A Life of Pleasure: How to Enjoy Yourself Without Destroying Your Wealth

Life of pleasure

Stoicism has become a part of mainstream culture during the past decade. People realized that living on hedonism —always chasing after a life of pleasure and avoiding pain — doesn’t bring genuine happiness.

Hedonism can also be expensive. An overly luxurious lifestyle will destroy your wealth.

But even the ancient stoics didn’t believe in living like a monk. Seneca said it well in On The Happy Life:

“The wise man does not consider himself unworthy of any gifts from Fortune’s hands: he does not love wealth but he would rather have it; he does not admit into his heart but into his home; and what wealth is his he does not reject but keeps, wishing it to supply greater scope for him to practice his virtue.”

Building wealth is an honorable goal. What’s important is that we pursue things that morally make sense. That means we shouldn’t pursue wealth to acquire status, fame, or notoriety. Nor should we use money as a source of pleasure.

Other philosophies have an interesting take on wealth-building and living a life of pleasure that isn’t solely focused on avoiding pain. Among these philosophies is Epicureanism.

By studying these different ancient philosophies, we can gain a wider and better perspective.

A different view on freedom and money

Epicurus was a philosopher who lived during an era of great intellectual richness. Born in Samos, Greece in 341 BC, Epicurus was a contemporary of Plato and Aristotle. He witnessed the rise of various philosophies such as Stoicism, Cynicism, and Platonism.

Epicurus himself pursued philosophy under the tutelage of several philosophers at age 14.1Source: Britannica

However, he didn’t align with the stoic acceptance of fate or the cynic’s rejection of material possessions. He also didn’t subscribe to the Platonic realm of ideal forms.

Instead, Epicurus sought a different path. He yearned for a philosophy that affirmed life’s pleasures but warned against the pitfalls of overindulgence. This quest led him to formulate his unique philosophy, now known as Epicureanism.

Imagine living during the time of Epicurus, when Athens was a hub of intellectual activity, and contrasting philosophies were competing for prominence.

On one side, you had the Stoics promoting acceptance of all circumstances as they come. On the other hand, the Cynics advocated for a life free from conventional desires for wealth, power, and fame.

Epicurus argued that pleasure, correctly understood, was the greatest good, but he cautioned against pursuing immediate gratification, which could lead to long-term pain.

He proposed a balanced approach, advocating for simple pleasures like friendship, knowledge, and peace of mind.

While I relate more to the Stoics, who believed that one should be indifferent to pleasure, I do believe the ideas of Epicurus give us a healthy balance.

Epicurus and wealth

The best way to learn about the ideas of Epictetus is to learn about his view on money.

In the book, Epicurus and The Pleasant Life, Haris Dimitriadis describes what Epicureanism is about when it comes to wealth:

“Epicurus defines wealth as the financial means that allows us to satisfy our natural and necessary desires. Contrastingly, the common perception of a wealthy person is someone who is able to finance all his desires.”

We get on the path of destruction when we try to fulfill all our desires. If you believe you need to have a big house, fancy car, big-name job, and a jetset lifestyle, you’re only setting yourself up for frustration for two reasons.

  1. It’s hard to satisfy all your desires
  2. Even if you do, you won’t necessarily be happier

The last point is the most important one. Just ask anyone with money. After fulfilling your desires, you return to your normal happiness level. And that normal level is determined by your outlook on life.

About the first point. Acquiring a lot of money is hard, and not worth it. In the words of Epicurus:

“A free life cannot acquire great wealth, because the task is not easy without slavery to the mob or those in power.”

While I don’t agree with the first part of the sentence, I do wholeheartedly agree with the last. It’s hard to become extremely wealthy without giving up your true freedom.

Make some Epicurean arrangements

I still believe one should strive to acquire wealth. Just not at all costs. And also, in a modest way.

Having no money leads to a bad life. Having a lot of money doesn’t necessarily lead to a good life. The key is to have just enough money.

You don’t need to be worth 10 or 20 million to be happy. You don’t even need to be a millionaire to be happy. I don’t think anyone really needs a life full of luxurious pleasure.

That’s because true happiness lies in your mindset. But at the same time, we also can’t ignore the challenges of daily life. That’s why we need money.

Stoicism helps me with that. It gives me a mental model for dealing with the challenges of building wealth in our complex world. But at the same time, we also want to enjoy our time in the present.

The German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, might give us an idea of how to find a balance between Epicureanism and Stoicism. Here’s what he wrote in The Gay Science:

“For those with whom fate attempts improvisations—those who live in violent ages and depend on sudden and mercurial people—Stoicism may indeed be advisable. But anyone who foresees more or less that fate permits him to spin a long thread does well to make Epicurean arrangements.

That is what all those have always done whose work is of the spirit. For this type it would be the loss of losses to be deprived of their subtle irritability and be awarded in its place a hard Stoic hedgehog skin.”

So here’s what Nietzsche is saying.

  1. You practice stoicism and embrace hardship
  2. And in return, you get a hard Stoic “hedgehog skin”
  3. But do you really need that skin?

The answer is not straightforward. Yes, you do need a hedgehog skin to deal with the difficulties of life. While our difficulties are not physical, like during the more violent ages of our civilization — they are still very real.

It’s impossible to build health and live well if we don’t have good mental and emotional health.

So we do benefit from a thick skin. BUT we should also not make our skin too thick. We don’t have to renounce all pleasure in our lives. There are still benefits to living a life of reasonable pleasure.

Our mood, work, health, etc. — everything in life is better when we feel good. So never forget to include some of those simple pleasures in your life.

Reading, family time, intimacy with your partner, exercising. Just don’t indulge in anything too much. Balance is the key.

Read Next: