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The Little Book of Stoicism: Timeless Wisdom to Gain Resilience, Confidence, and CalmnessJonas Salzgeber
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THE LITTLE BOOK OF STOICISM Timeless Wisdom to Gain Resilience, Confidence, and Calmness Jonas Salzgeber Disclaimer Please note that this book is for entertainment purposes only. The views expressed are those of the author alone, and should not be taken as expert instruction or commands. The reader is responsible for his or her actions. The Power of Philosophy “The power of philosophy to blunt the blows of fate is beyond belief. No missile can settle in her body; she is well-protected and impenetrable. She spoils the force of some missiles and wards them off with the loose folds of her dress, as if they had no power to harm; others she dashes aside, and throws them back with such force that they rebound upon the sender. Farewell. ” - Seneca Introduction Maybe you’ve stumbled upon a smart quote by an ancient Stoic philosopher or you’ve read an article that shared some inspiring Stoic ideas. Maybe you’ve been told about that helpful and flourishing old philosophy by a friend or you’ve already studied a book or two about Stoicism. Or maybe, although chances are very low, you’ve never even heard about it before. However, encountering Stoicism in one way or another is the easy part. Understanding and explaining exactly what it is, though, is the tricky part. Recognizing and seeing exactly how it’s relevant today and how it can help you, is the challenging part. Fully grasping it and putting it into practice, is the ambitious part—that’s where the gold is hidden. What the Stoics taught and practiced in the era of gladiators fighting for their lives and Romans socializing in steaming baths is still remarkably applicable in the era of Game of Thrones and Facebook. The wisdom of this ancient philosophy is timeless, and its value in the quest for a happy and meaningful life is undeniable. With this book, you’re holding the treasure map in your hands. It introduces you to the leading philosophers. It gives you an easy to understand overview of the philosophy. It teaches you the core principles. It provides you with 55 Stoic Practices and helpful hints for the application in your challenging life. And most importantly, it shows you how to translate it from book page to action in the real world. Cool! But how does a twenty-something know how to write the Stoic treasure map for the good life? Fair enough, I’d be wondering about that too. After many years of school and university, I was sick of reading academic books and papers and learning about stuff that didn’t really teach me anything of real life value. So, literally the day after handing in my final paper, I left the country and started my seven months long travel around the world. I wanted to get away, see places and other cultures, but mainly I wanted to get to know myself so I'd know what I wanted to do with my life when I got back. That last part did not work out; however, I did figure out something else instead: "I somehow must have missed the class on howto live?!” In fifteen and a half years of schooling, I learned math, physics, chemistry, biology, and a bunch of other stuff, except how to deal with challenging situations? How to face my fears and struggles? What to do about my depressive feelings? How to deal effectively with the death of my friend? What to do with my anger? How to be more confident? Nope, I must have missed all those classes. That, by the way, is exactly what schools of philosophy were all about in the ancient world, they taught you how to live. And even though these schools don’t exist anymore, you and I and most people are in as much need of a philosophy that teaches us how to live as we ever were. Long story short, I decided to invest in myself and learn how to live well. From all the wisdom I devoured in the following years, Stoic philosophy helped me the most, even though it didn’t start on good terms. Before I knew much (anything) about the philosophy, I thought this must be the most boring thing on earth. I mean, after all, it’s called Stoicism and not “Supermanism” or something else that would indicate it’s worth studying. I gave it a shot anyway, got hooked, and since then I’ve been a voracious student and practitioner of Stoic philosophy. And even though I’ve read and reread countless books. I’ve always lacked a source that provides a simple overview and explains what exactly Stoicism is. So I wrote this massive article that should do exactly that: Give an overview of the philosophy and say what it’s all about. Fortunately, many people loved the article and found it immensely helpful—so much, actually, that someone stole the exact content and sold it as his book. That did not only test my personal Stoic mindset, but all the five-st ar reviews it got told me that people really want to learn about this philosophy. So here I am, passionately writing about what would have saved me countless weeks of research and would have provided so much sought- after and desperately needed wisdom from this exemplar}7 philosophy. I’m positive that this book will contribute to the modern Stoic literature and, most importantly, that it will serve you well oil your quest for the good life. Because that’s really what Stoicism helps you with: living a great life. Whatever you’re going through, there’s advice from the Stoics that can help. Despite the philosophy’s age, its wisdom often feels surprisingly modern and fresh. It can help you build stamina and strength for your challenging life. It can help you become emotionally resilient so you’ll neither get jerked around by outside events nor will others be able to push your buttons. It can teach you to handle yourself and stay calm in the midst of a storm. It can help you make decisions and therefore drastically simplify everyday living. “He who studies with a philosopher,” Seneca says, “should take away with him some one good thing every day: he should daily return home a sounder man, or in the way to become sounder.” Practicing Stoicism helps you improve yourself as a person; it teaches you to mindfully live by a set of desirable values such as courage, patience, self-discipline, serenity, perseverance, forgiveness, kindness, and humility. Its many anchors offer security and guidance and will level up your confidence. And you can get that too. In fact, Stoic philosophy made the good life a reachable goal for everybody, cutting through social classes—whether you’re rich or poor, healthy or sick, well-educated or not, it makes no difference to your ability to live the good life. The Stoics were living proof that it’s possible for someone to be exiled to a desert island and still be happier than someone living in a palace. They understood very well that there’s only a loose connection between external circumstances and our happiness. In Stoicism, what you do with the given circumstances matters much more. Stoics recognized that the good life depends on the cultivation of one’s character, oil one's choices and actions rather than on what happens in the uncontrollable world around us. This, my fellow Stoic student, is at the root of a tough and at the same time highly attractive aspect of Stoicism—it makes us responsible and deprives us of any excuses for not living the best life possible. You and I, we’re responsible for our own flourishing. We’re responsible for not letting our happiness depend on external circumstances—we shouldn’t let the rain, annoying strangers, or a leaking washing machine decide upon our wellbeing. Otherwise, we become helpless victims of life circumstances out of hand. As a Stoic student, you learn that only you can ruin your life and only you can refuse to let your inner self be conquered by whatever nasty challenge life throws at you. So, Stoicism teaches us to live by a set of values that contribute to emotional resilience, calm confidence, and a clear direction in life. Just like an old reliable walking stick, it’s a guide to life based on reason rather than faith, a guide that supports us in the pursuit of self-mastery, perseverance, and wisdom. Stoicism makes us better human beings and teaches us how to excel in life. Its powerful psychological techniques are almost identical to the ones that are now proven to be effective by research in the scientific study called Positive Psychology’. I am not accusing the researchers of theft, but the exercises discussed in Positive Psychology look suspiciously similar to the ones the Stoics used over two thousand years ago. The fact that modern research often goes hand in hand with what the Stoics taught makes the philosophy even more appealing. On top of that, Stoicism isn’t rigid, but open and looking for the truth. As a Latin saying goes: “Zeno [founder of Stoicism] is our friend but truth is an even greater friend.” If we look around, we see countless people who pursued their dreams of a golden mansion, a Porsche 911, and a six-figure job, and yet they’re not happier than before with the moldy flat, the rusty old car, and the cheap job. They’re living by a formula that looks something like this: If you work hard, you'll be successful, and once you’re successful, then you’ll be happy. Or, if I finish/get/achieve such and such, then I’ll be happy. The only problem? This formula is broken. And after following this formula for years, these people are wondering: Is this really all life has to offer? No, it’s not. The point is, many people don’t get any happier when they grow older, they don’t improve whatsoever. They mindlessly stroll through a life lacking clear direction, repeatedly make the same mistakes, and won’t be any closer to a happy and meaningful life in their eighties than they were in their twenties. It should really be a no-brainer for many of us to adopt a philosophy of life that offers guidance, direction, and a larger meaning to life. Without that compass, there’s the risk that despite all our well-intentioned actions, we'll run in circles, chase worthless things, and end up living ail unfulfilling life full of emotional suffering, regrets, and frustration. And since it doesn’t take much effort to give Stoicism a chance as your guiding philosophy of life, there’s really nothing to lose and much to gain. The promise of this book is really the promise of Stoic philosophy: It teaches how to live a supremely happy and smoothly flowing life and how to retain that even in the face of adversity. It prepares you to be ready for anything, like a tower of strength—unshakable, deep-rooted, emotionally resilient, and surprisingly calm and mindful even in the midst of a hellfire. Stoicism can improve your life in good times, but it’s in bad times when its efficacy becomes most apparent. It can be the light showing you the way through pitch-black depressive moments. It holds your hand when you need confidence to minimize emotional suffering by taming the bad guys like anger, fear, and grief. It can be your stepping stool to reach that tranquility you need when you’re knee-deep in shit. It can be your strong backbone when you need to act courageously even when you’re shaking like a leaf. It can be the clown that wakes you up and casts a smile on your face when you need it the most. In short. Stoicism not only shows you the way but also hands you the key to the good life. All you need to do is walk the path, turn the key, and enter. So, Stoic teacher Epictetus asks, “How long are you going to wait?” “How long are you going to wait before you demand the best of yourself?” You’re no longer a child but a full-grown person, and yet you procrastinate, Epictetus reminds himself “You will not notice that you are making no progress but you will live and die as someone quite ordinary.” From nowon, he warns himself, and all of us, to live like a mature human being and never set aside what you think is best to do. And whenever you encounter anything difficult, remember that the contest is now, you are at the Olympics, you cannot wait any longer. We don't have the luxury of postponing our training, because unlike the Olympic Games, the contest we participate in every day—life—has already begun. Life is right now, it’s about time to start our training. Training in Stoicism is a bit like surfing—little theory and lots of practice. Right now, you can't wait to get started and you imagine yourself standing on the surfboard hitting wave after wave, having the time of your life . . . wait, I have to stop you there. Because in your first surf