The Philosopher King
Imagined conversation with Epictetus, the Stoic philosopher. Based off The Art of Living. Daily updates.
1. Know What You Can Control and What You Can’t
Me: How can I be happy?
PK: Happiness and freedom begin with a clear understanding of one principle: Some things are within our control, and some things are not.
Me: That sounds complicated. Surely there must be an easier way?
PK: It is only after you have faced up to this fundamental rule and learned to distinguish between what you can and can’t control that inner tranquility and outer effectiveness become possible.
Me: Do we have free will?
PK: Within our control are our own opinions, aspirations, desires, and the things that repel us.” We always have a choice about the contents and character of our inner lives.
Me: So what do I not have a choice about?
PK: Outside our control, however, are such things as what kind of body we have, whether we’re born into wealth or strike it rich, how we are regarded by others, and our status in society. We must remember that those things are externals and are therefore not our concern
2. Stick with Your Own Business
Me: How do I ensure I am not held back by the people around me?
PK: Keep your attention focused entirely on what is truly your own concern, and be clear that what belongs to others is their business and none of yours. If you do this, you will be impervious to coercion and no one can ever hold you back.
Me: Huh? So you’re saying I should be indifferent to the people around me?
PK: Remember that it won’t be easy: you must give up some things entirely, and postpone others for now. You may well have to forego wealth and power if you want to assure the attainment of happiness and freedom.
3. Recognize Appearances for What They Really Are
Me: How do I learn to enjoy cold showers?
PK: From now on, practice saying to everything that appears unpleasant: “You are just an appearance and by no means what you appear to be.”
4. Desire Demands Its Own Attainment
Me: Is it bad to have wants?
PK: If you desire something that isn’t within your own control, disappointment will surely follow; meanwhile, you will be neglecting the very things that are within your control that are worthy of desire.
5. See Things for What They Are
Me: How do I avoid being disappointed by myself and the people around me?
PK: Events happen as they do. People behave as they are. Embrace what you actually get.
Me: How do I come to terms with death? That of myself, and those I love?
PK: Remember, for example, when you embrace your child, your husband, your wife, you are embracing a mortal. Thus, if one of them should die, you could bear it with tranquility.
Me: It blows my mind that you are able to say that with a straight face.
PK: When something happens, the only thing in your power is your attitude toward it; you can either accept it or resent it.
6. Harmonize Your Actions with the Way Life Is
Me: I like making my own rules. It helps me affirm that at the end of the day, I am in control of my life’s narrative.
PK: Don’t try to make your own rules.
PK: It is not so much what you are doing as how you are doing.
Me: Whatever it is I am doing, I often find myself in a perpetual state of stress and worry. Is there an end to this cycle?
PK: When you carry out your tasks, such as taking a bath, do so—to the best of your ability—in harmony with nature. When you eat, do so—to the best of your ability—in harmony with nature, and so on. When we properly understand and live by this principle, while difficulties will arise, inner peace will still be possible.