Contemplating Seneca #96: Subtract Desire

Here is a universal piece of advice that spans across cultures and times:

Desire Less

Starting with Solomon in the Judeo-Christian world: Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income. This too is meaningless. –Ecclesiastes 5:10

From the Buddhist and the Second Noble Truth: All suffering comes from desire.

And then from the Greeks and Romans:

The man who overcomes his desires is braver than his enemies. –Aristotle

Wealth consists in not having great possessions, but in having few wants. –Epictetus

You act like mortals in all that you fear, and like immortals in all that you desire. –Seneca

I have to watch myself. There seems to always be a desire to possess more, but what’s the point. Do I really need these things? Will they make my life better?

In terms of possessions, I have to look at the value of the item. Not necessarily how much it costs financially today, but how much it will cost me in the future. Do the benefits outweigh the costs? Benefits would be an improvement to my life. Cost would be a subtraction such as time and money. A good example would be a free game on your phone. The cost today might be minimal, or in this case nothing, but what it would cost you in time and money (which you are not making while playing the game) could be enormous. Is that free game worth it? Is it really free?

When it comes to looking at the benefits versus the costs, there are some areas where I try to reduce budgetary limitations. If it benefits mind, body, and soul, should I be concerned about how much I desire in terms of possessions? For me, it is a tough question. Will the cost of a formal education be worth it in the end? Can I justify spending X amount of dollars on a book authored by someone who spent a lifetime working in that subject? [The answer has to be YES] Is that piece of exercise equipment really worth that much and do I really need it? [Only if I use it]

I need to desire less when it comes to possessions. It is a tough dichotomy. I need to become a minimalist in owning trivial things. But the things that truly add value to my life and may help me add values to the lives of others, I can’t be afraid to go after.

Philosophically throughout the ages “to desire less” is the right thing to do. How to balance it is still something that I need to figure out. In time, I will get there.

“If you wish,” said he, “to make Pythocles rich, do not add to his store of money, but subtract from his desires.” Attributed to Epicurus in Seneca’s 21st Letter to Lucilius: On the Renown Which My Writings Will Bring You

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Tony Fine

Avid reader and working on becoming more than an occasional writer. Former mortarman attached to the 3rd Squadron 7th U.S. Cavalry (ARMY). Chasing wisdom through body, mind, and soul.

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