lesson, you get to learn some theoretical aspects of surfing too. On the dry land, you practice how to paddle, pop up, and stand on the board. In other words, the first part feels annoying—you just wanted to surf, you didn’t sign up for that dry theory lesson. Surprisingly quickly you make it through the theoiy part and you get to enter the water, flush out the sandy mouth, and start your practice. In the water, you quickly realize that it’s not so easy, and the theoiy part was actually necessary. It’s the same with Stoicism. You’ll get to hit the waves, but if you want to hit them successfully and not give up after the first few (many) nosedives, you first need to understand some of the theoiy behind surfing ... ahem, Stoicism. I sought to organize this book and present the ancient wisdom in an accessible, digestible, and highly functional way. In the first part, you’ll learn about the promise of the philosophy, its history, main philosophers, and about the core principles presented as the Stoic Happiness Triangle. Study that triangle and you’re able to explain the philosophy to a five-year- old. The second part is all about hitting the waves; it’s crammed with practical advice and exercises for everyday living. My ultimate aim of this direct and straightforward approach to Stoicism is to help you live a better life. I believe we can all become a little wiser and happier by practicing this wonderful philosophy. It’s time to dive in. Part 1 What is Stoicism? “If it is not right, do not do it, if it is not true, do not say it/' - Marcus Aurelius Chapter i The Promise of Stoic Philosophy No tree becomes deep-rooted and sturdy unless strong winds blow against it. This shaking and pulling is what makes the tree tighten its grip and plant its roots more securely; the fragile trees are those grown in a sunny valley. “Why then/’ asks Seneca, “do you wonder that good men are shaken in order that they may grow strong?” Just like for the trees, heavy rain and strong winds are to the advantage of good people, it’s how they may grow calm, disciplined, humble, and strong. Just like the tree must tighten its grip not to fall down with eveiy breeze, we must strengthen our position if we don’t want to be swept off our feet by eveiy trifle. This is what Stoic philosophy is here for—it will make you stronger and let the same rain and wind appear lighter and keep you on your feet at all times. In other words, it will prepare you to deal more effectively with whatever stormy weather life throws at you. From wrestling philosophers to emotional wolves, this first chapter covers all you need to know about the promise of Stoic philosophy, or why you should get into Stoicism. Warning: This book will contain some scary words like eudaimonia, arete, or virtue. Their unknown looks will make you want to turn the page, so brace yourself and stand strong. Despite the resistance, it will pay off to hang in there and you might even add them to your everyday vocabulary. And hey, this wouldn’t be ancient philosophy without at least some scary words. Practice the Art of Living: Become a Warrior- Philosopher “First say to yourself what you would be; and then do what you have to do ” - Epictetus How to live a good life? This classic philosophic question stands at the origin of the primary concern of Stoic philosophy: How to live one’s life, or ' the art of living.” Stoic teacher Epictetus compared philosophy to artisans: As wood is to the carpenter, and bronze to the sculptor, so are our own lives the proper material in the art of living. Philosophy is not reserved for wise old men, it’s an essential craft for everybody who wants to learn how to live (and die) well. Every life situation presents a blank canvas or a block of marble that we can sculpt and train on, so that over a lifetime we can master our craft. That’s basically what Stoicism does, it teaches us how to excel in life, it prepares us to face adversity calmly, and simply helps us sculpt and enjoy a good life. What makes someone good at living? According to Epictetus, it's neither wealth, nor high-office, nor being a commander. There must be something else. Just like someone who wants to be good at handwriting must practice and know a lot about handwriting, or someone who wants to be good in music must study music, someone who wants to be good at living, therefore, must have good knowledge of how to live. Makes sense, right? Seneca, another important Stoic philosopher we 11 get to know in Chapter 2, said that ‘‘[the philosopher] is the one who knows the fundamental thing: how to live.” A “philosopher” literally translates from the Greek into a “lover of wisdom,” someone who loves to learn how to live, someone who wants to attain practical wisdom concerning how to actually live their life. As Epictetus told us before, if we want to become good at living, we must attain knowledge on how to live. This might surprise you, but philosophy is really a matter of practice, learning how to sculpt our lives. Thinking and philosophizing about the blank block of marble won’t teach us how to skillfully use chisel and mallet. The Stoics were particularly concerned with applying philosophy to everyday life. They saw themselves as veritable warriors of the mind and thought the primary reason to study philosophy was to put it into practice. This is a great comparison made by author Donald Robertson in his book The Philosophy of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. He said that in ancient times, the ideal philosopher was a veritable warrior of the mind, but in modern times, “the philosopher has become something more bookish, not a warrior, but a mere librarian of the mind.'’ Think of the old grey philosopher teacher. So we want to be warriors and what matters most is not our ability to recite Stoic principles, but to actually live them out in the real world. As Epictetus asked his students, “If you didn’t learn these things in order to demonstrate them in practice, what did you learn them for?” He continued that they (his students) were not hungry and courageous enough to go out in the real world and demonstrate the theory in practice, “Which is why I would like to escape to Rome to see my favorite wrestler in action, he, at least, puts policy into practice.” True philosophy is a matter of little theory and a lot of practice, like wrestling in the ancient and surfing in the modern world. Remember, in surfing, we get to practice in the water after a quick theory part on the beach. Heavy waves are better teachers than heavy school books. And Stoicism demands exactly that, to go out there in the real world and vigorously apply what we’ve learned in the classroom. Our lives offer the perfect training ground for daily practice with its uncountable green waves and blank marble blocks. This practical "art of living” dimension of Stoicism holds two main promises: First, it teaches how to live a happy and smoothly flowing life, and second, it teaches you how to stay emotionally resilient to retain that happy and smoothly flowing life even in the face of adversity. Let’s dive into the first promise and tackle the first of the scary words: eudaimonia. Promise #1: Eudaimonia “Dig within. Within is the wellspring of Good; and it is always ready to bubble up, if you just dig.” - Marcus Aurelius Imagine the best version of yourself. Look inside, do you see and know who that highest version of you is, the one who acts right in all situations, the one who makes no mistakes and seems unbeatable? If you’re anything like me and have been trying to improve yourself, then you probably know this ideal version of yourself. Well, in Greek, this best version would be the inner daimon, an inner spirit or divine spark. For the Stoics and all other schools of ancient philosophy, the ultimate goal of life was eudaimonia, to become good (eu) with your inner daimon. (Not to be confused with demon, which is a bad spirit.) The Stoics believed that nature wants us to become that highest version of ourselves. This is why the inner daimon (or divine spark) has been planted within all of us like a seed, so that we have it in our natural potential to become that highest version of ourselves. In other words, it’s our nature to complete what’s been started with that divine seed and bring our human potential to life. To become good with our inner daimon, to live in harmony with our ideal self is, therefore, to get as close as possible to that high potential self. We should close the gap between who were capable of being (our ideal self) and who we actually are in that moment. How can we do that? The Stoics had a word for that too: arete. In short, arete directly translates as “virtue" or “excellence,” but it has a pro founder meaning—something like “expressing the highest version of yourself in every moment." We’ll dive deeper into that in Chapter 3, but you can already see that Stoicism deals with your moment-to-moment actions and with living as close as possible to your ideal self. The Stoics’ overarching goal was eudaimonia; to be good with your inner daimon, to live in harmony with your ideal self, to express your highest version of yourself in every moment. But what does that mean exactly? The most common translation of the Greek word eud aim onia is happiness. The translations “flourishing” or “thriving," however, capture the original meaning better because they indicate a form of continuing action—you can only be good with your daimon when your moment-to-moment actions are in harmony with your ideal self. You flourish at living well, and only os a consequence you’ll feel happy. Eudaimonia refers more to the overall quality of someone’s life rather than a temporary mood such as happiness. It’s a condition in which a person is thriving and living optimally well and supremely happy. As Zeno, the founder of Stoicism, puts it, “happiness is a smoothly flowing life.” This entails that your life generally flows smoothly. Let’s conclude that eudaimonia is a happy and smoothly flowing life that comes from thriving at bringing our moment-to-moment actions into harmony with our highest self This promise of eud aim onia entails that we’re armed with all we need to deal with whatever challenge we’re facing in life. How else can we stay happy even when life gets tough? Because life is pretty easy when things are going well, it only gets arduous when things seem to turn against us, when we’re facing difficulties and struggles. This brings us to the second promise of Stoicism: Philosophy trains us to be able to take on every obstacle in life with the right mindset so that life keeps on going smoothly. Promise #2: Emotional Resilience “To bear trials with a calm mind robs misfortune of its strength and burden." - Seneca “But what is philosophy?” asks Epictetus. “Doesn’t it mean making preparation to meet the things that come upon us?” Yes, he says, philosophy prepares us to endure whatever happens. “Otherwise, it would be like the boxer leaving the ring because he took some punches.” We could actually leave the ring without any consequences, but what if we’d abandon the pursuit of wisdom? “So, what should each of us say to every trial we face? This is what I’ve trained for, this is my discipline!” Hey, a boxer who gets punched in the face won’t leave the ring, it’s what he prepared for, it’s his discipline. And the same is true for philosophers; just because life slaps, kicks, spits, and knocks us out doesn't mean we should give up and leave, it means we should get back up and keep on getting better. Such is life—it's like our boxing ring, punches and kicks are what we’ve signed up for, this is our discipline. “Unharmed prosperity cannot endure a single blow,” says Seneca, but a man who has gone through countless misfortunes “acquires a skin calloused by suffering.” This man fights to the ground and carries on the fight even on his knees. He will never give up. The Stoics loved wrestling metaphors, so Marcus Aurelius similarly says, “The art of living is more like wrestling than dancing." We need to be prepared for sudden attacks. Nobody will ever tackle a dancer. The dancer will never get choked by adversity like a wrestler. So, as warrior-philosophers, we know that life will be challenging. Actually, we should even be rubbing our hands together and be looking forward to take some punches, knowing they will make us stronger and grow our skin thicker. This is why we should want to engage and train in this fight they call life. Because we want to be strong, we want to live happy and smoothly flowing lives. We want to handle