Using Epicurean Philosophy to Find Happiness

Throughout history, both philosophers and psychologists alike have pondered the notion of happiness. One of the great minds to focus on the concept of happiness was Epicurus, a Greek philosopher who lived between 341 BC and 270 BC.

Epicurus was in agreement with other philosophers about happiness being our ultimate human pursuit, but he suggested something very different than others had proposed in terms of how that might look in our decision-making and behaviors.

Many philosophers suggested that experiencing pleasure and happiness meant allowing yourself to indulge and enjoy things to excess. Epicurus, on the other hand, suggested that pleasure was found in simple living. Today, this philosophy is referred to as Epicureanism.

This article explores the components of Epicureanism that contribute to happiness and core Epicurean beliefs. It also offers tips on how to incorporate elements of Epicurean philosophy into your own life.

Epicurean Sources of Happiness
Illustration by Jessica Olah, Verywell

The Epicurean Lifestyle

To experience tranquility, Epicurus suggested that we could seek knowledge of how the world works and limit our desires. For him, the pleasure was to be obtained through things such as:

  • Abstaining from bodily desires
  • Community
  • Friendship
  • Knowledge
  • Living a virtuous life
  • Living a temperate life
  • Moderation in all things

The term temperate, as in living a temperate life, means a mild or modest style. So, although he suggested we are motivated to seek pleasure, Epicurus had a much different idea of what that looked like in daily living.

Epicurus' perspective and teaching has been referred to as "serene hedonism."

In philosophy, the term "hedonism" refers to the notion that pleasure is the most important pursuit of mankind and the source of all that is good. People who are considered hedonists are those who make it their life's work to experience maximum pleasure. Their decision making and behaviors are all motivated by the desire to experience pleasure.

Epicurus' Beliefs

Epicurus held thoughts on pleasure, desires, lifestyle, and more when it came to achieving happiness.


There are three states Epicurus considered to constitute happiness.

Factors for Happiness

  1. Tranquility
  2. Freedom from fear (ataraxia)
  3. Absence of bodily pain (aponia)

It is this combination of factors that would, ultimately, allow people to experience happiness at the highest level. Although it may seem impossible to attain or sustain, there are people who follow epicurean beliefs and seek to experience this level of happiness in their lives.

There is one factor that Epicurus suggested has the power to destroy pleasure, which is anxiety about our future. Although he suggested this has more to do with not fearing gods or death, the idea that we would be fearful about anything in our future was considered an obstacle to our experience of pleasure, tranquility, and happiness.

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Pleasure and Pain

Epicurus identified two types of pleasure, moving and static, and described two areas of pleasure and pain: physical and mental.

Moving pleasure refers to actively being in the process of satisfying a desire. An example of this could be eating food when you feel hungry. In those moments we are taking action toward our intended goal of pleasure.

The other type of pleasure, static pleasure, refers to the experience we have once our desire is met. To use the example of eating food when we are hungry, the static pleasure would be what we are feeling once we have eaten. The satisfaction of feeling full, and no longer being in need (hungry), would be a static pleasure.

Epicureanism suggests that static pleasures are the preferred form of pleasure.

Physical pleasures and pains, he suggested, had to do with the present. Mental pleasures and pains had to do with the past and future.

Examples of this could include positive memories of past events or experiences that bring us feelings of joy or pleasure or, conversely, unpleasant memories of our past that bring us pain. When looking to the future we can feel hopeful or fearful, experiencing either pleasure or pain about what is to come.


Epicurus identified three types of desires:

  • Natural and necessary desires: Examples of this could include things like food and shelter. These things are easier to satisfy and hard or impossible to eliminate from our lives.
  • Natural and non-necessary desires: This refers to things like gourmet foods and luxury goods. They represent things that are harder to satisfy and likely to end up causing us pain as a result of unfulfilled desires. Epicurus suggested that it is best to minimize, or eliminate altogether, this type of desire in order to seek tranquility.
  • Vain and empty desires: Examples include things like power, status, wealth, or fame. These are difficult things to obtain or achieve and less likely to satisfy even if achieved. Epicurus argued that, because there is no limit to these desires, they could never fully satisfy or bring pleasure. Therefore, we are not motivated to fulfill these desires in order to help ourselves achieve greater happiness and pleasure.


