Emrys Westacott, author of The Wisdom of Frugality: Why Less is More – More or Less, reckons history’s greatest thinkers have been slow living devotees. In his book he points to philosophers, moralists and religious leaders through the ages who have seen frugality as a virtue and associated simple living with wisdom, integrity and happiness.
Emrys will be appearing soon at Byron Writers Festival on a range of panels covering ethics, philosophy and simple living. But before he makes it to our shores, we asked him for his top three reads for dabbling in the philosophy of slow. Here are his thoughts:
1. Epicurus (341-270 BCE)
Best quote: “Of all the things that wisdom provides to make us entirely happy, by far the most important is friendship.”
Recommended read: Letter to Menoeceus
Epicurus wrote a lot, but only a few letters and sundry fragments of his writings have survived. This letter lays out very concisely his philosophy of life: it is there to be enjoyed. And the key to enjoying life is to rid oneself of pointless fears (like the fear of death, or of an afterlife) and be content with simple pleasures like eating, drinking, and good conversation.
2. Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)
Best quote: “A man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone.”
Recommended read: Walden
Thoreau conducted an experiment of living for two years very simply in a small log cabin he built himself. Walden describes this experiment. What I find especially inspirational in the work is Thoreau’s delight in the workings of nature. He demonstrates that there is always enough beauty and interest in our immediate natural environment to fully occupy our mind and senses.
3. Marcus Aurelius (121-180)
Best quote: “Most of what we say and do is not essential. If you can eliminate it, you'll have more time, and more tranquility. Ask yourself at every moment, 'Is this necessary?”
Recommended read: Meditations
As Emperor of Rome, Marcus did not have to live frugally. But his Meditations, a set of observations and moral precepts written as reminders to himself, expresses the Stoic outlook that goes very well with an interest in living and simply. For it constantly returns to the idea that it is our subjective state, not our external material circumstances, that really determines how happy we are.
You can hear Emrys Westacott discuss his book along with 130 other writers and thinkers at the 2017 Byron Writers Festival, happening August 4-6. Details and tickets at byronwritersfestival.com