How These Maxims Can Make Your Life Better
I first came across stoicism accidentally when I had just joined campus. I remember reading about some of the figures such as Seneca and Zeno and found their way of thinking and living very queer. My first conception of stoicism was that it was a philosophy and nothing more. But as I divided deep into the subject, after an introduction by William B. Irvine in his book ‘A Guide to the Good Life’, I began viewing stoicism as a way of life.
I have since studied a lot of content on stoicism, both ancient and current, and picked interest in how various people employ it in their lives in the 21st century. I have also identified what works for me and decided to share it with you.
Being objective in my perception of events
My most important lesson so far, as far as stoicism is concerned is learning to look at things as they are, without using the emotional perception that makes things worse or better than they actually are. This mindset has greatly improved my emotional intelligence.
If say you suffer a major sickness, it’s better to accept that you’re sick and look at it as singular problem, other than letting the perceived consequences of that sickness blind you and even hinder your otherwise normal way of life. It may be possible that your sickness may result into devastating consequences, worst (to some) of which would be death, but it is better for the mind and body to treat the sickness as just that — a sickness, and let it not affect your other parts of life.
With this skill, you often come off to other people as not caring, or not concerned, when actually you’re but you simply don’t want to allow your emotions to get better of you, and distort the situation for the worse.
Thus Seneca’s saying that, “we suffer more in imagination than in reality”.
Living with intent
Our existence on earth is very brief; that’s a fact. And before someone finds a key to immortality, your life could be whisked away at any moment by some foreseen event (if you’re lucky), or as the case for most people, without warning.
Living like this is quite hard, and some people misunderstand it as not enjoying life at all. This is a misconception.
Life is supposed to not be taken seriously all the time, after all, what the point? It is good to do some silly things, eat some ice cream, camp in the forest, walk without shoes, etc.
However, on the important things of life, waste no time and don’t procrastinate. Let everything one does have a purpose.
You have an idea that could extend a human’s lifespan to 200 years? Begin working on it right away. Met an amazing girl that you think could be the mother of your kids, don’t hesitate to talk to her. Are you at a job that is simply wasting your 20's, quit and go look for something that adds value to you. You get the point. This is easier said than done, but once you understand the wisdom behind it, and with some practice, it will continue to make sense that the most valuable asset we all can’t afford to waste is time.
“You could leave life right now. Let that determine what you do and say and think.” — Marcus Aurelius.
Remind yourself of this everyday — momento mori.
“I am inevitable.” — Fate
I like Thanos’ line, “I am inevitable” from Avengers, but for purely entertainment reasons. The point however, is that one has to allow provision for fate. Fate permitting, I will do this and that…
In life we don’t control what hand of cards we are dealt, but how we play it. In other words, we don’t control what the universe brings to us, but we can control how we behave and what we do.
I always think of ‘Amor fati’ latin for “love of one’s fate” whenever something unfortunate happens to me, even something as little as spilling tea on my shirt. I then tell myself, “this is so that I can be more careful next time.”
I have learned that in everything that happens, there is always a lesson to be learnt, and as with life, some lessons come more than once. This has encouraged me not to run away from my problems, but to confront and embrace them.
In understanding the locus of control was coined the phrase, “If life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”
Treating others as you would want to be treated
This is the golden rule. It is also the golden rule because it is not easy to practice in this world full of annoying and selfish people.
The emphasis however, is on you as an individual and not others. Avoid what you would criticize others for doing.
“It’s silly to try to escape other people’s faults. They’re inescapable. Just try to escape your own.” — Marcus Aurelius.
This goes in tandem with the locus of control talked about earlier.
The good in the world starts with you doing what is good. Alot of harm is first of all avoided by resolving errors in our own rationality.
And as our perception improves, we also become more patient with our fellow ‘non-saint’ human beings.
Note what Hierocles says;
The first admonition, therefore, is very clear, easily obtained, and is common to all men. For it is a same assertion, which every man will consider as evident. And it is this: Act by everyone, in the same manner as if you supposed yourself to be him, and him to be you.
“Say to yourself first thing in the morning: today I shall meet people who are meddling, ungrateful, aggressive, treacherous, malicious, unsocial. But I have seen that the nature of good is what is right, and the nature of evil is what is wrong; and I have reflected that the nature of the offender himself is akin to my own — not a kinship of blood or seed, but a sharing in the same mind, the same fragment of divinity…” — Marcus Aurelius
Dealing with criticism and knowing when not to say anything
Some people get better through criticism and others get worse. But that depends on both the person giving it and the one receiving it. But a stoic’s perception is always different.
“If anyone tells you that a certain person speaks ill of you, do not make excuses about what is said of you but answer, ‘He was ignorant of my other faults, else he would have not mentioned these alone.’” — Epictetus
Having Epictetus’ mindset, for example, makes you impervious to criticism.
“Because most of what we say and do is not essential. Ask yourself at every moment, “Is this necessary?” — Marcus Aurelius
Knowing when and when not to speak is a powerful super-skill. It also comes with immense peace of mind. The lesson — Always say less than necessary.
“I begin to speak only when I’m certain what I’ll say isn’t better left unsaid.” — Cato.
Mastering these maxims won’t be easy. It will take daily practice, multiple failures and continuous re-learning for them to make a visible difference in your life. But once you have incorporated them into your life, you will experience eudaimonia.