Epicureanism emphasizes the importance of friendship. In fact, Epicurus suggested that friendship was one of the greatest means of obtaining pleasure.

Epicurus believed that connection with friends offered a sense of safety, whereas lack of connection can lead to isolation, despair, and peril.

Although our modern culture tends to emphasize the idea of individualistic living, where being self-contained and not reliant on others may be perceived as a strength, Epicureans believe that strength is found in connection and friendship with others.

Courage was a highly regarded virtue for Epicurus as well. With regard to friendship, he even suggested that one should be courageous enough to lay down one's life for a friend.


Epicureanism suggests that happiness requires tranquility, freedom from fear, and the absence of pain. Friendship and connection are also vital.

The Unhappiness Cure

Epicurus outlined a four-part cure for unhappiness. The term "tetrapharmakos" means four-part cure or four-part remedy. This term originally meant a medical antidote or healing concoction to be taken as a cure for illness.

Followers of Epicurus, known as epicureans, suggest it is a formula for overcoming unpleasant feelings such as fear, anxiety, or despair.

4-Part Unhappiness Cure

  • God is nothing to fear.
  • Death is nothing to worry about.
  • It is easy to acquire the good things in life.
  • It is easy to endure the terrible things.

Epicurus does not suggest that pain is completely avoidable. However, he does suggest that pain can be endured and we can even strive to experience happiness while in emotional or physical pain.

Epicurus advised, "Meditate on these [four statements] day and night, and the ones related to them, both alone and with someone like yourself, and you will never be badly disturbed, whether awake or dreaming."

He emphasizes focusing on these statements in order to challenge fears, reframe thoughts, and gain a new perspective in order to continue seeking happiness and tranquility. Epicurus also stated to do this through meditation with like-minded people.

Epicureanism in Modern Living

Life is uncertain and we cannot, ultimately, avoid pain or vulnerability. We will encounter both as part of our human experience. Living positively and seeking to maintain a sense of peace, happiness, and tranquility can still be a driving desire as we go through our life experiences.

While the Epicurean philosophy suggests that the goal of life is happiness, it also recognizes that sometimes pleasure can lead to pain and that sometimes pain is necessary in order to achieve happiness.

In an effort to live more positively, we can incorporate Epicurean beliefs into our way of life and our personal decision-making. Of the ideas described and outlined by Epicurus in his time, a common concern is related to personal choice. We cannot always avoid pain and feelings of fear but, possibly, he suggests that we can choose to (or choose not to) stay in pain and fear.

This may mean that we declutter our living environment; rid ourselves of expectations; stop attaching happiness to things like status, wealth, or fame, and reframe our limiting beliefs.


What some people may have referred to as tranquil and temperate living back then may be more recognized in modern times as minimalism. Minimalism suggests that by living with less, we can experience greater peace and freedom.

As Epicurus suggested, freedom from unnecessary possessions allows greater freedom of fear, freedom from worry, freedom from depression or regret, and freedom from expectations.

Minimalists Joshua Fields Milburn and Ryan Nicodemus write, "Minimalism is a tool to rid yourself of life's excess in favor of focusing on what is important—so you can find happiness, fulfillment, and freedom."

As Epicurus proposed, an element of happiness is "ataraxia," which means freedom from fear or worry. He suggests that to be happy we must turn away from external things.

Minimalist living offers an example of what an Epicurean lifestyle might look like in our modern times.

Personal Finances

The Epicurean philosophy can also be applied to financial life. Because this philosophy stresses that happiness often comes from simple pleasures, it is possible to find joy without spending a great deal of money. 

