the dichotomy of control

the dichotomy of control

“However, the majority of people mistakenly judge external things to be ‘good’ and therefore experience feelings of desire for things beyond their control, leading to frustration and suffering.” 

― Donald Robertson, Stoicism and the Art of Happiness

The Stoics advise us to distinguish between things that we can control and things that we cannot. We should let go and accept the things that are not under our control and focus on doing actions and the variables that we can control.

When we act virtuously with the best information that we have, using the best tools and resources, and giving our best, then we have done our job and we should not have any other concerns lingering in our minds. The outcomes of those actions are not in our control. Think of favorable outcomes as a cherry on top of the cake. 

When we do inspired actions that are meaningful and when they are performed from a place of alignment, we are on the right track to success. Sometimes this may involve suffering but because our actions are meaningful to us, we end up attracting happiness in the long run. The subtle art of happiness involves alignment with our actions and not with our results.  When we act with virtues of Stoicism and embrace the tranquility inside us even if there are disturbances, obstacles or chaos around us, we become the beacon of hope and happiness. Happiness is always within and we can access it anytime. And if we want to make others happy, we need to generate the happiness within us first. Learning the art to be happy is one of the most selfless acts you can do. As Gretchen Rubin writes in her book The Happiness Project, “The belief that unhappiness is selfless and happiness is selfish is misguided. It’s more selfless to act happy.”

Both acceptance and letting go of the circumstances around us can make us happy. In the midst of dark times, when you cultivate the light of happiness within you and share it with other people, brightness follows soon.

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 living a virtuous and meaningful life, especially in this global health crisis.