleasure. Even painful experiences have their place as there can still be satisfaction in overcoming difficulties.

Being a good person, and kind to others gives long-term pleasure and satisfaction. Being selfish or mean might feel justifiable at the moment, but will just end up causing more pain. So Epicureanism philosophy does believe in being good to other people.

The simple life according to Epicureanism

The simplest and most basic form of living a good life according to Epicureanism is just having what you need but not more than what you need and avoiding what brings you displeasure. This doesn’t mean that there’s no room for luxuries – it just means we should think twice before bringing on something new when what we have could suffice instead!

This way of thinking has led some down the path towards minimalism: living with only those things which are both necessary and sufficient to fulfill their needs. This frees up time and energy so they can focus on what really matters most in life while still enjoying simple pleasures like food, family, friends, etc. Minimalists often find that simplifying their lives opens up time and resources for the things that really matter.

Epicurenism is not gluttony

Epicureanism sometimes get’s a bad reputation with the false belief that it focuses on gluttony and excess. But this is not true. This philosophy is often misunderstood as being an all-out pursuit of pleasure. In reality, Epicureanism strives for a simple life with just what you need – not more than what you need!

Three elements for living a good life

Epicurus believed that three of the most important element for living a good life are having friends, freedom, and living a life “examined.”


Epicurus explains that when people are not having good friends, they easily fall trap of chasing “vain ideals”. Vain ideals can include things like money or fame. There is no satiable limit to those ideals so they are impossible to fulfill. When we’re looking for those, what we are actually looking for is love and acceptance from others. That can come freely from good friends.


Epicurus also thought that freedom is important. He thought that it’s what most people are after and what they want the most. Having freedom allows you to not endlessly have to slave to others. Freedom allows you to live life according to what matters to you.

There are different ways to getting more freedom, but one is to reduce desires and learning to live more simply. Living more simply can provide more time and financial freedom in your life.

Life examined

Finally, the third element for living a good life according to Epicureanism is “living life examined”. Examining one’s own thoughts can help relieve some common fears like anxiety, sorrow, and fear of death. Living examined helps keep our minds calm by not letting vain desires pull us away from what truly brings joy into our lives! Two good strategies for reducing anxieties are to journal about them and sharing them with good friends.

In what way does Epicureanism still matter today?

Epicurean philosophy matters because it teaches us how to live a good life.

It focuses on living a good life using pleasure and reducing pain. It shows us what we need but not more than what we need, and what pleasures are necessary for living “well”. This makes the recipe for life simpler by teaching us to focus on what truly brings pleasure — friends, freedom, and living a life examined.

In a time of consumerism and endless increase in productivity, it’s good to remember what things truly make us happy at the end of the day. Some material pleasures are undeniably important, such as food on our table, clean water, and a roof over our heads. But chasing vain ideals, such as money or fame, is pointless. That will never make us happy anyway.

What do you think? Do these principles sound applicable to modern life?

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