“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation, and go to the grave with the song still in them”, wrote the philosopher Henry David Thoreau in his book “Walden”.
In the modern world nobody has time to be nothing more than a machine, “There will be nothing left that to become a machine”. Since free time has virtually disappeared, “No one can afford to build relationships with the others” The relationship with oneself and others is false. “Everyday conversation is empty and ineffective.” The space of these things is completely occupied by fatigue.
Useless worries saturate existence. Most people are slaves to the triviality of everyday life: work, salary, consumption, debts … And then “We get sick for having something for a bad day”, for saving by making epic existential contortions, “Dedicating the best part of life to earn money in order to enjoy a questionable freedom during the worst part of it”. Meanwhile, everyone dies today by postponing their life for tomorrow. We lose our life trying to earn it.
The solution? Practice eupeptic, one of the few neologisms used by the philosopher throughout his work.
What is eupeptic?
In “Life without principles”, Thoreau referred to the fact that most people digest everything with difficulty: state, society, politics, relationships, daily routine … This difficulty to digest is called by him dyspepsia and qualified it as a “vital function for human society”, but not for each individual, so if we submit to it we end up being swallowed.
He was convinced that we are all a kind of gear of a major mechanism that “forces us” – in a more or less obvious and more or less coercive way – to worry about things that are difficult for us to digest, because in reality they take us away from our natural state and condemn us to a life of unhappiness and resignation.
The philosopher opposed to that dyspepsia, eupepsy, a conscious will to enjoy ooposed to negativity and the automatisms that surround us. It is “Congratulating each other for the glorious dawn of each day instead of meeting as dyspeptics for speaking about our bad dreams.”
However, the “eupeptic medicine” proposed by Thoreau is not a simple “positive thinking” but goes much further, it is a subversive path of personal liberation that implies living as discoverers of ourselves, not looking for an outside revolution but a way of living personal, original and based on simplicity.
The 7 ingredients of “Eupeptic Medicine”
1. Choose happiness consciously
Thoreau believed that nothing outside of ourselves can bring us the peace and happiness we need. He was convinced that all situations contain positive and negative aspects, that is why he advocated to transform the inconveniences into advantages, to look for the positive in the negative, to consciously choose happiness against pessimism, joy to sadness and make one’s life a party. He believed that the fun we desperately seek is nothing more than the expression of an existential sadness, because it is not aimed at nurturing the soul but to forget the problems. His solution was through self-knowledge and simplicity.
2. Know yourself
The greatest journey of our life is the journey of personal discovery. Though the philosopher had the opportunity to travel around the world, he preferred to retreat into the forests of his native town, Concord, to explore its interior. He encouraged “To explore one’s own sea, the Atlantic and Pacific oceans of oneself” and thought that “This requires sight and value”, much more than to get lost in other latitudes of the Earth. That journey of personal discovery will allow us to meet our resources, but above all, to know exactly what we need and want, freeing ourselves from the social influence.
3. Be true to your dreams
In a world where everyone invites us to be pragmatic, Thoreau proposed just the opposite. He believed that “If you have already built castles in the air, your work does not have to be vain; That’s where they should be. Build the foundation now.” One of his commandments was to live the life we have imagined, to follow our dreams, instead of letting them mold in the bottom of a drawer, relegating them to a final plane to prioritize the commandments of society. He was convinced that, if we believe in our dreams, we will find the confidence necessary to make them come true. So we will avoid the calcification of the soul that prevents us creativity and freshness in the use of ourselves and the world.
4. Love your life, live without penance
Thoreau was convinced that we should love our life and get away from it all guilt or exaltation of suffering, as proposed by some religions. For the philosopher, loving life means moving away from those self-destructive drives so common in our daily thoughts and, above all, having confidence in ourselves and in the direction things take. It is to find joy in existence itself, without needing anything else. No need to justify the existence but simply enjoy and embrace it.
For this we need to get rid of the slavery of the judgments, not only of the judgments of the others but of ours. We need to create our life with our own hands. He affirms that “No way of thinking or doing, however old, can be taken for good” because ancient ways of life are not eternal and insurmountable truths, immutable certainties but rather criticizable options. “What everyone celebrates or admits in silence today may reveal to be false tomorrow.” We should not assume as true a way of life just because it’s shared by millions. A large number of people can also share the same prejudice and that does not make it more valid.
5. Simplify, simplify, simplify
“Superficial leads to superficial”, Thoreau wrote. “What is the point of acquiring worldly wealth or fame, and giving a false image to the others, as if we were only shell, without a tender and living heart within us?” he asked. Simplicity is an imperative of his eupeptic medicine and the two years he lived in the forest are proof of that. The philosopher thought that we sink under the weight of the superfluous, so that we spend our time and energy to buy those things, thus becoming slaves of what we want and possess.
In fact, this simplification also includes the activities, including the work itself, especially when it has the sole objective of continuing to buy things that are not essential or don’t provide happiness. He thought that work is only a means to produce the goods needed for a simple life.
6. Be where your body is
Thoreau wasn’t far from Eastern wisdom, he knew meditation and its benefits, but above all, he was aware of the importance of living in the here and now. He believed that walking and observing nature were two effective strategies for finding oneself. He advocated being fully present, seizing the moment and having free time to be with oneself. In his own words: “Being busy doing nothing.”
7. Live free, without ties
“Is it a freedom to be slaves, or a freedom to be free, of which we boast?” asked the philosopher who has exalted the freedom and loneliness chosen as nobody. For Thoreau, freedom consisted of being able to invent one’s life, have time to do what we want, obey our desires and live without ties. Leaving, returning or staying at will, making life a work of art. But above all, freedom was freedom of thought. “If a man thinks with freedom, dreams with freedom and imagines with freedom, it will never seem to him to be what he is not, and neither the rulers nor the inept reformers can actually coerce him.”
Although perhaps the most valuable advice of all with which we can stay, to honor the thought of this philosopher, was: “Do not imitate me, do not copy me, invent your life, believe your existence […] You cannot live another’s life.”
Onfray, M. (2013) Schopenhauer, Thoreau, Stirner. Le radicalità esistenziali. Milán: Ponte alle Grazie.
Thoreau, H. D. (2012) Desobediencia civil y otros escritos. Madrid: Alianza Editorial.
Thoreau, H. D. (2002) Walden, la vida en los bosques. Madrid: Editorial Libros de la Frontera.