ourselves and our actions when life gets tough. We want to be a tower of strength, unshakable even at the peak of a rage attack. When others panic, we want to stay cool, well-considered, and be able to be the best we can be. Practicing Stoicism helps us develop the tools to deal as effectively as humanly possible with whatever kicks and punches life throws at us. No matter what happens in our lives—we’re ready for anything—we’re prepared to take hooks and si de-kicks, never give up, and make the best of it. This is the promise of Stoic philosophy. Yet, right now, if you get punched in the face, what’s going to happen? You get emotional. Like everybody else, you either angrily fight back, or more likely, you start crying. The Stoics identified strong emotions as our ultimate weakness; especially when we let them dictate our behavior. They’re toxic to eudaimonia and they’re at the root of all human suffering. Unfortunately, according to the Stoics, most of us are enslaved to passions—strong negative emotions such as irrational fear, grief, or anger. This is why so many of us are miserable, we’re far away from being a tower of strength, we’re far away from being at good terms with our ideal self. Our passions cause us to act far beneath of what we’re capable of. If we want to be able to act like our ideal self, say the Stoics, we need to keep our emotions in check, we need to tame them so they won’t get in the way of the good life. No, thank you, I can’t afford to panic right now. Tame Restricting Emotions (± Unemotional) The promise of Stoic philosophy consists of both the supremely happy life (eudaimonia) and the preparation (ready for anything) to deal effectively with whatever life throws at us. Yet, we can only deal well with life’s challenges when we’re emotionally resilient and don’t let our emotions jerk us around. This is why we need to make progress toward taming and overcoming disturbing desires and emotions, so that, as Seneca puts it, the glitter of gold doesn’t dazzle our eyes more than the flash of a sword, and that we can easily wave aside what other people crave and fear. This overcoming of one’s emotions is sometimes called the Stoic “therapy of the passions” and might be the reason why Epictetus said: “The philosopher’s school is a doctor’s clinic.” Now, if we imagine a doctor’s clinic to have a couch in it, then, with some cliche, we get a psychotherapist’s room. Back in Epictetus’ days, when you had problems with your mind or soul, you wouldn’t see a shrink but a philosopher instead—they were the preferred doctors of the mind. The Stoics were great observers of the human mind and actually had many important psychological insights. They realized, for example, that what makes insults hurtful isn’t their content, but our interpretation of those insults. They had a proper understanding of our mind and developed psychological techniques to prevent and deal with negative emotions (most techniques will be covered in the second part of this book). Although Stoicism is a philosophy, it has a significant psychological component to it. Many of its beliefs, such as the goal to thrive as human beings, go hand in hand with modern research in Positive Psychology; this is something I find highly intriguing about Stoicism. It’s beyond the scope of this book to look at the science behind the Stoic ideas, but if you happen to read a book on Positive Psychology, you’ll see the consonance (Shawn Achor’s The Happiness Advantage is a fantastic start.) Just as there are ailments to the body, there are ailments to the mind; and the Stoics were well aware of that. They said it’s impossible to flourish in life while being tormented by irrational emotions. Therefore, we need apatheia—the ability to overcome these interfering emotions. That's where the word “apathy” comes from, and it’s a main reason for the classic misunderstanding that the Stoics were somehow unemotional or seeking to suppress their feelings. The other reason for that misunderstanding comes from the lowercase word stoic which means to “suck it up” or having a “stiff upper lip” and has absolutely nothing to do with the uppercase Stoicism this book is all about. Let’s clear out this “Stoics are emotionless” misunderstanding right now. Stoicism has nothing to do with suppressing or hiding one’s emotions or being emotionless. Rather, it’s about acknowledging our emotions, reflecting on what causes them, and learning to redirect them for our own good. In other words, it’s more about unslaving ourselves from negative emotions, more like taming rather than getting rid of them. Imagine strong emotions to be like your inner wolf—immensely powerful when let loose and able to pull you wherever it wants to. Emotions activate an action tendency—when you feel angiy, for example, you have the tendency to clench your fists, shout, and throw stuff. Basically, when the inner wolf is angry, we let it take over, and then we blindly follow the action tendency and act out. What the Stoics found, however, is that we don’t need to follow that tendency. We can train ourselves to act calmly despite feeling angiy, act courageously despite feeling anxious, and going east despite the wolf pulling west. Fortunately, we don’t need to pretend the wolf isn’t there, or even kill it (which isn’t even possible). The Stoics want us to tame and learn to understand that wolf. Instead of letting it dictate our actions when it’s angry, anxious, or hungry, we act calmly despite the anger. It can snarl and howl as much as it wants, we don’t fear it and act as we choose to. The wolf doesn’t have a say in our decisions any longer despite feeling the action tendency. The goal isn’t to eliminate all emotions, the goal is to not get overwhelmed by them despite their immense power. We feel the emotional wolf, but we keep on our path despite it pulling in another direction. “Okay, the wolf wants to freak out, but what would it help?” we say to ourselves. We rise above our emotions, we can hear it snarl, but we know we neither need to listen nor follow along. The Stoics weren’t unemotional people with hearts of stone. They acknowledged that desires and emotions are part of nature, but we have it within our power to rise above them and not get (too) disturbed by them. “No school has more goodness and gentleness; none has more love for human beings.” says Seneca. “The goal which it assigns to us is to be useful, to help others, and to take care, not only of ourselves, but of everyone.” The Stoics do care for their loved ones and fellow citizens; they just tame their emotions so they won’t get irrationally overwhelmed by them. As Seneca puts it, there’s nothing impressive about “putting up with that which one doesn’t feel.” Stoic author Donald Robertson explains it well: “A brave man isn’t someone who doesn’t experience any trace of fear whatsoever but someone who acts courageously despite feeling anxiety." The Stoics want us to conquer our passions by becoming stronger than them and not by eliminating them. We will always feel the emerging emotional wolf, but we can train ourselves to recognize our tendency toward following along, and then deliberately choose whether to follow along or not. Stoicism will help us get less plagued by negative emotions and, at the same time, experience more positive emotions such as joy or tranquility. It’s important to notice, however, that for the Stoics, these positive emotions are more like an added bonus than a motive by themselves. Let's look closer at tranquility’ as a by-product of practicing Stoicism. Practice Stoicism and Become more Tranquil as a By-Product It may come as a surprise, but Stoicism is a rather joyful philosophy of life. When you read the Stoics, you find cheerful and optimistic people fully enjoying what life has to offer. They weren’t unemotional, they just recognized that strong emotions were their weakness and stood in their way to live as they’re capable of. Remember, the ultimate goal of life is eudaimonia—the happy and smoothly flowing life that comes from thriving at expressing your ideal version moment to moment to moment. And if you’re enslaved to your emotional wolf, then you panic and follow your action tendencies that are way beneath of what you’re capable of. That’s why the Stoics want us to minimize the effects that strong emotions have oil our lives, they want us to tame that wolf so that we can stay at the steering wheel at all times instead of letting the wolf take over whenever it wants to. Only then can we express our highest version and lastly live a happy and smoothly flowing life. So when we’re not enslaved to our emotions, we can express the highest version of ourselves in eveiy moment. When we do that, there’s simply no room for regret, fear, or insecurity. What results from this is a really helpful side effect—tranquility. In today’s hectic world, it’s what so many of us seek, to be able to stay calm, feel confident and secure, even in the midst of chaos. If we practice Stoicism, this is exactly what we get as a by product. It’s a by-product because it’s not what the Stoics sought in the first place. They didn’t seek tranquility, they sought eudaimonia, and tranquility came as an added (and welcomed) bonus. So it wouldn’t really be consistent with Stoicism to practice it for tranquility’s sake. What’s tranquility anyway? Seneca talks about the power of euthymia in his classic letters. He tells us that euthymia, which gets translated as tranquility, is all about knowing your path and walking that path. It’s the feeling we get when we truly and utterly trust ourselves. You’re confident that what you’re doing is right, and you don’t need to listen left and right for what others have to say. You don't need to second guess and compare yourself to others all the time. You trust in what you’re doing because you’re trying your best, and you’re living accordingly to your values and know it’s all you can do. It’s the calm confidence you feel when you’re living your authentic self in integrity with your highest values. You get that peace of mind, says Seneca, because you have an unchanging standard you live by, not like the rest of mankind who “continually ebb and flow in their decisions, floating in a condition where they alternately reject things and seek them.” Stoicism will give you many anchors to hold yourself onto, so you can find your path and walk it assured. This will cause you to gain an inner tranquility, a calm confidence at all times, even when life gets tough and shows its meanest kicks and punches. Because you know why you do what you do. You have this inner security that you’re doing the right thing and, come what may, you’re steadfast like that tower of strength, and nothing can root you out. Chapter 2 A Quick History Lesson “I made a prosperous voyage when I suffered shipwreck." - Zeno of Citium The year is around 320 BCE. A Phoenician merchant suffers shipwreck somewhere between Cyprus and the Greek mainland in the Mediterranean Sea. He just lost all his mu rex dye, a highly valuable purple-colored dye won from the murex sea snail, and with that all his wealth. We are talking about Zeno of Citium who, thanks to this shipwreck, should become the founder of Stoicism many years later. Zeno’s father was a merchant himself and used to return home from his travels with books purchased in the Greek city of Athens. This might be the reason why after the accident at sea, Zeno went to Athens, sat down in a book store, and read about the Athenian philosopher Socrates who taught around a century earlier. Zeno was so impressed that he asked the bookseller where men like this Socrates could be found. The bookseller pointed in the direction of Crates the Cynic, who was just walking by, and said, “Follow yonder man.” Indeed Zeno did follow Crates, who was a leading philosopher at the time, and became his pupil for years to come. Zeno was happy how his life took a turn and said, “It is well done of thee, Fortune, thus to drive me to philosophy.” When looking back on the shipwreck time in his life, Zeno later commented, “I made a prosperous voyage when I suffered shipwreck.” Note: This intriguing shipwreck story was written down by Greek biographer Diogenes Laertius in his Lives of Eminent Philosophers around 150 years after Zeno's death. There are different versions of the story and the dates are inconsistent and contradictory. So we can’t be sure whether this is the true story or just the most attractive founding story of Stoicism. After studying with Crates for a time, Zeno chose to go and study with other leading