It was a sun-filled day. The sun was dancing on the water as we walked the five kilometres of pathway near home. Suddenly I heard a sound.
Splash, it went again.
I turned my head but saw nothing but a trickle – a trickle of water left after what I could only assume had been an object of some sort falling into the water.
Splash, I heard once more.
And there it was. A fish in the air. It was dancing, it seemed. Gamboling, to be sure.
At that point I had no idea why the fish were jumping. But I assumed, as a ‘glass-half full’ kind of guy would, that they were jumping in the air to express their happiness at simply… being.
Ahh, the simple pleasures! If only we were more like those fish – if only…
Epicurus once said:
Enough is never enough for the man for whom enough is too little
In other words, we tend to expect so much that no matter how much we have we always strive for more. No matter whether we need more, we simply tend to expect it. One could say that we live in an Age of Expectation. In fact, I’m pretty sure someone already has.
Before World War Two everyone had to fend for themselves, relying on family and friends to assist in times of trouble, financially and emotionally. Over time, the welfare state has grown to such an extent that here in Australia about a third of all our tax dollars go to supporting the system we have developed over the years. Politicians over the decades have found it nigh on impossible to reign in public spending in this area, as the more that is offered, the more that is expected.
On the other side of the coin we have entrepreneurs who, out of their own talent and ability (and a certain amount of good luck) have built empires worth billions of dollars. But why stop there? Enough is never enough so they continue to strive for more.
One thing is for certain. Were Epicurus to be alive today he would see his mantra as relevant as ever.
So what should we do? Well, Epicurus would tell you;
Not what we have but what we enjoy constitutes our abundance
In my day job I experience an abundance of expectation. I work as a Complaints Manager in the financial sector.
That means that I am responsible for all escalated complaints, listening to the customer and resolving the issue to the benefit of both parties. Some of these complaints are miniscule. Others are of great import. Yet the complainant, no matter what the complaint, thinks theirs is a matter of urgency. I listen, and learn, and resolve to the best of my ability.
One of the many things I have learnt from doing this work is that it appears to be far easier for one to complain than to praise. Often-times one may think that their friend has done a great job helping them move house, or that their brother was there for them when they fell ill. Yet they may ignore the most simple of things – a thank you.
Any form of recognition is always appreciated by the one who is recognised. A warm inner glow may be felt and in return they may well say;
It’s nothing. You would have done the same for me.
Would they? Perhaps we’ll never know. thing.
The friend served a purpose. He was a means to an end. The brother was an end in itself. His brother that fell ill received nothing but his presence.
Daniel Klein, the best-selling author and philosopher, refers, in Travels with Epicurus, to Kantian ethics, whereby the philosopher Immanuel Kant states that we should treat each other as an end rather than a means to an end. This, Klein writes;
turns out to be as much a treat for us as for the person to whom we’re relating
This is easier to say than to put into effect. When faced with a commercial environment where one is always a means to an end no matter their role it becomes almost downright impossible. However, once one has thrown off that coil of commercial enterprise, one is free to enter into a life of simple pleasure.
And so one is encouraged to make the most of the life one has, as the ability to enjoy the simple pleasures will, of themselves, make it a life well worth living.
Epicurus would say, therefore, that one should not fear death, as our only experience is living. We are nothing before birth or after life therefore we ought to enjoy the pleasures of life whilst the opportunity is within us.
Life is not a rehearsal.