I came across an interesting line in Letters from a Stoic. Seneca, in Letter LV, wrote, "He who lives for no one does not necessarily live for himself."
This letter talks about a man named Vatia and how he closed himself away from the world, living out his final years in complete leisure. While many were envious of Vatia, Seneca felt the man already dead, saying every time he passed his villa, "Here lies Vatia!"
Often we feel people who only think of the next chance to please their senses as selfish. We're surrounded by venues made for pleasure: buffets, pornography, designer clothes, and so on. People will drop cash on new smartphones and tablets, then use them to complain they have no money for food or bills. I have much trouble with food and sometimes find myself eating food for the sake of it.
But, thinking about it, all our indulgences are as much of a sign of imprisonment as it is selfishness.
Let's take a look at overeating, my pleasure. Of course it is selfish. I'm eating more than my share of food for no other reason than I didn't stop myself. But this is also putting my belly ahead of everything else as well. My health, my looks, everything about me goes out the window because of this.
It is all for that high of pleasure.
Take those that need to have the next new thing. It isn't so selfish if you live by yourself, but it is a punishment. That high of getting something new takes place over having enough money to live on a day-to-day basis. Imagine what we could do, if we only remember what Nature says we need!
Pleasure is a drug. And we live in a world more than happy to pump us full of it.
See, there is a difference between living a good life and living a pleasurable life. A heroin addict can live a pleasureful live, too, for as long (or short) as it is. But happy and contented? Hardly (and not so if you go by the Stoic ideas of a good life).
Pleasure doesn't mean happiness. The Stoic happiness lasts even in hard times. Paltry pleasure runs at the first sight of trouble, then beckons you to come to it while you ignore the rest of your life. Many can't think of something more pitiful than a person who drowns in excessive ecstasy just to escape some minor despair. And all despair is minor in the long run.
Pleasure is an adverse reaction to all problems. We don't want a constant, though perhaps for the time being weak, stream of happiness through our issues. We want a torrent of happiness to wash away all the problems. Trouble is, it washes away everything else, too.
Spurn pleasure. It cares nothing for you, no matter how you care for it. It's nothing more than a drug and the worst one of them all.
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