philosophers, before he started his own philosophy several years later in around 301 BCE. Initially, his followers were called Zenonians, but came to be known as Stoics because Zeno gave his lectures in the Stoa Poikile, the "Painted Porch,” a famous colonnade decorated with paintings of historical battles, located in the Athenian city center. Stoicism was born. Unlike other schools of philosophy, the Stoics followed the example of their hero Socrates and met outside in the public, on this porch, where anyone could listen. So Stoic philosophy was for academic and ordinary people alike and therefore it was something like a “philosophy of the street.” As we’ve seen. Stoicism was not born out of nowhere, its founder Zeno and the early Stoics had been influenced by different philosophical schools and thinkers, especially by Socrates, the Cynics (like Crates), and by the Academics (followers of Plato). The Stoics adopted Socrates’ question: How to live a good life? They focused on applying philosophy to everyday challenges, on developing a good character and becoming better human beings who excelled in life and cared about other people and nature itself. One thing the Stoics changed from the Cynics was that they abandoned the Cynic asceticism. Unlike the Cynics, the Stoics favored a lifestyle that allowed simple comforts. They argued that people should enjoy the good things in life without clinging to them. As Marcus Aurelius later said, "If you must live in a palace, then you can also live well in a palace.” This allowance of comfort was something that made Stoicism more attractive back then, and certainly today too. After the death of Zeno (who, by the way, was so admired by the Athenians that they built a bronze statue of him), Stoicism kept its place as a leading Athenian school of philosophy (alongside others) until 155 BCE, when something very important happened to ancient philosophy—the heads of Stoicism (Diogenes of Babylon) and other schools of philosophy were chosen as ambassadors to represent Athens in political negotiations with Rome, in Rome. While the negotiations are of little interest, the cultural impact this visit had is not. The Athenians gave packed lectures and sparked an interest in philosophy among the rather conservative Romans. Stoicism became a thriving school in Rome with all the famous Stoics whose writings serve as the major source of the philosophy today: Seneca, Musonius Rufus, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius (we’ll get to them shortly.) Stoicism was one of the most influential and respected schools of philosophy for nearly five subsequent centuries. It was practiced by the rich and the poor, the powerful and the sufferer alike, in the pursuit of the good life. However, after the deaths of its famous teachers—Musonius Rufus, Epictetus, and the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius—Stoicism fell into a slump from which it has yet to recover. The lack of charismatic teachers and the rise of Christianity are the main reasons for the decline of the once so popular philosophy. The idea of Stoicism, however, found its way into many writings of historical philosophers such as Descartes, Schopenhauer, and Thoreau. And it is finding its way back into the lives of ordinary people like you and me (no offense). This comeback of Stoicism can be traced back to Viktor Frankl’s logotherapy and Albert Ellis’ rational emotive behavior therapy, both of which were influenced by Stoic philosophy. In more recent years, authors such as Pierre Ha dot, William Irvine, Donald Robertson, and especially Ryan Holiday have accelerated the return of Stoicism. The Most Important Stoic Philosophers Look around, you’re in the middle of thousands of excited people swinging their flags, shouting and cheering madly for their favorite chariot racers down in the arena of the Circus Maximus—zoom out, go half a mile north, zoom in—Roar! Straight in f ront of you, a gladiator fighting a lion, on your right, a gladiator aiming his spear in your direction, left, a monstrous elephant sprinting at you'. In these dramatic times, our main characters taught and practiced Stoic philosophy. Although philosophy is much less exciting than bloody battles in the Colosseum (where you just got smashed by an elephant), it's the philosophy that survived until today. For good reasons as you’ll learn in the following chapters. Now, we’ll look at the four Roman Stoics whose writings and teachings survived for nearly two millennia and now build the foundation of Stoicism: Seneca, Musonius Rufus, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius. It's said that over a thousand books had been written on Stoic philosophy but only a handful survived—mainly the ones from these luminaries. Luckily, these brilliant (but also flawed) men did not live in caves somewhere in the mountains, but all of them were fully engaged in society and worked hard to make the world a better place. You’ll meet an incredible wealthy playwright and equivalent of the modern-day entrepreneur, you’ll meet an early feminist, and a crippled slave who should become the main influence of the Roman Emperor and mightiest person in the world. To stay true to the name of this book, we ll only scratch the surface of these fascinating lives of the four most important Stoic philosophers. Seneca the Younger (c. 4 BCE — 65 CE) “If a man knows not which port he sails, no wind is favorable.” - Seneca The most controversial Stoic philosopher, Lucius Annaeus Seneca, mainly known as Seneca the Younger or simply Seneca, was born around the time of Jesus in Cordoba, Spain, and educated in Rome, Italy. He is renowned as one of the finest writers of antiquity and many of his essays and personal letters survived and serve as an important source of Stoic philosophy. These writings speak to us because he focused on the practical aspect of Stoicism, down to how to take a trip, how to deal with adversity and its provoked emotions such as grief or anger, how to handle oneself while committing suicide (which he was ordered to do), how to deal with wealth (which he only knew too well), and poverty. Seneca lived an extraordinary life, a life that raises many questions when studied closely. Apart from his letters which are still read almost two millennia after his passing, he made it into the history books for many more reasons. He was a successful playwright. He got extremely wealthy thanks to smart financial undertakings (the modern-day entrepreneur and investor if you will). He was exiled for committing adultery with the emperor’s niece to what he called the “barren and thorny rock” Corsica— which, by the way, is a popular holiday destination known for diverse and scenic landscapes. After eight years of exile, the emperor’s new wife wanted Seneca as a tutor to her son Nero. Once Nero became emperor, Seneca was promoted to his advisor and became one of the wealthiest people in the Roman Empire. According to author Nassim Taleb, who devoted a whole chapter to Seneca in his book Antifragile, “his fortune was three hundred million denarii (for a sense of equivalence, at about the same period in time, Judas got thirty denarii, the equivalent of a month's salary, to betray Jesus)." This extreme wealth while being a philosopher that promoted the indifference of external possessions is a reason why Seneca sometimes gets called a hypocrite. The other fact that raises questions is that he was the tutor and advisor of Emperor Nero, who was a self-indulgent and cruel ruler and had his mother and many other people killed. In 65 CE, Nero ordered Seneca to commit suicide because he was supposedly involved in a conspiracy against the Emperor. Hypocrite or not, Seneca lived a turbulent life full of riches and power but also of philosophy and introspection (he understood well enough that he was imperfect). Stoicism remained a constant in his life and stamped his many helpful and inspirational letters that I ll quote liberally throughout this book. Musonius Rufus (c. 30 CE — c. 100 CE) “Since every man dies, it is better to die with distinction than to live long.” - Mu son ins Rufus The least known of the four great Roman Stoics, Gaius Musonius Rufus taught Stoic philosophy in his own school. We know little about his life and teachings because he didn’t bother to write anything down. Fortunately, one of Musonius’ pupils, Lucius, took notes during the lectures. Rufus advocated for a practical and lived philosophy. As he put it, ’’Just as there is no use in medical study unless it leads to the health of the human body, so there is no use to a philosophical doctrine unless it leads to the virtue of the human souk" He offered detailed advice on eating habits, sex life, how to dress properly, and how to behave toward one’s parents. Besides thinking philosophy should be highly practical, he thought it should be universal. He argued that women and men alike can benefit from education and the study of philosophy. Musonius Rufus was the most prominent Stoic teacher at the time and his influence in Rome was respectable. Too much so for tyrannical Emperor Nero that he exiled him to the Greek island Gyaros in 65 CE (and yes, exile was common in ancient Rome). Seneca’s description of Corsica as a “barren and thorny rock” would have fitted much better to Gyaros, which really was (and still is) a desert-like island. After Nero’s death in 68 CE, Musonius returned to Rome for seven years before he got exiled again. He died in around too CE and left behind not only the few lecture notes from Lucius, but also his most famous pupil. Epictetus, who as we’ll see right now, became an influential Stoic teacher himself. Epictetus (c. 55 CE — c. 135 CE) “Don’t explain your philosophy. Embody it.” - Epictetus Epictetus was born a slave in Hierapolis (present-day Pamukkale in Turkey). His real name, if he had one, is unknown. Epictetus simply means “property” or “the thing that was bought.” He was acquired by Epaphroditos, a wealthy freedman (that is, a former slave himself) who worked as a secretary to Emperor Nero in Rome, the place where Epictetus spent his youth. He was crippled in one leg either by birth or by an injury received from a former master. His new master Epaphroditos treated him well and allowed him to study Stoic philosophy under the most renowned teacher in Rome, Musonius Rufus. Sometime after Nero’s death in 68 CE, Epictetus was freed by his master— a common practice in Rome with intelligent and educated slaves. He started his own school and taught Stoic philosophy for nearly twenty-five years until the Emperor Domitian famously banished all philosophers from Rome. Epictetus fled and moved his school to Nicopolis, Greece, where he led a simple life with few possessions. After the assassination of Domitian, Stoicism regained its respectability and became popular among the Romans. Epictetus was the leading Stoic teacher at the time and could have moved back to Rome, but chose to stay in Nicopolis, where he died in around 135 CE. Despite its location, his school attracted students from all around the Roman Empire and taught them, among other things, how to retain dignity and tranquility even in the face of life’s hardships. Just like his own teacher Musonius Rufus, Epictetus didn’t write anything down. Fortunately, there was again a geek among the students, Arrian, who radically took notes and wrote the famous Discourses—a series of extracts of Epictetus’ lectures. (Now I’m the geek who is trying to organize all of Stoicism into a little book . . .) Arrian also compiled the short book Enchiridion, a summary of the most important principles of the Discourses. Enchiridion often gets translated as Handbook, but it literally means “ready at hand”—more like a dagger than a handbook, always ready to deal with life’s challenges. Marcus Aurelius (121 CE -180 CE) “It never ceases to amaze me: we all love ourselves more than other people, but care more about their opinion than our own.” - Marcus Aurelius “Waste no more time arguing about what a good man should be. Be one.” These words were written not by some slouch but by a rare example of a philosopher king and, at the time, most powerful man on earth—Marcus Aurelius, emperor of the legendary Roman Empire. He is the most well- known of all the Stoic philosophers and his Meditations, a series of 12 short books which he wrote entirely to himself (like a diary) as his own guidance and self-improvement, is considered one of the greatest works of philosophy of all time. As a teenager, it's said Marcus not only enjoyed activities such as