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Live and let

Why enjoyment and renunciation are mutually dependent. Why Seneca is right and why asceticism is underestimated as a fine form of culture.

“Happiness is the ability to renounce”. Seneca was often criticized for this famous quote because he was rich, very rich, 300 million sentences rich, a luxury man, womanizer and epicure. And he, of all people, preached renunciation? Tacitus even saw such statements as a trick to “add a philosophical cloak of needlessness to his greed”. Nevertheless, Seneca’s quotation has made its way through the history of ideas over centuries. Why? Because it is true.

One can fill the luck-bringing renunciation with moral arguments. Thus, Pope Francis and many monks and nuns preach and live asceticism from the expression of a Christian attitude of humility and modesty – and find their happiness this way. But one can also promote renunciation with ideological views, just as environmental or homeland protectors do. Conservatives and ecologists meet in their reflexes towards frugality and deceleration. They call it “sustainability” and cultivate this luck-bringing renunciation as an exercise of respect from the traditional things. One can also approach the renunciation philosophically – as a sharpening of the senses for the substantial.

Either way, “less is more” is a deep realization of life. If one sees it as more humane, then the renunciation of the exuberance of prosperity is an act of well-being. Fasting, hiking, regional cuisine, peace in a monastery, leisure, yoga, meditation; more and more people long to discover something very special by concentrating on the fundamental.

Modern globalization is bringing such rapid changes that people are barely able to keep up. They need oases of relaxation; they seek the security of a world that simply remains as it is. The mountain hut is such a place of timelessness, of bulkiness against the mania for change. The faster the world of modernity spins, the more hastily new iPhone models and even faster chips and even larger jets and even cooler lounges are built, the greater the desire for the alp and the hut and the beach dune.

You don’t have to be a critic of modernization or capitalism to find the healing effect of renouncing yourself. One must not, indeed one should not even associate it with a bad mood and a careless, ugly ambience. Just as wisdom doesn’t have to be ugly, asceticism should be cultivated to reveal its deep effect.

Purism should become a cultural form. I plead for the beauty of reduction, for the health of clarity. If I no longer want to impose fast food and all-you-can-eat on my body, I don’t have to go hungry. I may start to eat and drink and breathe more consciously. And to deal with my time more consciously. “I would like to get out of my hamster wheel”, “My life is totally overloaded and disorganized”, “I don’t have any free time for myself anymore”, “I feel empty and exhausted”, “What I do doesn’t make any sense” – we all hear such sentences again and again. From people with careers and wealth. Nevertheless, they do not feel rich and free.

Therefore, if one accepts the renunciation, the need for a higher kind of enjoyment arises everywhere. “Slowing” “Simplifying”, “Downshifting” have become fashionable terms of the deceleration movement, in the words of those who want to experience life more consciously and in its depth. It is a new desire for depth and slowness, for actuality and self-knowledge. This form of cultivated asceticism detoxifies and purifies, relieves and liberates. But it also develops forms of aesthetics, communication and culture, so that living and letting find new ways to each other.

Dr. Christian Harisch belongs to a hotelier family in Kitzbühel and runs the hotels Weisses Rössl and Hotel Schwarzer Adler, which have been owned by the family for over 100 years. He studied law after completing his apprenticeship as a tourism manager. He has been managing director and co-owner of Lanserhof since 1998. The health resort with three locations in Germany and Austria is one of the world’s leading health resorts. The company has over 300 employees. Harisch is regarded as a pioneer in holistic medicine combined with naturopathic treatment. His passion for cycling is reflected in his support for professional sports, and with Lanserhof he has been supporting the Tour de France team “Bora-hansgrohe” for years.

Read more in this debate: Justine Kolata, Justine Kolata, Alice Crary.

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