While dining at the 2nd Floor Café at MOMA today, I took an Epicurean delight in my chickpea/fennel salad, replete with beets and a side of focaccia, paired with a delicately brewed skim latte. Contrary to popular belief, Epicurus (b. 341 bc) was not a glutton. There were ugly rumors that Epicurus had to vomit twice a day because he ate so much, and that he would go into sexual frenzies during which time, he would write lewd letters. Not true at all. In fact, he espoused happiness based on simple pleasures. According to Alain de Botton, writing in “Consolations of Philosophy,” Epicurus’s perception of happiness was based on several basic things: freedom from pain, friendship, freedom, and thought---meaning the possibility of thinking things through, analyzing them and discussing with others. Epicurus cultivated a group of friends, who along with him, preferred water to wine; who enjoyed long walks, and conversation. He once said, “Luxurious foods and drinks in no way produce freedom from harm and a healthy condition in the flesh.
In many ways, drinking coffee fulfills the Epicurean ideal. It is a straightforward, natural, health-inducing agent that gives rise to energy and good conversation. But, now there’s new information that suggests that coffee fulfills another Epicurean ideal: It relieves pain. In a study published in January 2012 in BMC Research Notes, 48 subjects, including 22 with chronic neck and shoulder pain, were evaluated to see how coffee consumption would affect their experience of pain during computer-based office work. Forty percent (19 people) drank coffee about an hour before the study, which lasted 90 minutes.
Coffee drinkers experienced significantly less pain than non-coffee drinkers. For example, when it came to pain intensity in the neck and shoulders, coffee-drinkers experience a pain level of 41 (on a scale of 1 to 100), compared with 55 for non-coffee-drinkers.
I was alone at MOMA on this day, because I felt I desperately needed the solitude. I had spent the morning walking around---about 75 blocks altogether---and decided to drop in for the sole purpose of viewing Picasso’s “Weeping Woman” print---a new acquisition. Though she is clearly a feminine being, her grotesquely enlarged fingers, rotting teeth and misshapen eyes bulging in their sockets give the weeping woman a monstrous appearance. Looking at this picture, it did not seem to me that Picasso was conveying an ugly woman, rather he was showing us an emotionally distraught woman. Presumably this was the case, and the “ugliness” of the woman in question was indeed a function of distorted emotions.
Sometimes life is very challenging, and though coffee is not always a cure-all, indeed a cup of coffee can ease psychological distress---and as we have discovered, physical distress as well.