wrestling, boxing, and hunting, but also philosophy. He studied with different philosophers, one of which lent him a copy of Epictetus’ Discourses, which became the single most important influence on him. When he was sixteen, Emperor Hadrian adopted Marcus’ maternal uncle Antoninus, who in turn adopted Marcus (his real father died when he was younger). When Marcus entered palace life, his political power didn’t go to his head (he didn't let it), neither as a co-emperor of his adoptive father nor as an emperor himself after Antoninus’ death. For one thing, he exercised great restraint in his use of power and money. Furthermore, despite his interest in Stoic philosophy, he chose not to use his power to preach Stoicism and lecture his fellow Romans on the benefits of its practices. He was ail exceptionally good emperor and ruled from 161 CE to his death in 180 CE and counts as the Zast of a succession of rulers known as the Five Good Emperors. Chapter 3 The Stoic Happiness Triangle “The blazing fire makes flames and brightness out of everything thrown into it.” - Marcus Aurelius Enough history, it’s time to get to the heart of Stoicism. What did these fascinating philosophers believe and teach exactly? How did they plan to keep their promise of a supremely happy and smoothly flowing life? How can their principles prepare us to face whatever challenge life throws at us? And how can we tame our emotions and become an unshakable tower of strength? It's simple: you need to go out in the real world and train like a warrior-philosopher. But first, you need to know the rules to play by, you need to know what to fight for, and you need to know which direction to take. These are the core principles of Stoicism that you will learn in this part. Now, you might think this should be fairly easy, spit it out, what are the core principles? I thought the same when I stumbled upon Stoicism the first time. I quickly got hooked, read quite a bit about it, and told friends about this cool philosophy. But when they wanted to know what it exactly was, then I failed miserably at explaining it. I realized that despite the many texts I'd read, I hardly knew anything about Stoicism, I couldn't even manage to explain it properly to friends. As it turned out, it's not so easy to get a simple overview of the philosophy. The original texts—consisting of lecture notes, personal letters, and diary entries—don’t offer a clear-cut answer like one out of a textbook. And even modern books lack foolproof explanations, I find. It’s often a mix of fantastic Stoic ideas, which are definitely worth studying, but fail to bring across a simple overview to hold onto. This is basically the idea behind the Stoic Happiness Triangle. It gives you a simple overview of the core principles of Stoicism. If you know the triangle, you know and are able to explain the most important aspects of what Stoicism is—even to a five-year-old. It’s the best I could come up with to present Stoic philosophy in a simple and visual way, combining ancient and modern literature. I hope you’ll find it helpful. And keep in mind that the Stoic Happiness Triangle is not what the Stoics taught per se, it’s my visualization of their core teachings. The Stoic Happiness Triangle in a Nutshell Take Responsibility Eudairnonia: At the core of the triangle is eudaimonia—the ultimate goal of life all ancient philosophies agreed on. As touched in Chapter 1, this is tlie main promise of Stoic philosophy and it’s about living a supremely happy and smoothly flowing life. It’s about thriving in our lives. That’s basically what we all want, to thrive and live happy lives , right? That’s why it’s at the core of the Stoic Happiness Triangle. Do you remember the Greek origin of the word? It means being on good terms (eu) with your inner daimon, your highest self. And how can we achieve this? By living with arete. Live with Arete: Express your highest self in every moment. If we want to be on good terms with our highest self., we need to close the gap between what we’re capable of and what we’re actually doing. This is really about being your best version in the here and now. It’s about using reason in our actions and living in harmony with deep values. This is obviously easier said than done, what supports this ambitious goal is to separate good from bad and focus on what we control. Focus on What You Control: This is the most prominent principle in Stoicism. At all times, we need to focus on the things we control, and take the rest as it happens. What already is has to be accepted because it’s beyond our power to undo it. What’s beyond our power is ultimately not important for our flourishing. What's important for our flourishing is what we choose to do with the given external circumstances. So no matter the situation, it’s always within our power to try to make the best with it, and to live in harmony with our ideal self. Take Responsibility: Good and bad come solely from yourself. This follows the first two cornel's that say external things don’t matter for the good life, so living with arete, which is within your control, is enough to flourish in life. Also, you’re responsible for your life because every external event you don’t control offers an area you can control, namely how you choose to respond to this event. This is crucial in Stoicism, it’s not events that make us happy or miserable, but our interpretation of those events. This is when a tower of strength can be born—the moment you decide to give outside events no more power over you. That's of course just the frame of the triangle, and we barely scratched the surface. In the coming pages, we’ll look at each corner in detail with clarifying ideas and metaphors, and we’ll get to know the villain that hinders so many of us from expressing our highest self moment to moment to moment. But first, let’s remember the surfing analogy. Up next is the highly important but not so fun theory part at the beginning of your first surf lesson. Oh. there we go .. . some wise guys run straight into the water, despite the warnings. It always happens. Here’s the cool thing—once we’re done here and you follow them in the water, you’ll do better immediately because they lack the basics, and that’s when you need to see their faces—priceless! However, some wall come back earlier because they’ve realized they’re lacking something or they’ve hurt themselves. Anyway, let’s start without the runaways and you’ll get in the water before you know it. On the sand, get set, go! 1. Live with Arete: Express Your Highest Self in Every Moment "A good character is the only guarantee of everlasting, carefree happiness- Seneca The first corner of the Stoic Happiness Triangle is Live with Arete. The classic translation for this Greek word is “virtue” or ‘‘excellence.” I prefer how Brian Johnson, the philosopher behind the website optimize.me, translates arete: “Expressing the highest version of yourself moment to moment to moment.” Because of this deeper meaning of the word and because it apparently was one of the highest ideals of Greek culture, let’s use the original word for the name of this first corner of the triangle. We’ll necessarily use the common English translation virtue too, so keep that in mind. The ultimate goal of Stoicism is positioned in the center of the triangle: eu- daimon-ia, to live a hanny and smoothly flowing life. To achieve this goal. we need to be on good terms (eiz) with our inner daimon, the highest version of ourselves, our natural inborn potential. In whatever you do, imagine there are two lines: the higher line indicating what you’re capable of and the lower line what you’re actually doing. Living with arete is about tiying to reach the higher line and express what you’re capable of in this very moment. That’s actualizing the highest version of yourself, that’s being on good terms with your inner daimon, that’s when you achieve the happy and smoothly flowing life called eudaimonia. Now, this perfect actualization of our highest selves might not be too hard to express in single situations or in our imagination, but drag us out in the real world and we fail miserably. And that’s ok, that’s what we’re here for, learning about ourselves and how to express our highest version moment to moment to moment. That’s why we re tiying to get better, that’s why we’re trying to improve our virtue. Think of arete or virtue as a form of wisdom or strength that helps you do the appropriate thing at all times, so that your actions are in harmony with your highest self—courageous, disciplined, and kind for example. Virtue is what helps you close the gap between what you’re actually doing and what you’re capable of. The bigger that gap, the further away you are from eudaimonia, and the worse off you are. Because somewhere in the darkness of the gap, they are lurking, the bad guys lead by regret, anxiety, and disillusionment. Alright, virtue is about trying to be the best you can be in every moment. And if you’re able to do that, then you'll have a good relationship with your highest self and will live a happy and smoothly flawing life. If you’re unable to express the highest version of yourself, this will create space for regret and anxiety to crawl out of the darkness and spread misery. This is highly important to know, but let’s be honest, it doesn’t help much yet. I mean, don’t we all want to be the best we can be anyway? (I sure hope so.) Now, apart from living with arete, the Stoics used another stock phrase for the same goal of expressing the highest version of yourself: living in agreement with nature. Let’s unravel that and see whether we’re smarter afterward. The Perfection of Our Natural Potential The Stoics believed that nature wants us to thrive in life. This is why the inner daimon, our highest self, had been planted within all of us like a divine seed, so that we have it in our natural potential to become that highest version of ourselves. As Musonius Rufus said, we’re all “born with an inclination toward virtue.” In other words, it’s our nature to complete what’s been started with that divine seed and bring our human potential to life. So, a person’s virtue depends on their excellence as a human being, on how well they perform their natural potential. To be virtuous, then, is to live as nature designed us to live. This is where the Stoic aphorism living in agreement with nature comes from. Put simply, virtue is the same thing for all living beings—the perfection of their own nature. So, living with arete is basically to complete our nature. Without that completion, we lack something and our lives will remain unfulfilled. It's clear—if we don’t live up to our innate potential, we ll never be fulfilled. Let’s look at an example in nature. The natural potential of a grape seed is to grow into a grapevine and bear grapes. So a grape seed Hues with arete or in agreement with nature when it fulfills its natural potential by growing into a grapevine and producing grapes. Just as it’s enough for the good life for the grapevine to produce grapes, it’s enough for us to express the highest version of ourselves moment to moment to moment. That’s all it takes. Nothing external is required to get to the good life—no villa by the beach, no diamond rings, no porcelain plates, and generally nothing that hasn’t been planted within as natural potential. And that’s something that makes Stoicism so appealing. The potential to live the good life is within all of us—whether we’re rich or poor, healthy or sick, model-like beautiful or other-kind of beautiful. All of us can get to the good life. But I’m getting ahead of myself, we’ll learn more about the unimportance of external things in the second corner of the Stoic Happiness Triangle. Your natural potential lies in your highest version of yourself. Yet there’s more. The Stoics argued that the most significant difference with other animals is the human’s ability to use reason. Stoic teacher Epictetus explained that what separates us from wild beasts and sheep is our rational element and not the naked skin, weaker bones, or missing tails. We negate our veiy humanity and fall to the state of a sheep when we let our actions become impulsive and inconsiderate. He asked, “When our actions are combative, mischievous, angry, and rude, do we not fall away and become wild beasts?" Epictetus' point is that our ability to use reason is at the core of our natural potential we need to fulfil, and it shows best in our actions, by expressing it moment to moment to moment. On one hand, the ability to use reason is our most precious gift and, if we live by it, we’ll have a happy and smoothly flowing life-like a grapevine that produces grapes. On the other hand, it's our heaviest burden, because if we fail to live by it, we fall to the level of a beast, negate our humanity, and won’t live a happy life— much like a grapevine that fails to produce edible grapes. For the Stoics, then, it’s reasonable to always try to be the best you can be. We all have this seed of reason, this seed of our highest self, planted within. And therefore, we’ve got the potential to live a virtuous life—that is, a life led by reason and expressing our ideal self. This expression shows as generally honorable and praiseworthy actions that benefit ourselves and others. As learned earlier, virtue is for all living beings the perfection of their own nature; in the case of humans, then, virtue is the perfection of reason. Put differently, living with arete is the perfection of expressing our highest self in every moment. Remember, living with arete, virtue, reason, and in agreement with nature are all different expressions for the same goal. In Stoic philosophy, it’s clear that the perfection of reason not only included rational, but also social actions in the form of duties to our fellow men, such as honoring our parents, being agreeable to our friends, and being interested in the wellbeing of mankind. As rational and social creatures, we should therefore apply reason and express our highest selves to three main areas of life: 1. Our own mind: As human beings with the ability of reasonable thinking, we should consider our actions rationally and wisely, and at all times try to be the best we can be. 2. With other people: As social beings who naturally care for each other, we should try to live harmoniously with others and contribute to the wellbeing of mankind. 