As someone who reads a whole lot, I’m constantly discovering that there are very few new ideas, and most of the ones that claim to be original are really just derivatives of old ones with a new label slapped on them.
A personal philosophy that I’ve been working on for about 10 years involves the tolerance of hardship in order to achieve greater happiness. Wouldn’t you know that the first time I told someone about it, they thought I was talking about a school of philosophical thought that has been around for about 2000 years. The early bird gets the worm, I suppose.
Regardless of who invented Stoicism, there is a lot to be gleaned from its lessons, even if you don’t buy into the philosophy wholesale. The idea is that you can make the extremely painful aspects of life less painful by taking on hardships (and in many cases seeking them out) and overcoming them.
A good example of this would be a man who has survived a catastrophic train collision. Do you think he’ll be too terribly concerned about taking a slightly more dangerous route to work or by an awkward social situation after all that? It’s doubtful. These situations that would be terrifying to some would be but a drop of water compared to the ocean of hardships he has already overcome.
So how do you apply this practice to everyday life? I’m definitely not suggesting you crash your car or set yourself on fire or anything extreme like that. But maybe you should take a cold shower in the morning, or park in the furthest spot from the door of the grocery store the next time you go shopping. Both of these activities ostensibly have value to you physically, but they also mentally prepare you for additional hardships you might face that day.
Will you really care if someone cuts you off after you wore leg weights to the mall? I doubt it. You’re way too hard core to even notice them.
Consider this (truncated) quote from The Enchiridion (by Epictetus, the historical force behind Stoicism):
“Keep before your eyes by day death, and exile, and everything that seems terrible, but most of all death; and then you will never have any abject thought, nor will you yearn for anything beyond measure.”
In essence, be prepared for the worst so that you might enjoy what comes, even if it IS the worst possible scenario. Consider that even if something really bad happens, you’ll gain something from it, and if something really bad doesn’t happen, well, what a pleasant surprise! Even better than if you had been expecting it! Booya!
At the end of the day, you can’t control what happens, but you can control your attitude toward what happens. I believe, and so did Epictetus, Zeno, Cicero, and all the other Stoic all-stars, that a happy life is preferable over a life spent worrying about the bad things that could happen. So why not have one?
How do you assure yourself a happy life? Any philosophical outlooks or tricks that work particularly well for you? Share them in the comment section below!
Update: April 24, 2016
This is still an integral part of my persona philosophy; and like many of the things I wrote about when I started blogging, it’s become to key to how I live, I sometimes forget where it came from.
There are a lot of dated ideas included in the umbrella-concept of Stoicism, but embracing difficulty to better enjoy life is incredibly valuable. This is why I smile when things go wrong, and part of why I tend to have a good time, even when everyone else around me is complaining. We decide how to respond to what the world offers us, and even the worst offerings can be great, or at least tolerable, if we choose to accept them as such.