How Can I Be Happy? An Epicurean and Stoic Perspective

How to Live the Good Life

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Which lifestyle, Epicurean or Stoic, achieves the greatest amount of happiness? In his book "Stoics, Epicureans and Skeptics," Classicist R.W. Sharples sets out to answer this question. He introduces readers to the fundamental ways in which happiness is created within the two philosophical perspectives, by juxtaposing the schools of thought to highlight criticisms and commonality between the two. He describes the characteristics deemed necessary to achieve happiness from each perspective, concluding that both Epicureanism and Stoicism agree with the Aristotelian belief that "the sort of person one is and the lifestyle one adopts will indeed have an immediate bearing on the actions one performs."

The Epicurean Road to Happiness

Sharples suggests that Epicureans embrace Aristotle's conception of self-love because the goal of Epicureanism is defined as pleasure achieved through the removal of physical pain and mental anxiety. The Epicurean's foundation of belief rests within three categories of desires, including the natural and necessarythe natural but not necessary, and the unnatural desires. Those who follow an Epicurean worldview eliminate all non-natural desires, such as ambition to attain political power or fame because both of these desires foster anxiety. Epicureans rely on the desires that free the body from pain by providing shelter and abolishing hunger through the supply of food and water, noting that simple foods provide the same pleasure as luxurious meals because the goal of eating is to gain nourishment. Fundamentally, Epicureans believe people value the natural delights derived from sex, companionship, acceptance, and love. In practicing frugality, Epicureans possess an awareness of their desires and have the capability to appreciate occasional luxuries to the fullest. Epicureans argue that the path to securing happiness comes by withdrawing from public life and residing with close, like-minded friends. Sharples cites Plutarch's criticism of Epicureanism, which suggests that achieving happiness through withdrawal from public life neglects the desire of the human spirit to help mankind, embrace religion, and take on leadership roles and responsibility.

The Stoics on Achieving Happiness

Unlike the Epicureans who hold pleasure paramount, the Stoics grant the highest importance to self-preservation, by believing that virtue and wisdom are the necessary abilities to achieve satisfaction. Stoics believe reason leads us to pursue specific things while avoiding others, in accordance with what will serve us well in the future. The Stoics declare the necessity of four beliefs in order to achieve happiness, placing the utmost importance on virtue derived from reason alone. Wealth obtained during one's lifetime utilized to perform virtuous actions and the fitness level of one's body, which determines one's natural ability to reason, both represent core beliefs of the Stoics. Lastly, regardless of the consequences, one must always perform his/her virtuous duties. By exhibiting self-control, the Stoic follower lives according to the virtues of wisdom, bravery, justice, and moderation. In contradiction to the Stoic perspective, Sharples notes Aristotle's argument that virtue alone will not create the happiest possible life, and is achieved only through the combination of virtue and external goods.

Aristotle's Blended View of Happiness

Whereas the Stoics' conception of fulfillment resides solely in virtue's ability to provide contentment, the Epicurean notion of happiness is rooted in the obtainment of external goods, which vanquish hunger and bring the satisfaction of food, shelter, and companionship. By providing detailed descriptions of both Epicureanism and Stoicism, Sharples leaves the reader to conclude that the most comprehensive conception of attaining happiness combines both schools of thought; thereby, representing Aristotle's belief that happiness is obtained through a combination of virtue and external goods.


  • Stoics, Epicureans (The Hellenistic Ethics)
  • D. Sedley and A. Long's, The Hellenistic Philosophers, Vol. I (Cambridge, 1987)
  • J. Annas-J. Barnes, The Modes of Scepticism, Cambridge, 1985
  • L. Groacke, Greek Scepticism, McGill Queen's Univ. Press, 1990
  • R. J. Hankinson, The Sceptics, Routledge, 1998
  • B. Inwood, Hellenistic Philosophers, Hackett, 1988 [CYA]
  • B.Mates, The Sceptic Way, Oxford, 1996
  • R. Sharples, Stoics, Epicureans and Sceptics, Routledge, 1998 ("How can I be happy?", 82-116) [CYA]
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Your Citation
Gill, N.S. "How Can I Be Happy? An Epicurean and Stoic Perspective." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, Gill, N.S. (2020, August 26). How Can I Be Happy? An Epicurean and Stoic Perspective. Retrieved from Gill, N.S. "How Can I Be Happy? An Epicurean and Stoic Perspective." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 25, 2023).