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Modern Hedonism (or 4 tips on how to enjoy life more)

Hedonism is back. It’s got a bad rap from the likes of Jordan Belfort and co. But there's a memo those guys all missed. So we are here to set the record straight about what a modern hedonistic lifestyle is - and why it can enhance our life and our work.

The Ancient Greeks called and they want us to make something clear. You got it twisted. Like John Travolta trying to introduce mega-babe Idina Menzel, we got mighty confused. Instead of conjuring images of dingy bars and even dingier business deals, let us paint you a new picture of Hedonism. It's a pretty damn good one, promise. First thing’s first - a bit of history.

There are different types of Hedonistic philosophy, but the main branch is also known as epicureanism - after Epicurus.

He built a philosophy around the ancient Greek word for pleasure. Now you are imagining it, aren’t you? Wine being poured into his mouth, tables groaning with meats and dancing with hordes of robe wrapped bodies. But that’s what’s been twisted.

So often we attribute pleasure to be hedonism’s only purpose. But for Epicurus, ancient Greek legend, Hedonism was: “the complete absence of bodily and...mental pains”. So rather than being the greedy pig we might think, he was in fact just trying to be the godfather of joy.

The fountains of tequila shots and screaming along to Beyonce till 6 am? That’s actually debauchery. And don’t leave me hanging when I say we’ve all been there...

But crucially, that’s actually the opposite of Hedonism. Hedonism stems from a much more simple place. Instead, it describes the philosophical belief that pleasure is a worthwhile pursuit. Can I get a cheers to that?

So how do we go about incorporating more Hedonism into our lives? Glad you asked.

#1: Live for now

Yes, we've got the meditation apps. Yes, we take deep breaths as we get squeezed into the tube. Mindfulness - we've got the gold stars.

But there's something else that Hedonism can give us. The pursuit of pleasure now. How often do we put things off until the right time, the right moment? Hey, you don't need telling that spending all your money on one vacation is going to be pretty detrimental to your pleasure...

But an obsession with forever hoarding enjoyment for a future date? That's not going to cut it. Famous Hedonists like Epicurus believed this a by-product of the fear of death - us being mortal and all. He instead urged us all to enjoy the here and now as much as possible. That this could lead to ataraxia, which translates as “freedom from worry."

Sign us up.

Had an idea that's been stuck in your creative drain hole for 6 months? It's probably time to indulge in some research on it.

Finished said research? Book that massage or facial you never book.

Having a great night out? Ignore the nagging voice of the future hangover. As a great night out is worth it. (Just get the painkillers in before you pass out ok?)

#2: Enjoy your friends

“Of all the things which wisdom provides to make us entirely happy, much the greatest is the possession of friendship”

Damn straight. Epicurus was way ahead of his time on this one. He thought that friendship was essential to human happiness. So essential that he only went and spareroom'ed it - in 306 BC, when he was 35, he moved in with his friends.

Good friends know our foibles, favourite drinks and least favourite exes - and they accept them. They give us purpose and meaning. They make us feel understood. They also stop us from texting said exes. So let's engage in the simple pleasure of our mates, and drink them in.

They are also sometimes the best sounding board for creative work. If you have a deep friendship built on love and respect, you can count on them to give you sound feedback.

#3: Reclaim that sh*t

Female pleasure needs a reboot. And we are the ones to do it. Catherine Wilson, in her book on Hedonism, points out that female pleasure has been "...associated with a retreat to a safe space at home in bed. With low-budget self-pampering and grooming. Male Hedonism is associated with far-away adventures and high-budget conspicuous display..."

Time to take back the reins on indulgence. If that isn't a call to arms, I don't know what is. Instead of guilt, let's embrace playing as hard as we work. Let's believe in our power to follow a whim. To believe in our ideas even if they seem impolite or "too much". To travel when adventure calls. To buy that prosecco when you hit a milestone, no matter how small. Share it with those wonderful friends who helped you too.

Let's think about the women we write, create and portray too. How do they take command of their own pleasure?

#4: Keep it simple

As nice as that lusted-for pair of shoes is, we have to see material things for what they are. Material. Epicurus advised his followers to avoid desires for unnecessary things. Because too much of a good thing is always just that. Too much. It leads us to suffer.

It’s the stomach pains after eating the whole bag of cookies. Because we didn’t allow ourselves to enjoy one fully and guilt-free. Repeat after me:

Suffering is the absence of pleasure.

Epicurus also believed in the power of pleasures that are free. ‘Nature’s wealth’ as he called it. These natural pleasures can only affect our work positively. Walking has long been considered the best cure for writer's block. Nature has always informed art and vice versa.

What with lockdown, we've all noticed our new found adoration for the outdoors. But if you are stuck in, extend this to take deep pleasure into those simple things. Good coffee. Good culture. Good creative practice.

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Author: Olivia Foan