3 Lessons From “The Garden Of Epicurus” That Will Make Your Home a Happier Place
Epicurus is the premier philosopher of pleasure. Unlike his contemporaries in Athens, who were obsessed with esoteric concepts like the meaning of life or the nature of wisdom, Epicurus was concerned with a humbler but no less noble pursuit: that of understanding human happiness.
He concluded that a simple, low-key life with few wants and several good friends is ideal for happiness, and at the age of 35 bought a compound outside Athens, esconding himself there for the rest of his life. His critics called it a den of inequity and hedonism, but his followers called it simply “The Garden.”
There, Epicurus and a group of close friends lived a life of austere pleasure. They grew their own food and spent their free time pursuing their philosophical and artistic interests. By all accounts, Epicurus and his merry band led a full and fruitful life in their humble abode. Epicurus himself died in 250 B.C, cheerful and lecturing till the very end.
The Garden in its physical form is long lost to the trials of time, but the philosophy it represents still remain, perhaps best represented today by contemporary hippie communes and retreats. In this article, we’ll take a look at how Epicurus and his merry friends lived in The Garden all those years ago, and attempt to glean from them some home-making lessons we can apply to our present abodes.
If applied, these lessons will help make your home a happier, more purposeful place. Let us begin!
Create a Motto For Your Abode
According to Seneca, at the entrance of The Garden hung a sign which read:
“Dear Guest, here you will do well to tarry; here our highest good is pleasure.” The caretaker of that abode, a friendly host, will be ready for you; he will welcome you with barley-meal, and serve you water also in abundance, with these words: “Have you not been well entertained?
This garden does not whet your appetite; but quenches it. Nor does it make you more thirsty with every drink; it slakes the thirst with a natural cure – a cure that requires no fee. It is with this type of pleasure that I have grown old.”
A home is the most expensive purchase many of us will ever make, and is also, according to a recent study, the place where we will spend a whopping 69% of our lives in. Yet we can be unbelievably flippant about how we spend our downtime at home. A study by Nielsen states that the average U.S adult spends 4 hours a day in their homes just purposelessly watching TV or scrolling through their smartphones.
Epicurus’s sign is brilliant because it boldly states the intention of the abode. It serves as a good reminder to homeowner and guests alike what his home is all about: a friendly place of unvarnished pleasure, an abode where you won’t find any frills other than barley-bread and cool water, but one that you can leave your worries at the door nonetheless.
How to implement this tip
Decide what you want your home to be all about. Then put up a physical prompt at a prominent place that will remind family members and guests alike to adhere to the rules of the abode.
For example, nobody is allowed in my room when I am writing. There, my desk faces a wall and is purposefully kept spartan, decorated with only my laptop, a journal and a good-quality pen — items necessary for my craft. The monkish decorations and uninterrupted quiet serve as a strong reminder to all that writing is my craft of choice, that my life should revolve around my art, not the other way round.
Personalise your home according to your desires. If you want home to be a place of austere pleasure, put up a prominent quote above your doorstep telling everybody exactly that — just as Epicurus did. If you want home to be a place of education and endless learning, consider replacing your TV with a bookshelf. As corny as it sounds, research shows that even hanging up a sign which reads “good vibes only” can help make your home a more positive place.
Too many of us use our abode as little more than a place to sleep and numb ourselves before getting ready for the next workday. By being so unintentional with our hometime, we end up killing precious hours, hours that could have been better spent with our loved ones, or on the things that we are passionate about. The things that make us feel alive, not lifeless.
A good remedy for this aimlessness is to create a motto for your abode. Install physical prompts that will nudge you to take action, to take steps into transforming your dream home into reality. These prompts can come in any form you like; they can be as simple as hanging up a quote on your doorstep, or as extreme as making certain parts of your home a wife free zone.
Don’t worry about the aesthetics or the complexities of your prompt. Just create one — and then ensure you, your family members and all guests abide by it. This is how you make your time at home purposeful instead of purposeless.
Invite Good Friends Over Often
An unprecedented 80-year-old study tracking the lives of 286 Harvard sophomores discovered that close relationships are the single most important factor required for a happy life, trumping other points such as money, recognition, and fame.
