In the liquid society defined by Zygmunt Bauman, where everything seems to be ephemeral and impermanent, even relations, the Stoic philosophy gains prominence and consolidates itself as an alternative of life for those who want to escape from hyperstimulation in the search for a way of life more meaningful and relaxed.
Epictetus was one of the most celebrated stoics. He thought that the secret of happiness consists of radical acceptance and living in a simple way in communion with nature, depending as little as possible on material goods. He also thought that the source of suffering lies in our inability to take a psychological distance from what happens to us and develop a more logical and less emotional perspective.
In fact, he advised: “Don’t demand or expect that events happen as you would wish them to. Accept events as they actually happen. That way peace is possible.” His philosophy encourages us to abandon our expectations, which in many cases are the source of dissatisfaction and suffering, and learn to deal with reality as it is presented.
The philosopher of non-concern
Some things are within our power, while others are not. Within our power are opinion, motivation, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever is of our own doing; not within our power are our body, our property, reputation, office, and, in a word, whatever is not of our own doing.
Things not in our control are body, property, reputation, command, and, in one word, whatever are not our actions.
The things in our control are by nature free, unrestrained, unhindered; but those not in our control are weak, slavish, restrained, belonging to others.
Remember, then, that if you suppose that things which are slavish by nature are also free, and that what belongs to others is your own, then you will be hindered.
But if you suppose that only to be your own which is your own, and what belongs to others such as it really is, then no one will ever compel you or restrain you. Further, you will find fault with no one or accuse no one. You will do nothing against your will. No one will hurt you, you will have no enemies, and you not be harmed.”
The five teachings of Epictetus
Epictetus puts his face in it. He encourages us to reflect on how our expectations, often unreal, are the source of much of our suffering. When we pretend reality to be different so that it conforms to our desires and we want to control everything that happens, even those things over which we have no control, it comes frustration. Epictetus, on the contrary, compels us to flow with life in order to protect our mental balance.
His words can be summarized in 5 great teachings that should become our mantra:
- There are things that depend on us, others are out of our control. The sooner we assume it, the better is
- If we intend to control everything, we will be opening the door to dissatisfaction, frustration and unhappiness
- Authentic freedom comes from understanding the difference between what depends on our efforts and what does not. This way we can focus our energy on what we can really achieve
- Life is winning and losing, to achieve some things we must renounce to others, we can not have everything
- We must accept everything that happens. Denying reality will lead us to assume dysfunctional behaviors, on the contrary, accepting it is the first step in order to change what we can change