3. In the universe: As citizens of the vast cosmos, we should tiy to live harmoniously with nature, calmly accept events that happen to us, and tiy to respond wisely. I know, this whole arete, virtue, reason, and fulfilling our nature idea is highly abstract and it’s difficult to have a clear understanding of how this looks like in practice. Luckily, the Stoics used a more graspable classification of virtue that divided it into four desirable character traits known as the four cardinal virtues. Before we look at them, though, let’s quickly look at the Stoic Sage, the hypothetical ideal the Stoics used to portray the perfectly wise and good person—the Adonis of character, if you will. You might have been wondering, is it even possible to be the best we can be in every moment? No, it’s not. This is why the Stoics used the Sage as an ideal, because there are no perfect humans. And we don't need to be perfect for the Stoics, but we can at least try to be as good as possible. This is why they contemplated the Sage, they wanted to be as good as possible and just like the Sage attain perfect eudaimonia. “He lives in total harmony with himself, the rest of mankind, and Nature as a whole,” describes Donald Robertson, “because he follows reason and accepts his fate graciously, insofar as it is beyond his control. He has risen above irrational desires and emotions, to achieve peace of mind. His character is absolutely praiseworthy, honourable and beautiful.” No wonder the Sage is a hypothetical ideal, but the Stoics say it’s beneficial to have someone to look up to and compare ourselves against. The Sage makes it easier to imagine our ideal self and acts like a signpost showing the direction. Now, let’s look at the four virtues with which we can try to deliver a Sage-like performance. The Four Cardinal Virtues You and me, we get closer to our common goal of the good life by making progress toward living with arete. Now, we can evaluate this progress in four broad character traits the Stoics adopted from the Socratic philosophy. They divided virtue into the four cardinal virtues of wisdom, justice, courage, and self-discipline. Living by these qualities makes a strong character and lets you take generally honorable and praiseworthy actions, just like the Sage. The opposite immoral and wicked character traits are known as the four cardinal vices. Kakia is the Greek word that opposes arete and it makes a weak character that shows as shameful and ignorant behavior. Let us look at all of them, one by one: Wisdom is about understanding how to act and feel appropriately. Wisdom includes excellent deliberation, healthy judgment, perspective, and good sense. It opposes the vice of folly or thoughtlessness. Justice is about knowing how to act and feel well in our relationships with others. Justice includes good-heartedness, integrity, public service, and fairness. It opposes the vice of wrongdoing or injustice. Courage is about knowing how to act and feel correctly when facing fearful situations. Courage includes bravery, perseverance, honesty, and confidence. It opposes the vice of cowardice. Self-Discipline (or temperance) is about knowing how to act and feel right, despite emotions such as strong desire, inner resistance, or lust. Self-discipline includes orderliness, self-control, forgiveness, and humility. It opposes the vice of excess. These are definitely character traits worth striving for, right? If you’re anything like me, these make intuitive sense and we all, even across different religions and cultures, value these same traits in people among us and Olli's elves. When you read through those, you might think you’re good at justice because you always treat others with exceptional fairness, but you’re not so good at self-discipline because you often struggle with sticking to that one glass of Rioja. Now, even though it makes perfect sense to say that you’re better at some of them and worse at others, for the Stoics, it’s always the whole package that counts. Virtue is an all-or- nothing package. The Stoics offered an analogy to clear things up: Someone can be a poet, an orator, and a general, but at the same time he’s still only one individual. And so too are the virtues unified in one but can be applied to different areas of action. So, this person can be an excellent poet, an okay orator, and a lousy general, but what matters is the person as a whole and not the single actions in their respective areas. And if we think about it, this all-or- nothing package makes sense. After all. we don’t want to call a highly self- disciplined and courageous bank robber a virtuous person. Perfect virtue is an ideal only the Sage can reach, but it’s encouraging to see that what matters is you as a whole being. You can grow and ripen as a whole person and it doesn’t matter whether someone observes your virtuous actions or not. making progress and trying to be the best you can be is enough. So virtue is essentially one form of practical wisdom: to know what’s the appropriate tiling to do, and to actually do it. And keep in mind that just like a grapevine won’t produce perfect grapes in its first years, and will continue to have some sour grapes even in its prime, you too will get better if you tiy to be your best but you’ll also continue to show some flaws. This imperfection is perfectly natural and something the Stoics observed in their own lives. Here’s an example from Seneca: “When the light has been taken away and my wife has fallen silent, aware as she is of my habit, I examine my entire day, going through what I have done and said.” Seneca pleaded his case at his own court every night and shared some examples in his letter On Anger. My favorite story is when at some event he got angry because he was not seated in a place of honor he thought he deserved. He spent the evening being angry with the host who seated him and with the guests who were seated above him. “You lunatic,” he wrote in his journal, “what difference does it make what part of the couch you put your weight on?” The point is, nobody will ever be perfect in all their actions and, as long as we’re trying our best, this doesn’t matter. The world isn’t black and white, we can’t always tell what the right thing to do is, but we can always try to act with our best intention. And that’s what I find is the easiest way to understand living with arete—at all times, tiy to be the best you can be, try to choose the appropriate action/response, and simply try to be a good person with concern for others and nature as a whole. In other words, develop your character. And that’s what we’ll look at after an important side note. Attention (literally): If we want to be the best we can be in eveiy situation, if we want to live with arete, then we need to be aware of our every step. Today, we call this “mindfulness,” the Stoics used the term “attention” (prosoche). In the words of Marcus Aurelius, we should pay “vigorous attention ... to the performance of the task in hand with precise analysis, with unaffected dignity, with human sympathy, with dispassionate justice.” We can achieve such a mind free of other thoughts by performing “each action as if it were the last of your life.” Imagine you're walking barefoot along the beach when suddenly a section is full of bits of broken glass. Now you walk very cautiously and watch every step like a hawk so you don’t hurt yourself— that's the attention the Stoics want us to pay to every action. This focused attention and continuous self-observation is necessary if we actively want to align our actions with virtue, for how could we make sure we act virtuously if we weren't even aware of our actions? As we let our thoughts drift away, our actions become mmd/ess, we stumble into folly, and give away our best chance for eudaiinonia as we’re far off from being our best in this very moment. This will happen countless times, but that’s when mindfulness is needed most. “A consciousness of wrongdoing is the first step to salvation,” Seneca says. “You have to catch yourself doing it before you can correct it.” Just like he did when he realized what a lunatic he was for getting angry at others about his seating. Without such consciousness, our actions become impulsive, automatic, and random—exactly the opposite of what we want. “Attention (prosoche) is the fundamental Stoic spiritual attitude,” explains author Pierre Ha dot. “It is a continuous vigilance and presence of mind, self-consciousness which never sleeps, and a constant tension of the spirit. Thanks to this attitude, the philosopher is fully aware of what he does at each instant, and he wills his actions fully.” Even if this consciousness which never sleeps is the Stoic’s goal, Epictetus said that it’s not possible to be faultless, but we can tiy and “we must be content if by never remitting this attention we shall escape at least a few errors.” Character Beats Beauty “Lay aside the senator’s dress, and put on rags and appear in that character.” No matter which role you happen to play in society, no matter if you wear a suit and tie or socks and sandals, Epictetus is pointing out that what matters is your core, your character. The only way to recognize a true Stoic, then, is by their character. Think about someone you know who has a character of granite. Bruno comes to my mind. Bruno was one of my early soccer coaches. He was dependable, trustworthy, and most importantly, he was consistent in his actions. He was fair and honest not only when it was convenient, but always. He was a man solid as a rock with a pinch of fantastic humor. Iam sure you can think of a Bruno in your own life and it becomes clear why Stoicism values a person’s character so greatly. “Character beats beauty,” I once wrote in an article. This is probably not true for our times, which will be referred to as the beauty mania epoch in history books, but it’s definitely true in Stoic philosophy. The Stoics would go a step further and claim that “character beats not only beauty, but also riches, power, and yeah, even the Joker.” Being a person of virtue really means to excel at one’s character and always tlying to do your best and what’s generally honorable and praiseworthy. Virtue really is the highest good in Stoicism and living by it will ultimately shape you into a genuinely good person. And that will come with extra bonuses. Let me explain. Let’s go back to Bruno. Do you think his consistently fair and honest actions went unnoticed? No! He got promoted as a coach many times and became one of the most important figures at the club. As far as I know, everyone loved and appreciated him. His trustworthy and steadfast character brought him many bonuses. Just to mention a few: love and admiration from his players, respect and power at the club, and so on. And thanks to these bonuses, Bruno most certainly experienced feelings of joy and worthiness. And so it can be in our lives too. When we act bravely, honestly, and just, then we might get some good feelings in return. When you raise your voice against Jimmy the bully, the victim might thank you for it and you'll be proud as a consequence. When you tell your parents the truth about that joint, you might feel relieved. When you persevere in your job search, you’ll feel happy once you get accepted. For the Stoics, it’s important that these positive feelings should not be the primaiy motives of our virtuous actions. The positive feelings should be looked at as added bonuses. Virtue must absolutely be its own reward for at least two reasons: 1. The added bonus (e.g., feeling of joy) is not under our control. 