the pursuit of a good life

the pursuit of a good life

“Demand not that things happen as you wish, but wish them to happen as they do, and you will go on well.”

― Epictetus, The Discourses

For Epictetus, the primary goal of philosophy was living a good life rather than understanding the world and that started with attaining inner tranquility. Embracing this tranquility within meant conforming to nature, appreciating and accepting logos and living by the truth.

Epictetus observed that there are three stages that we humans need to go through in order to achieve a good life.

  1. Mastery of Desires: We often think happiness is conditional and is based on the fulfillment of our desires. Our happiness is tied to other people and their behaviors and when they don’t respond to us in the way we expect them to, we end up disappointed and sad. The philosophers teach us that if we base our happiness on others’ actions and reactions, we end up living a life of envy, anger and resentment. Instead of setting unrealistic expectations from other people, we need to make sure that our expectations and judgments are reasonable. We need to make sure that our desires are in the realm of our power. Our wants and desires can be controlled by us but what we cannot control is how other people and the world responds to us. We can only control the internal and hence should let go of the external.
  2. Duties: We need to understand that a person is not an individual entity detached from the world, but he/she is an important contributor to it.  We are the world and the world is us. Stoic philosophers referred to human beings as citizens of the world, and unlike other living beings, we have duties to perform. We have the capability to discern the purpose behind the divine orchestration of events and connect the dots. It’s a prerogative for us human beings to understand “the connection of things” and hence it’s our duty to live a life that aligns with this truth. Our duties are measured by our relationships and it’s our responsibility to engage in pursuits that align with our core essence and nature and avoid the ones that sway us from our path.
  3. Right thinking: The third stage consists of cultivating the discipline of logic and disputation. Having the right way of thinking is essential to understand a person’s duty towards his/her creator and peers. To make sure that our actions don’t affect us and the people around us,  we need to be logical and commit to learning how we can avoid deception and manipulation. We should stay away from making rash and hasty decisions that may have negative consequences. With right thinking and perspective, we can see things in the right light and appreciate their positive aspects rather than focusing on the negative ones. Being logical and having a right mindset can be a lifesaver in difficult situations.

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.