No pleasure is a bad thing in itself. But the things which produce certain pleasures bring troubles many times greater than the pleasures.
While many struggling in life seek quick fixes for lasting problems, even those with good habits fall prey to easy solutions.
Despite bodybuilding naturally, we may grab pick-me-ups that have us feel better now but worse later. We drink too many cups of coffee or tea, perhaps laden with sugar. We may experiment with pre-workouts and nootropics just to feel motivated.
We feel great in the moment, at least at first. These substances eventually depress our operating systems. This comes about since chemicals like dopamine, which regulate motivation, grow accustomed to this artificially-high level of stimulation.
An ancient philosopher, though aiming to teach his students how to live the good and happy life, provides advice that solves our issue as well…
The Wisdom of Epicurus
The wealth required by nature is limited and is easy to procure, but the wealth required by vain ideals extends to infinity.
The Greek philosopher Epicurus taught that real happiness is the absence of pain, achieved by pursuing what is natural and necessary.
We can fulfill our needs in the most basic ways. Having simple food, clothing, and shelter will satisfy them, while the senseless pursuit of luxury brings stress. We even grow to enjoy the bare essentials once we adopt the right mindset.
He told us not to fear the gods or death. He said that what is bad is easy to endure. Furthermore, Epicurus also mentioned that “of all the means to ensure happiness throughout the whole life, by far the most important is the acquisition of friends.”
I find his philosophy helpful toward a fulfilling life, while also appreciating Stoic doctrine that was more duty-bound. Epicurus himself was prolific. Perhaps friendship and self-worth can be found in doing good work, though without overburdening ourselves about it.
Nonetheless, the aim here is to apply his lessons to our problem. These substances we rely on, which are either natural or unnatural but certainly unnecessary, fail to create more energy. They ultimately withdraw from the big three for optimal health.
Exercise, Nutrition & Sleep
He who is not satisfied with a little is satisfied with nothing.
With caffeine, we feel buzzed initially yet become anxious and jittery. We consume more and more to compensate for a lack of sleep. Yet, we never quite feel alert.
A good night’s sleep is a wonderful feeling that eludes us, yet the half-life of caffeine means that even just one cup of coffee in the morning keeps caffeine in our system prior to bedtime.
Melatonin, a hormone regulating the sleep-wake cycle, may seem to replace the elimination of blue light that keeps us awake during the evenings, but many anecdotally wake up too early or feel sleepy at odd times.
While not a true addiction, we crave the taste of sugar and may resort to it when our energy drops. Complex carbs instead allow for an energy trickle that feeds our brain without the insulin spike leading to a crash. Whole foods, with enough variety, cover all macronutrients and micronutrients we need.
Alcohol may function as a sedative but wakes you as the body processes it.
All of these have dopamine attune to these powerful externals instead of those within a simpler environment. This applies to activities like playing video games or having too much screen time as well. These are sought out to feel stimulated, instead of say finishing a side project that brings joy in the long run too.
Let’s go the other direction, removing as many of these addictions as possible.
Since dopamine levels adjust to the relative, you’ll soon discover excitement within the simple pleasures in life, if you can just muster the resolve to be strict until you start feeling better.
This also optimizes your sleep, which in turn has you feel invigorated. You have the urge to exercise, which is natural and necessary, in turn strengthening your willpower to eat wholesome foods. The big three are interrelated.
Limit Dependency for More Energy
It is impossible to live pleasantly without living prudently, honourably, and justly and impossible to live prudently, honourably, and justly without living pleasantly.
Notice the verbiage when studying the benefits of so-called superfoods, described through words like anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidative, protective, preventive, and so forth.
Being healthy is about reducing harm, which coincides with the Epicurean philosophy toward life.
If struggling for energy to live life and stay fit as we desire, we should remove anything eventually impairing exercise, nutrition, and sleep.
This may not mean extremism. Many of the substances mentioned seem to have pros outweighing cons at small amounts. Perhaps it will require abstinence though, depending on your personality and tolerance.
Limit dependency for more energy. Indulging in feel good now has consequences soon enough. Reduce your desires, while focusing on exercise, nutrition, and sleep, to feel healthier, energized, and far better to live the life you want.