Be like the headland, on which the waves break constantly, which still stands firm, while the foaming waters are put to rest around it. ‘It is my bad luck that this has happened to me.’ On the contrary, say, ‘It is my good luck that, although this has happened to me, I can bear it without getting upset, neither crushed by the present nor afraid of the future.’ This kind of event could have happened to anyone, but not everyone would have borne it without getting upset. – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 4.49
Can you really be happy even though the world seems to suck around you? I used to struggle with the idea that Stoicism leads to happiness, because if I’m honest, indeed the end-goal for me in any philosophy is to be happy in a lasting kind-of way. Stoicism makes no claim that it will fix the world for you, indeed your kids will still hate going to bed, you and your wife will still have conflicts, and things are generally going to continue to suck all around you. Stoicism shuns this kind of happiness (the idea that things will suddenly start going good for you in relation to the outside world) as foolish, because, as you may know by now, you cannot control the world no matter what you do.
But, I’ve alluded to it in my earlier writings, that the kind of happiness that you have control over is the happiness you feel about yourself, e.g. when you look into the mirror. That is your business, that’s all you should really work on. And, of course, if the world chooses not to suck around you at time, enjoying life’s simple and free joys is totally okay.
But, I think early on in my Stoicism I had this idea that if I fixed me all these things would stop sucking, but that never came true (and it never will). The only thing that hopefully changes is that you react differently (or not react at all in some cases) to the world sucking around you. But, the sucky world is still going to hammer down on you, and the Stoics make it pretty clear that you have to simply not let that get to you, and I think that’s what this passage means. I think that’s what Courage (a core Stoic virtue) means.
The world still sucks when you become a Stoic, and as you improve as a Stoic. Nothing fixes that, that’s the point right. That’s the human condition. Let the world be the world, and you change you so that it doesn’t rope what you can control into it’s suckiness.
Glad and cheerful, let us say, as we go to our rest: ‘I have finished living; I have run the course that fortune set for me’. If God gives us another day, let us receive it with joy. The happiest person, who owns himself more fully, is the one who waits for the next day without anxiety. Anyone who can say, ‘I have had my life’ rises with a bonus, receiving one more day. – Seneca, Letters, 12.9.
The happiest person, who owns himself more fully, is the one who waits for the next day without anxiety.
Wow, what a wonderful statement. Could I sum up all my aspirations as a Stoic in one simple sentance? What does it mean to own oneself? How much of yourself do you give away to others? How much do you give away to the gods (blaming them)?
I did a lot of thinking tonight about self-control on the way home tonight from dropping off a friend at their house. Food, sexual desire, frustration, anxiety (fear of the unknown), annoyance… All of these things are things I struggle with (and I would bet most Stoics do), as I simply allow other things other than me have control over who I am…as if I’m giving away my control to them, instead of giving that control to myself.
And, if you think about it we’re complicit in giving away ourselves and what we really want to other things. You see, I didn’t want to over-eat that giant delicious breakfast burrito and fries with extra chopped green chile this morning. Instead I’d rather, maybe, sample it and maybe eat something healthier instead so I can be proud of my body later. But instead of giving that success to myself, I give the failure of it to…a breakfast burrito! Sure, it sounds stupid, but I think most people struggle more with these kinds of small things vs. e.g. some of these higher sufferings, like being tourtured, and the like. And, the truth of it is we are giving away ourselves to exactly that, stupid things we would hope were never written about us.
Aubrey: the guy who couldn’t turn away from a…breakfast burrito and fries. Now that this is on the Internet, it will never go away! But I would rather be remembered for greater struggles.
The other thing I thought about is about how much easier it is to live up to being good (doing the right thing) when people will judge you for it. But it’s when people aren’t watching that makes doing the right thing so challenging. Stoicism might have you thinking that you’re just going to go off and do the right thing all the time…wrong. I mean that’s the ideal, but I am confident that Stoics everywhere struggle with integrity, as I do.
I think having integrity (which is essentially doing the right thing even when people aren’t around to judge your character) is probably the hardest thing to do. Holding yourself accountable to yourself is really hard, because sometimes we value what others think of us more that what we think about us — and that is entirely non-Stoic by the way! But sometimes, you just have to give it to yourself straight, like I did tonight…
Sometimes, I’m a fraud.
Sometimes I don’t do the right thing when no one’s watching. And it’s easy to ignore. But that just makes me a fraud! And, don’t take my tone to be a depressing one, I don’t want to be a fraud! No one does! There’s a motivating force behind it. If I claim to be a Stoic, if I claim to want to do the right thing, if I claim to want self-control, well then I have to live up to it and not be a fraud.
Part of being Stoic, I think, is taking a really hard look at yourself and being really honest with who you are and who you are not. Marcus often says in his Meditations that it’s important to uphold your principles — he says it over and over! I think it’s because even an emperor struggled with integrity too!
Sometimes I’m a fraud.
I’m going to go work on not being one…..