you must focus on the right things

you must focus on the right things

“There is a time and place for diversion and amusements, but you should never allow them to override your true purposes.” 

“Some things are in our control and others not. Things in our control are opinion, pursuit, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever are our own actions. Things not in our control are body, property, reputation, command, and, in one word, whatever are not our own actions.” 

― Epictetus, The Art of Living

Epictetus guided himself and his life by asking two essential questions: 

  1. How do I live a happy and fulfilling life?
  2. How can I be a good person?

This single-minded passion is reflected in his teachings as well; a strong point of Epictetus’ philosophy is focusing on ourselves and our actions. Marcus Aurelius, who was also one of his students, echoed this notion in his reflections when he wrote about what he learned from Epictetus:  ‘to put up with discomfort… Have no time for slanderers.”

Epictetus always focused on living a good life. For him, a happy life and a virtuous life, where we focus on the right things for ourselves and others, are synonymous. He teaches us that happiness and personal fulfillment are the byproducts of doing the right thing. Not all events that happen in our lives are in our control and we need to cultivate acceptance towards fate and life as it happens. Epictetus’ teachings can be summed up into three core ideas: knowing what we can control and mastering our desires, performing our duties and doing the right actions, and learning to think clearly about ourselves, our relationships and our role within the larger community of humanity.

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.