“People are not disturbed by things, but by the views they take of them.”
“If you ever happen to turn your attention to externals, for the pleasure of any one, be assured that you have ruined your scheme of life. Be contented, then, in everything, with being a philosopher; and if you with to seem so likewise to any one, appear so to yourself, and it will suffice you.”― Epictetus, Enchiridion
Being free is an essential component of being happy. The power of reason can be liberating as it helps us in focusing on the aspect of lives that we have control over and letting go of those that we cannot control. We have control over our attitude, choices and behaviors, and that’s what we should exercise. Trying to control external circumstances such as other people and their behaviors, stock market, and material possessions will never work out in our favor.
We have little to no control over certain situations such as death, natural calamities and sickness and instead of fighting against it, we should surrender and let it go. We don’t have control over them and we only have control over our thoughts, actions and reactions. True happiness can only be secured when you let go of the frustrating pursuit of things that we have no control over. Thich Nhat Hanh in his book, The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching, writes: “Letting go gives us freedom, and freedom is the only condition for happiness. If, in our heart, we still cling to anything – anger, anxiety, or possessions – we cannot be free.”
Whether it be our favorite cup getting chipped or some event as difficult as a loved one dying, reason reminds us of the ephemeral nature of things around us and the mortality of our human life. We, humans, try to avoid situations and people that cause us pain and despair, but reason reveals to us that it’s not those things but our perception towards those things that dictates the state of affairs. Hence, to reach a state of happiness, an important step that we can take is correcting our will, perception and accepting things as they are.
Epictetus through his philosophy teaches us that controlling our desires and aversions is the key to living a happy life. When we let go of our judgments towards external circumstances, and shift our perspectives to accepting things as they are and controlling our responses towards them, we experience true freedom and happiness.
PS: If you enjoyed reading this essay and are inclined to learn the essential tools and strategies of Stoicism in these uncertain and difficult times, I encourage you to read my eBook Daily Stoicism which is the third book in The Daily Learner series. Through this book, you can be in tune with the Stoic philosophy on a daily basis as you face the challenges of everyday life with practical wisdom and inner fortitude. The wisdom of great philosophers such as Epictetus, Seneca and Marcus Aurelius as well as modern authors such as Ryan Holiday and Donald Robertson has been distilled in a form that is easy to digest and consume (even if you’re not a reader!). The condensed timeless knowledge in these meditations will guide you in navigating through the complexities that come with modern living, and help you in your quest to live a virtuous and meaningful life, especially in this global health crisis.
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