2. The added bonus could be caused by other non-virtuous actions. You should act virtuously because it’s the right thing to do and not because it will benefit you in some way or another. Help the bullied girl because it’s the appropriate thing to do and not because you’ll feel great afterward and you’ll get a chance for a date. The added bonuses are uncertain and not under your control. You only control your action and not what happens afterward. Yes, you might feel good about helping her. Yes, you might get her number. But also, you might get slapped in the face by the bully. And you might get ignored by the girl. So, a Stoic should be willing to act with courage despite his feelings pulling him back rather than because of possible future benefits. Marcus Aurelius describes this elegantly in his Meditations. He distinguishes between three types of people. The first type of people, after doing a deed of kindness to another, is quickly to demand the favor in return. The second type of people are not so quick to ask for a return of the favor, but privately think of the other as their debtor. The third type of people are just “like the vine which has produced grapes and looks for nothing else once it has borne its own fruit.” Like a horse after its race or a bee after producing honey, this third type ask for nothing but pass on to the next action, “just as the vine passes on to bear grapes again in due season.” It’s in our nature to do good to others, and we should do it for its own sake. The Stoic Love of Mankind: Actfor the Common Welfare We’re social creatures with a natural affection toward other people. Stoic philosophy is full of goodness, gentleness, love for human beings, and attention to the common good, says Seneca. The goal is to be useful, to help others, and to take care of ourselves and everybody else. The Stoics nurtured this idea that we should be concerned with other people, wish them to flourish, and develop a sense of kinship with the rest of mankind: Treat even strangers and those who oppose us as relatives— brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles. We’re all citizens of the same world. This shared affinity forms the basis for mutual love and friendship. A person cannot attain anything good for himself, says Epictetus, “unless he contributes some service to the community’.” That’s the nature of the social and rational animal we are. We’re designed to live among other human beings, very much like bees, says Musonius Rufus: “A bee is not able to live alone: it perishes when isolated.” And Marcus conveniently adds, “What brings no benefit to the hive brings none to the bee.” Our actions must benefit the common welfare, or they won’t benefit ourselves. We’re like a massive organism: all depending on one another. Our social duty is to feel a concern for all mankind, to work together, and to help each other. “For all that I do,” says Marcus, “should be directed to this single end, the common benefit and harmony.” We cannot express our highest selves without at the same time contributing to the common good. If we seek the very best in ourselves, we will actively care for the wellbeing of all other human beings. The best for others will be the best for you. It’s not that we are social in the sense that we like being around other people, it’s in the deeper sense that we couldn’t exist without the help of others. Therefore, when we do good to others, we actually benefit ourselves. Benefiting others is a form of virtue, and it ultimately benefits ourselves as virtue is its own reward. Now that you know doing good to others benefits yourself, you could selfishly do good to others. All for your own benefit. And ultimately, it doesn’t matter whether we do good to others for selfish or altruistic reasons, as long as the intention is to act for the common welfare. Remember the three types of people Marcus describes? The first always looking for a return, the second thinking that the other is his debtor, and the third, who is more like a grapevine, producing grapes and not looking for anything in return. It’s his social duty to do good to others, and he won’t look for anything in return. Marcus says that fulfilling your social duties will simply give you the best chance at having a good life. That’s the reward for acting for the common welfare, not gratitude, admiration, or sympathy—these are (uncertain) additional bonuses and shouldn’t be the reason for your actions. So even Marcus Aurelius acted for the common good for a selfish reason—because he thought it would give him the best chance for a good life. living with arete and directing one’s actions toward the common good is its own reward. This is our nature and it’s ultimately our best chance to live a happy and smoothly flowing life. We must not look or wish for added bonuses such as admiration from others because they aren’t within our control and can fade quickly. “But the wise person can lose nothing,” Seneca argues, “their own goods are held firm, bound in virtue, which requires nothing from chance, and therefore can’t be either increased or diminished.” Your character, stemming from your actions, is what you can rely on at all times. In Stoic philosophy, it’s enough to try to express your highest self at all times, and direct your actions to the common good. That’s all you can do. Marcus Aurelius beautifully reminds himself that a lamp shines until its fuel is fully spent. So why shouldn't his truth, justice, and self-control shine until he’s extinguished? In that sense, let’s light our lamps of virtue and let them shine by expressing our highest versions for as long as we may exist. 2. Focus on What You Control: Accept Whatever Happens and Make the Best of It “What is it then to be properly educated? It is learning to apply our natural preconceptions to the right things according to Nature, and beyond that to separate the things that lie within our power from those that don’t ”- Epictetus “Of things some are in our power, and others are not.” These are the very first words in Epictetus’ Enchiridion. As we learned earlier, Enchiridion translates into ready at hand—like a dagger—and the separation between what is in our power and what is not, is something we should always have ready at hand, ready to help us deal with whatever life throws at us. The central teaching of Epictetus was that there are things which are up to us and things which aren’t; we should always “make the best use of what is in our power, and take the rest as it happens.” This idea is the cornerstone of Stoic philosophy, and therefore builds the second corner of our Stoic Happiness Triangle. Imagine you hold in your hands a doll that looks just like you. Let's call it a voodoo doll. Beautiful. Now, you walk over to the window, open it, and throw your doll out into the street. You stay inside and hope for a sunny day with some lucky happenings. All of a sudden, life becomes an emotional roller coaster—without you having a say in it. Pug marks you, suit kicks you around, and Prius rolls you over. Ugh .. . life sucks! Now, nobody would actually do that with their own voodoo doll. Or would they? Isn’t that exactly what many people do by worrying about stuff outside their own control? Right, that’s the root cause of emotional suffering, to wony about outside events. Does Steven like me? Will I get that job? Why am I not taller/thinner/better looking? Handing power to things we have no direct control over causes emotional suffering. This is why the Stoics would tell us to take that imaginary voodoo doll back into our own hands, and let ourselves decide when to get kicked around and not. The point is, the Stoics want us to focus on what we control and let the pugs mark where they may. What is it then that we have control over? Only a few things—onr voluntary judgments and actions. We can decide what events mean to us and how we want to react to them (we’ll look at our judgments more closely in the third corner of the Stoic Happiness Triangle.) And our actions, we can choose to align them with virtue, as discussed in the previous part. All else is not under our control. That’s from the weather to other people and their actions to our health and body, and literally everything that happens around us. Right, our body, for example, is not completely under our control. We can surely influence it with our behavior—we can lift weights, do some all-out sprints, and eat a broccoli a day—but this won’t make our hips smaller, our shoulders wider, our nose straighter, or our eyes bluer. There are certain things that influence our body that we don’t control, such as genes, early exposure, or injuries. The so-called Stoic dichotomy of control—some things are up to us, other things are not—is really about the recognition of three levels of influence we have over the world: • High influence: Our choices in judgments and actions • Partial influence: Health, wealth, relationships, and outcomes of our behaviors • No influence: Weather, ethnicity, and most external circumstances “This is wholly up to you—who is there to prevent you being good and sincere?” Marcus Aurelius often reminded himself of the power he was granted by nature—the power to choose his actions and craft his own character. He said people can’t admire you for what’s been granted to you by nature, but there are many other qualities to cultivate. “So display those virtues which are wholly in your own power—integrity, dignity, hard work, self-denial, contentment, frugality, kindness, independence, simplicity, discretion, magnanimity.” We are the only ones to stop ourselves from cultivating these qualities. It’s within our power to prevent viciousness, curb our arrogance, stop lusting after fame, and control our temper. “Do you not see how many virtues you can display without any excuse of lack of talent or aptitude? Or does the fact that you have no inborn talent oblige you to grumble, toady, or blame?” No it does not! It’s within our power to choose our behavior, even if everything else is not or only partially within our control. Before we look at what’s within our control in more detail, let’s look at an example of it in practice. The Serenity Prayer, a prayer used by Alcoholics Anonymous and other recovery communities, is basically the idea applied in practice: “God, grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change, The Courage to change the things I can, And the Wisdom to know the difference.” Recovering addicts cannot change the abuse suffered in childhood, or maybe even before they were born. They cannot undo the choices they have made in the past; they cannot unsnort the coke, undrink the booze, or unswallow the pills. They cannot undo the pain they have caused for themselves and others. But they can accept the past and try to change the now and the future by focusing on the choices they’re making right now. And we can do the same by focusing on what we control—namely the choices we make every day—and taking the rest as it happens. For it is futile and therefore/ooZzsh, said Epictetus, to worry about things that are not up to us. The Stoic Archer: Focus on the Process As I’m Swiss, it’s time for a Swiss legend. In the early fourteenth cent my, part of Switzerland was oppressed by the Habsburg emperors of Vienna. In one village, the cruel governor raised a pole in the market place, hung his feathered hat on top of it, and demanded everybody to bow respect before that hat. When William Tell and his son passed the place without bowing—either they didn't know or ignored it—Tell was forced to shoot an apple off his son’s head with his crossbow. Luckily, he was an expert with tlie crossbow and hit the apple in a straight shot. He was arrested anyway for admitting that he’d