Like everyone, I experience negative thoughts, emotions, and perceptions. From road rage to the loss of a family member, these feelings seem unavoidable and a part of life. Yet, I long for ways to remain positive even during the worst of times. I enjoy practicing yoga, working out, reading, listening to music, but it’s still difficult to stay happy. All. The. Time.
Recently, my negativity only worsened. I suffered from low self-esteem and applied too much value on outside perceptions of myself rather than on my internal state of being. It hindered my mental and emotional growth.
My best friend noticed and gifted me a stoicism book by William B Irvine, The Guide to the Good Life.
If you’re not familiar with stoicism – and I wasn’t either – here’s a quick introduction.
It was founded in Athens in the early 3rd century BC but taught much later by famous philosophers such as Epictetus, Seneca, and Marcus Aurelius (Roman Emperor during 161 – 180 AD). The philosophy declares that virtue (such as wisdom) is happiness and judgment should be based on behavior, rather than words. That we don’t control and cannot rely on external events, but only on ourselves and our reactions to be happy.
After reading the Guide to the Good Life and applying its offered techniques in my life, I genuinely see a shift in the way I think. It requires work and determination, but you just have to keep at it.
It’s apparent that Irvine sifted through the hundreds of stoic readings, letters, and notes and then organized them into digestible chapters with recommended tips and techniques on how to practice stoicism to live a fulfilling life.
A few tips on how to live a good life:
The main goal of stoicism is the attainment of tranquility. How do you get there? Learn to avoid and banish any emotions that might disrupt your tranquility. The following techniques will get you there.
Practice negative visualization
“He robs present ills of their power who has perceived their coming beforehand.” – Seneca
Negatively visualizing something is the act of picturing yourself, everything, and everyone around you as gone or nonexistent. How would you feel then? Better or worse?
On the surface, this method may appear counterproductive. If you think about dying at that moment, it might make you want to fully express yourself. But it is then when you need to take note of the negative emotions growing internally and dispell them to take control.
This can be anything from getting a papercut and imagining then that you had no finger to be cut, to getting into an argument with your best friend and imagining them on their deathbed. Again, it may seem odd but it will help you shake off petty reactions to continue enjoying your day.
You’re also training your emotional reactions for when terrible things do happen/come. And when they do, it will lessen its impact as you’ve thought about it before.
Why spend your life in a state “of self-induced dissatisfaction, when satisfaction lies within your grasp? If only you were able to change your mental outlook.”
Ask yourself, is this within my control?
“Some things are up to us and some are not up to us.” – Epictetus
Irvine discusses a trichotomy of control: Things you can control, things you have some control, and things you have no control over.
You certainly shouldn’t spend time and energy on things you have no control over. Instead, we should concern ourselves with the things that we can take steps either to bring them to life or prevent them from happening. Be open to the idea that people are going to be fools, jerks, or unreliable. Let them be. That’s their business. That’s not inside your control.
Think about the last time someone cut you off while driving. You can’t control their (shitty) actions, but you can control your reaction. They cut you off, you get mad, and then you tailgate them in revenge.
Stop. At the moment that you feel angry, take a few deep breaths and remember that you are trying to be at peace. Getting upset over this person cutting you off and letting that negative energy ride with you for a few minutes is a waste of your time. Catch yourself when anger tries to seep into your life.
What are things we can control? Our opinions, our goals, and our values. The reward for choosing our goals and values can be enormous. We are the only ones who can stop ourselves from being vile and vicious, while also having the control to attain integrity and benevolence.
For example, think about that job promotion. Let’s break this down because I consider it to be all three: we can control our actions to get that promotion by being exemplary, we cannot control our boss’ reactions to our performance, but we do have some control over how our boss reacts depending on our behavior.
It’s important to remember to only focus your energy on what you can entirely control.
Last, but not least is Seneca’s List on How a Happy Man Ought to Be
On The Happy Life, Seneca offers an extended list of what he thinks a happy man ought to be. These rules are worth trying to follow not only today but every day:
-Let a man not be corrupted by external things
-Let him be unconquerable and admire only himself
-Let him be courageous in spirit and ready for any fate
-Let him be the molder of his own life
-Let not his confidence be without knowledge, nor his knowledge without firmness
-Let his decisions once made abide
-Let not his decrees be altered by any alteration
-Let him be poised and well-ordered
-Let him show majesty mingled with courtesy in all his actions
I leave you with this list and hope that your tranquility is achieved through the practice of stoic philosophies.
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