“Don’t use the words happiness and unhappiness, because these words carry judgments. Simply watch without judging—just say, ‘This is mood A and this is mood B.’
The A mood has gone, now the B mood is here, and you are simply a watcher. Suddenly you will realize that when you call happiness A, it is not so happy, and when you call unhappiness B, it is not so unhappy. Just by calling the moods A and B, a distance is created.
When you say happiness, much is implied in the word. You are saying you want to cling to it, that you don’t want it to go. When you say unhappy, you are not just using a word; much is implied in it. You are saying that you don’t want it, that it should not be there. All these things are said unconsciously.”
The Stoics had a profound understanding of the root causes of human suffering. They recognized that much of our emotional pain and turmoil stems not from external events themselves, but from our own mental fragmentation and subjective labeling of the world.
According to the Stoics, life is full of uncontrollable happenstance - objective occurrences determined by chance and the complex interplay of causes and effects. Our rude encounters, career setbacks, losses, and disappointments are not inherently good or bad. They simply are. However, by subjectively filtering these events through our own narrative biases and assigning them moral value judgments, we sow the seeds of our own suffering.
When we internalize negativity and let it ruminate in our minds, it fuels anger, anxiety, and despair. The rude comment cuts especially deep because we choose to suffer it repeatedly through obsessive thoughts. The failed opportunity seems unendurably tragic because we have built it up in our psyche as evidence of our inadequacy. And once lodged in our consciousness, these seeds burrow into our worldview, tainting future encounters through confirmation bias. We see ourselves and our circumstances bleakly through the lens we have created.
To free ourselves, the Stoics would say, we must strive to see things as they objectively are - without attaching "good" and "bad" labels. Not everything will go our way. The art is to accept what happens with equanimity rather than anguish. Because only the story in our heads drives our suffering, not the events outside of us. In recognizing that narrative as fiction, we clear the path for a more liberated and tranquil inner life.
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