How To Be Happy Without Money Part II: Freedom (Epicurus)


Following from Part One (‘How To Be Happy Without Money: Friends’ (Epicurus)) it is clear the three things needed for happiness, emphasized by Epicurus, are elusive and quite verging on the unobtainable, in the mortgage driven, credit consumer culture we currently inhabit. Friends are easy to come by; true friends are rare. Epicurus’ second ingredient for happiness without money is freedom, the third, thought (which we will discuss later). It is interesting to note that in the realm of psychology, Self-determination Theory proposes three things needed for personal growth, well-being, and ultimately, happiness: Autonomy, Competency and Relatedness. The proposition for happiness by Epicurus in 306 BC: Friends, Freedom and Thought, are similar, if not identical to the three proposed by Edward Deci and Richard Ryan in the Self-Determination theory, over 2000 years later.

Epicurus took a dramatic step to obtain freedom. He resigned from employment and removed himself from the society of Athens, retreating to the wilderness with a group of friends, where they lived a subsistence lifestyle in a modest country cottage. Now in case you were thinking, ‘I have a mortgage!’ ‘Epicurus was a flannel wearing leftie!’ There is method to his madness.

Essentially, Epicurus removed all societal pressures on him to earn income, act a certain way, look a certain way, and have something to prove to society—the very things that can cause anxiety and depression in our capitalistic climate.

Plain dishes offer the same pleasure as a luxurious table, when the pain that comes from want is taken away.


To get at the crux of what Epicurus is alluding to, we can ask why the attainment of an expensive car is an item so longed for, and an item so worked for.

It is not the car we seek, rather, the freedom…the respect, the love.

All our materialistic wants are simply the manifestation of our primal drives acting for the attainment of happiness. We may seem materialistic, but deep down, we just want to be loved. Cute, isn’t it?

Such is the man or woman, who changes occupations, time and time again, when the problem is their dysfunctional relationship, or their extreme anxiety with co-workers.


In The Consolations of Philosophy¹, Alain De Botton describes an Epicurean method to determine our likely degree of happiness:

1. Identify a project for happiness.

“In order to be happy in life, I must live in a huge waterfront home with tennis courts and a pool.” 

2. Imagine that the project may be false, look for exceptions between the desired object and happiness. Could one possess the desired object, and still not be happy? Could one be happy, and not have the desired object?

“Could I spend all the money required on a huge waterfront home and still not be happy?”

“Could I be happy in life, and not spend all the money on a huge waterfront home?”

3. If an exception is found, the desired object cannot be a necessary and sufficient cause of happiness.

“It is possible to be unhappy in a huge waterfront home, if I am friendless, isolated, have no family, or can’t relax?”

“It is possible for me to be happy in a modest home, if I am surrounded by people I love, feel appreciated and can live in the moment?”

4. In order to be accurate about producing happiness, the initial project must be nuanced, to take the exception into account.

In so far as I can be happy in a huge waterfront home, it is dependent on feeling loved and appreciated by friends and family, and having the autonomy to feel relaxed and live in the moment.

I can be happy without living in a huge waterfront home, as long as I can be with people I feel loved and appreciated by.

The true needs now seem remarkably different.

¹ De Botton, Alain. The Consolations Of Philosophy. 1st ed. Penguin: Camberwell, Vic., 2008, 63-64.


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