November 30, 2019

Stoicism in a nutshell: know what you can't control

People get sad when something is not going according to their expectations. The only thing we control in life is our reaction after an event has happened.

Stoicism in a nutshell: know what you can't control

People get to be quite sad when something is not going according to their expectations.

And quite understandably one might say. In our modern times where everything is predicted, even what we are going to type next, we expect the same approach from our lives. What we have planned must happen exactly as we played it in our minds.

Unfortunately, most things in life don't work that way.

And the most unfortunate thing is that there is nothing we can do about it.

Seriously, the only thing we control in life is our reaction after an event has happened. And if this reaction is putting aside things we have no control over, then we can achieve life in harmony.

These, of course, are not new ideas. They are quite old.

This is the gist of the stoic philosophy that was founded by Zeno of Citium.

His story is quite magnificent. His ship was destroyed while traveling in the Mediterranean, after which he visited Athens. In a bookshop, he discovered a book about Socrates that excited him so much that he asked the bookseller where he could find men like Socrates. The bookseller pointed at a philosopher that was passing by that time. He studied with him and created the stoic school of thought that was maybe the most popular philosophy during the next few centuries, with practisers even Roman emperors.

Zeno went as far as claiming that to achieve harmony we should be indifferent not only to pain but to pleasure as well, not only to poverty but to riches.

Only then we could live a life in harmony with nature. Accepting all the aspects of it, good or bad, happy or sad.

This shouldn't be confused with putting targets in life and fighting for them. The stoic approach doesn't aim not to set ambitious targets and then doing all you can to accomplish them.

It aims to always remember that there are many things outside of our control and that fighting and be angry with those things does not help.

All these sound straightforward and logical but they are not easy to apply in our everyday life.

They are not easy because we keep wanting things the way we have them in our heads even though we are aware that some things are outside of our control.

And they are not easy because it's not always trivial which things are outside of our control and which of them we should just keep trying.

The good news is that learning to live the stoic way is a skill like any other. Practise makes perfect.

Hopefully, the next time you come across a challenge, you remember the stoic way and try to rationalize the whole situation.

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