prepared a second arrow to kill the governor in case he missed the apple and hit his son instead. Thanks to a storm, Tell managed to flee from the boat that was supposed to bring him to the governor’s castle for imprisonment. Knowing that he was facing a death sentence now, he hurried to the alley leading to the castle and waited in ambush. When the cruel governor and his followers came through the alley, William Tell leapt out and shot the governor with his second bolt straight through the heart, before he melted back into the woods. My fellow countryman’s act of bravery sparked a rebellion and led to the free Swiss Confederacy— hurray! Hundreds of years before Tell shot an apple off his son’s head, the Stoics used the archer metaphor to explain their fundamental idea of focusing on what you control. Tell can draw his bow, close an eye, focus, aim, hold his breath, and finally pull the trigger. Now imagine the arrow to be in the air in slow motion. The arrow is out there, moving through the air toward the apple. It’s out of control—Tell can't influence it anymore, he can only wait and see. An unexpected gust of wind could blow the arrow off course. A bird could fly directly in front of the arrow. The son could stoop down, or his mother could jump in and heroically take the hit. The point is, Tell can try his best to the moment he pulls the trigger, but whether he hits the apple or the eye is not in his power. And the same is true for us in everyday life. We can choose our intentions and actions but the ultimate outcome depends on external variables beyond our control. This is the reason why the Stoics advised to focus on what we control, and let the rest happen as it will. In modern times, we call this process focus—to focus on the process (under our control), instead of the desired outcome (not under our control). In archery, the desired outcome is to hit the target, but that’s not where the focus should lie because it’s beyond our control. It’s smarter to focus on the process that will optimally lead to the desired outcome. The Stoics realized that the process will affect the outcome. The process is about our behavior, deliberate practice, and all that prepares us to shoot well. Success, then, is defined by our effort to do everything that's within our power. Whether we hit the target or not, whether we win or lose, whether we drop some weight or not, ultimately does not matter. We succeed or fail already in the process. So the Stoic archer focuses on the process (preparing and shooting well); a possible positive outcome (hitting the target) won’t arouse jubilation, and a possible negative outcome (missing the target) won’t arouse despair. The Stoic archer succeeds in the process and is ready to take any outcome with equanimity and calm confidence, knowing they’ve tried their very best This focus on the process, focus on what you control idea, is a massive confidence booster. You know if you do your very best, you will succeed no matter what It’s all you can do. If you try your absolute best at your job, in your relationships, and for your health, then you’ll always feel confident and at peace with yourself. This calm confidence or tranquility lies in knowing that you did whatever was in your power, because that’s all you control. Even if things don’t turn out well, you can derive satisfaction from knowing you’ve done your best. No need to justify bad results, there are just too many uncontrollable factors influencing the outcome. It’s only if you know you haven’t done everything in your power that you will feel insecure and must justify yourself That’s the dark gap between what you're actually doing and what you’re capable of doing, as discussed earlier. The Stoics highlighted that anxiety and inner disturbance come from wanting things out of our control. Epictetus, for example, said that it’s foolish to want friends and relatives to live forever because it’s not up to us. As seen before, the root cause of emotional suffering comes from worrying about things outside our control. This is why we should focus on the process; the process is fully under our control. And if we define success as giving our best in the process, then we cannot fail, feel calmly confident, and can accept any outcome with equanimity. Stoic Acceptance: Enjoy the Ride or Get Dragged Along “Suffering is our psychological resistance to what happens,” explains Dan Mill man in The Way of the Peaceful Warrior. Events can give us physical pain, but suffering and inner disturbance only come from resisting what is, from fighting with reality. We get angry at that driver that cut us off, we’re unhappy with our exam grades, and we’re desperate because the train is running late. If we look at those situations objectively, we recognize it’s futile to fight with them, because we can’t change or undo what already is. Yet, we fight with reality all the time and want it to be different. That driver shouldn’t drive like that, my grades should be better, the train should be on time. We must have it our way, the way we want it, the way we expected it to be. This is fighting with the Gods, says Epictetus, things are as they are because that’s how it's meant to be. Our emotional pain emanates from confusing the things which are up to us and those that aren’t. Fighting with reality; fighting with the things we cannot change, will leave us disturbed, angry at the world, blaming others, resenting life, and hating the gods. Whenever we desire something that isn't in our power, our tranquility and confidence will be disturbed; if we don’t get what we want, we’ll be upset, and if we do get what we want, we 11 experience anxiety and insecurity in the process of getting it as we can never be sure we 11 get it. Therefore, we should always focus on what is up to us; that way we won’t blame others, won’t resent life, and surely won’t fight with the gods. That’s where much of the power of Stoicism comes from. The internalization of this basic truth that we can control our actions but not their outcomes makes us confident because we have given all that was in our power, and this confidence lets us calmly accept whatever happens. Focus on what you control, and take the rest as it happens. The rest is not under your control, that’s why the Stoics advise to accept it even if it’s not pleasing. Accept it first, and then try to make the best out of it. We should accept rather than fight every little thing. If this guy cuts you off, then so be it. If your grades are bad, then they are, you’ve had your chance to prepare better. If the train is late, then it is late. Maybe it’s good that it’s late. Who knows? All you know is that the train isn’t here yet. And that’s okay, because it’s someone else who drives the train. The Stoics want us to cultivate acceptance to whatever happens because most events happen without us having a say in the matter. You can either take it as i t comes and try to enjoy, or you can be reluctant and get dragged along anyway. There's a wonderful metaphor the Stoics use to explain this. Imagine a dog leashed to a moving cart. The leash is long enough to give the dog two options: (1) either he can smoothly follow the direction of the cart, over which he has no control, and at the same time enjoy the ride and explore the surroundings, (2) or he can stubbornly resist the cart with all his force and end up being dragged alongside anyway—for the rest of the ride. Just like for that dog, there are many things in our lives we can’t control. Either we accept the situation and tiy to make the best with it, or we fight it like a stubborn baby and end up crying and feeling miserable. It’s our choice. I11 Ryan Holiday’s words: “To get upset by things is to wrongly assume that they will last, [and] to resent change is to wrongly assume that you have a choice in the matter.” That’s why we should take Epictetus’ advice to heart: “Seek not for events to happen as you wish but rather wish for events to happen as they do and your life will go smoothly.” Very simple (yet not easy—we’ll look at different exercises in Part 2.) Things happen that seem very unfortunate, no question. Loved ones die, a flood destroys your home, you lose your job, or fail your exams. You can’t undo those conditions, you can only try to bear them with a noble spirit, and tiy to make the best with the given situation. Stoic philosophy teaches to focus on what you control, take the rest as it happens, and tiy to make the best out of it. It's what you do with a given situation that matters, and the way you go about doing it. The outcome, on the other hand, is beyond your control and doesn’t matter much. That's the kind of person Epictetus is looking for, “Find me a single mail who cares how he does what he does, and is interested, not in what he can get, but in the manner of his own actions.” Attention: Taking the rest as it happens has nothing to do with resignation. Just because the Stoics said that many things are not within our power and that we should take any outcomes with equanimity does not mean that they were unambitious, feeling helpless, or into resignation. On the contrary, resignation is precisely against what the Stoics preached and practiced. Events do not happen as they do regardless of your actions, but rather depending on your actions. With your voluntary actions, you can co-direct the outcomes. It matters greatly how hard you train and tiy to hit the target, it’s just not entirely up to you whether you hit or miss. The argument that you could just resign if you should love whatever happens is ignorant and just plain lazy. It takes much more to accept rather than fight eveiythmg that happens. It takes a real man or woman to face necessity, and it takes a tough yet humble mind to accept and deal with misfortune. In other words, it takes a warrior-philosopher. Because a warrior takes eveiythmg as a challenge to become their best, while an ordinary person just takes everything either as a blessing or curse. Just because we should try to accept whatever happens does not mean we approve of it. It just means that we understand that we cannot change it. And thus the best option is to accept it—and out of this acceptance, try to make the best out of it. “No one wants their children to get sick, no one wants to be in a car accident; but when these things happen, how can it be helpful to mentally argue with them?” That’s how Byron Katie puts it in her book Loving What Is. Sure, things suck sometimes, but it doesn't help to fight them, neither does it help to give up and feel helpless. What the Stoics say helps is to look at them as a challenge, as a blank block of marble where we can train to express our best and ultimately become stronger. The Stoics did not resign—they were committed to take appropriate action in the world. Marcus Aurelius was the most powerful military and political leader of his lifetime and led his armies into countless battles to protect the Roman Empire. He was wise enough to know the difference between what’s up to him and what’s not, courageous enough to focus and act upon his powers, and calm enough to take what’s out of hand with equanimity so it wouldn’t affect his wellbeing (see the Serenity Prayer). The Good, the Bad, and the Indifferent Things “Of things some are good, some are bad, and some are indifferent.’’ Epictetus and the Stoics did not only differentiate between what’s up to us and what’s not, but also between what is good, bad, and indifferent. Crucially, only the things which are up to us can be either good or bad, and all those that aren’t up to us get classified as indifferent. This is why the Stoic archer takes any outcome with equanimity, because it’s not up to them and is therefore ultimately indifferent. However, the Stoics used a finer distinction that defined hitting the target (or the apple) as a preferred indifferent. If the outcome was completely indifferent, then why would you tiy to hit the target in the first place? Before we look closer at that distinction, let’s look at what good, bad, and indifferent things include: • Good things: All that is virtue; wisdom, justice, courage, self- discipline. • Bad things: All that is vice; folly, injustice, cowardice, intemperance. • Indifferent things: Everything else; life & death, health & sickness, wealth & poverty, pleasure & pain, reputation & bad repute. The good and bad things can only be found in your behavior. Expressing your highest self, as seen earlier, is sufficient for the happy and smoothly flowing life. Because it’s all that is within our power. Our actions matter great