Last time we constructed a pyramid of the factors affecting contentment for the individual who determines purpose requires engagement with the world. Today we look at our second model which applies to those who prefer to limit engagement with the world from the start or who have completed social or cosmic purpose and wish to move on from it. The foundation remains virtue, but in this scenario virtue refers mainly to self-discipline and scrupulously ethical conduct towards family and friends.

One tier up comes the sine qua non of contentment in a life of restraint: the goal of a state of absolute freedom from worry and discomfort called ataraxia by the ancient Greeks. The Epicurean truth underpinning this state is that the objects of most desires and passions are overvalued and that contentment comes not from satisfaction of such desires, but from rejecting and controlling them. The vital necessities of life are easily obtained and thus one need not stress about them. The virtues of self-control and self-denial combine with this truth like an equation adding up to lasting tranquility. Peace of mind then plays out as freedom from irrational desire and passion, a reduction in concern for the ongoing events in the world, and an absence of fear of the supernatural.


However partial withdrawal from the world must not lead to boredom and loneliness so an important element is friendship, specifically relationships with close friends who form a community or close-knit circle. One can anticipate not only pleasure from true friends but mirrors of virtue and serenity. Similarly a rural or semi-rural environment helps one keep optimal distance from the disturbances and intrusions of a hectic world. Measured seclusion and noninterference in the affairs of men contribute to one’s peace of mind and an undisturbed quality of life. Purpose is intentionally limited, mainly to serving as an ethical actor in the success of a community or circle of likeminded individuals.

Dealing with death is a key but limited issue in this model. One must discover for oneself that while death may be inevitable, it is not inherently evil or to be feared. Death is at worst a brief discomfort followed by permanent rest. Thus it is neither a rational source of discontent nor worthy of great concentration. Living contently in the moment with the simple pleasures of subsistence and caring friends is the very nature of happiness.

While this paradigm of contentment will seldom suffice for the expectations of a young adult in modernity, it remains the likely resting point for most mature adults once they fulfill their self-determined essential purpose in the larger world.

Next time we finish with the Pyramid of Withdrawal.

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