According to the Epicurean perspective, something that is pleasurable may actually become less enjoyable if it comes at a significant cost. For example, you might enjoy driving a brand-new, luxury SUV, but the hefty price tag associated with it may end up canceling out much of your pleasure.

Using an Epicurean approach, rather than focus your efforts on acquiring expensive material possessions, you would instead find greater pleasure and happiness by:

  • Enjoying things in moderation
  • Living modestly within your means
  • Savoring the objects and experiences that are the most important to you
  • Saving money for retirement to help manage fears for the future

Reframing Thoughts

When someone asks you what happiness looks like, you may easily come up with an image of financial resources, a certain appearance, particular items such as a car or home, vacations, time with friends or family, a specific career, etc.

As we go through life, we are gaining an understanding of our world by making observations and placing meaning to what we are observing. Part of our image of happiness becomes related to items, people, and circumstances—external things that can change at any moment, bring us pain, or leave us longing for more.

To embrace an Epicurean approach to living, we would need to not only declutter our physical space but also address what happens in our minds by challenging existing beliefs about happiness, what it means to be happy, and how we seek to attain happiness through our decisions and behaviors.

Find and Focus on Positivity

Focusing on more positive thoughts can also play a role in improving happiness. Research has shown that people who experience positive thoughts more often have better mental well-being and are more resilient to stress. Strategies like these may help you maintain a more positive mindset:

There are a variety of ways to begin practicing a more optimistic, hopeful way of thinking and being. As you consider your own sources of happiness, your own values, and your given strengths to help you fulfill your desires and needs, you may find unique ways to express positivity in your life.

Keep a Balanced Perspective

As you take inventory of your personal beliefs about happiness and how these compare to Epicurean beliefs about happiness, it might be interesting to reflect on some the ideas and quotes that are often associated with Epicurus. You may have heard or read these before, but they can certainly spark personal reflection on living a balanced life:

  • "Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you do not have; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for."
  • "He who is not satisfied with a little is satisfied with nothing."
  • "Of all the means to insure happiness through the whole life, by far the most important is the acquisition of friends."
  • "You don't develop courage by being happy in your relationships every day. You develop it by surviving difficult times and challenging adversity."
  • "We must, therefore, pursue the things that make for happiness, seeing that when happiness is present, we have everything; but when it is absent we do everything to possess it."
  • "Be moderate in order to taste the joys of life in abundance."


Epicureanism may be an ancient philosophy, but it can be applied to modern life as well. Minimalism, moderation, simple pleasures, cognitive reframing, and positive thinking are all strategies that can help you incorporate an Epicurean perspective into your everyday life.

A Word From Verywell

It might seem a bit unrealistic to think that we could ever be consistently happy, given the challenges and adventures that life can throw our way. However, we can make a point to seek pleasure and comfort, particularly when faced with challenges.

Find sources of information and inspiration that speak to you, your beliefs, your desires, and your purpose. Allow yourself an opportunity to discover what happiness is to you and how to go about achieving that in your life.

Take time to examine what you can be doing differently in your life on a daily basis that will allow you to experience greater happiness and freedom. Find something that works for you, whether you use Epicurus' ideas for finding happiness or find a different strategy.

5 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Epicurus.

  2. Konstan D. EpicurusThe Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

  3. Mitsis P. Oxford Handbook of Epicurus and Epicureanism. Oxford University Press.

  4. Millburn JF, Nicodemus R. Minimalism: Live a Meaningful Life. Asymmetrical Press.

  5. Boyraz G, Lightsey OR Jr. Can positive thinking help? Positive automatic thoughts as moderators of the stress-meaning relationshipAm J Orthopsychiatry. 2012;82(2):267-77. doi:10.1111/j.1939-0025.2012.01150.x

By Jodi Clarke, MA, LPC/MHSP
Jodi Clarke, LPC/MHSP is a Licensed Professional Counselor in private practice. She specializes in relationships, anxiety, trauma and grief.