Epicurus would agree with the findings of modern science. He believed that close friends play a vital part in a happy life, and even went far as to say that: “Of all the means to ensure happiness throughout the whole life, by far the most important is the acquisition of friends.”
Yet so many of us don’t spend enough quality time with the people we enjoy hanging out with the most. We erroneously fill our lives with work when we will do well to remember that when we are on our deathbeds we will think not of our jobs, but of our friends and family, of whether we led a meaningful life, one filled with the laughter and companionship with those dearest to our hearts.
How to implement this tip
I am about to say something that might be controversial here, but studies show that hanging out with your friends might make you happier than time spent with your family. But why separate the two?
Inviting friends over to your home is a great way to have your cake and eat it too. Call them over for birthdays and holidays — heck, have an open house every weekend if you can. Make every visit a mini-celebration. Cook for them, and in return ask from them nothing but good company and perhaps a bottle of wine or three.
Don’t take it from me. Studies show that inviting friends over for games such as Mahjong helps stave off diseases of the mind such as dementia and depression. What’s most telling is the amount you play for or even win doesn’t seem to matter. It’s the social aspects of the gambling that serves to lift our moods and get the brain juices flowing; the laughs shared between games, the inside jokes, the wisecracks and good-natured ribbing of friends at ease in each other’s company.
I’m a long-time martial artist and, as a consequence, most of my friends are involved with martial arts as well. Thus, one of my favourite things to do is to invite them over to mine whenever there’s a big fight coming up. In my cheap apartment, we drink beer and yell well-meaning curses at our favourite (or most detested) fighters. These drunken fight nights have done wonders for my mental health and happiness levels in general. I always look forward to them.
Invite your friends over to your crib. Play some games of chance or engage in some other activity that you are all interested in. Introduce them to your family, and your family to them. That’s how you build strong relationships between the two most prominent social groups in your life, and more importantly, inject some diversely positive energy into your abode.
Remember, at the end of the day, a house will never be more than four walls and a lonely roof. It’s the people we invite over, the laughs we share and memories we thus forge that transforms a house into, well, a home. There is a fine but distinct difference between the two.
Be As Self-Sufficient As Possible
This last tip is perhaps the hardest to implement, but it is oh so worth it.
Studies have shown that people who bake at home were less prone to stress during the pandemic. It’s not just the repetitive kneading motion and the smell of warm yeast rising that satiates our minds, however. There’s something very grounding, very primal about making your own food from start to finish, about feeding your family from the sweat of your brow and the work of your own two hands.
Research has also shown that hunters who hunt to put food on the table have a deeper sense of achievement and satisfaction than hunters who hunt for trophies. And for my vegetarian readers out there, studies show that people who garden regularly report significant boosts in their mood — and unsurprisingly, the people who reap the biggest benefits come from those who own a food garden. And to complete the cycle, the act of composting your leftovers and recycling your trash has been proven to be not only good for the environment, but for your mind as well.
Growing our own food, cooking it ourselves and eventually giving back to the earth helps us become happier through self-sufficiency. These acts promote a feeling of connectedness, reminding us that as much as we like to think we’re hyper-advanced beings floating above the laws of nature, we, at the end of the day, are nothing more than evolved apes stuck on this organic spaceship flying through the Universe. We are all in it together.
How to implement this tip
Make your home as self-sufficient as possible. I’m not asking you to transform your house into a full-on hippie-enclave, I’m asking you to consider investing in the little things. They can look like growing a pot of chilli so you can have some organic spice in your stew when you have the hankering for it, and learning how to bake bread so the aforementioned friends you’re inviting over can have a little something more homey to eat.
The biggest takeaway from this article is you don’t have to implement drastic changes in order to turn your home into a happier place. Simple tweaks such as setting a clear intention for your abode, having good friends over often and even growing an edible plant or two will do wonders.
As corny as it sounds, home is not a place. It’s a feeling. So choose to make your home feel happier. Choose to adopt these three tips, tips inspired from Epicurus and his merry band of yore, and your home will be one step closer to The Garden of old, a place where cool water and barley bread flows free, a place where your appetite is not whetted but quenched, a place where the air smells ever of inviting home-cooking and the walls reverberate freely and often with the laughter of friends and family alike.
Ah, to live and grow old in a place like this, what a pleasure that will be.
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