Diogenes, Alexander and being happy now

There is a famous exchange between Alexander the Great and Diogenes of Sinope, founder of the Cynic school of philosophy. Diogenes was sitting under a tree, enjoying a sunny day, when Alexander found him. Alexander, the most powerful man in the world, asked Diogenes if he could do anything for him. Diogenes, who was usually unclothed, lived in a barrel and had nearly nothing to his name, asked Alexander to stop blocking his sun. A man with nothing who wants nothing from a man who could give him anything. That’s freedom.

I have thought a lot about how people might think of me if I had a great big house or drove an Italian sports car. But, I would still be me no matter what I possess (or what possesses me). I would be in a bigger home or a more expensive car, but I would still be me.

Why not decide not to need those things to be happy? Alexander the Great, the most powerful man of his time, admired Diogenes, who had about as close to nothing as someone can. Alexander admired Diogenes for doing something that might be even more challenging than conquering the world, at least for some of us. Diogenes conquered desire with philosophy. He beat his lust for more. So, given a choice, why not be satisfied now?

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