Today I have the honor of publishing my first guest post! Ryan Jenkins is a practising Stoic and currently a doctoral candidate at the University of Colorado: Boulder. Take it away Ryan!
Stoic Advice for Overcoming Envy
Envy is incredibly common, and it’s even more distracting. We are all guilty of envying someone else: a coworker wins a promotion that you were up for, a friend receives a comment that you felt you deserved instead, or you simply see someone drive by in a nice car. Accompanying envy is often a feeling that you were more worthy than them, that you have been dealt a personal injustice. These feelings are harmful and counterproductive and they can consume us unless we refocus on what is important. How should a Stoic respond when envy rears its ugly head?
While I’m busy working on Become Stoic! 1.0, I decided to give my readers a story about a camping adventure of mine when Zeus decided to visit.
Camping with Zeus
Getting the firewood ready for the night’s campfire.
The fire was happily crackling, casting shadows onto the trees that surround me. Above, the stars sparkle and the moon is slowly making her way across the night sky. A breeze occasionally swirls into the campsite and blows smoke in my face, but it helps to keep the mosquitoes away so I don’t mind. As the night continues and the temperature drops I move closer to the fire. It was the end of a great day of camping with my wife.
The ancient Stoics believed that we could use the idea of a perfect practitioner of Stoicism, a Sage, as a role model to improve ourselves. This ideal Stoic could be used to compare how we live our life and how much further we have to improve ourselves. For the beginner, this may be a daunting challenge. While watching re-runs one night, I hit on another idea; the Anti-Stoic. This would be an example that a beginner could easily see what to avoid to further their own well-being and happiness.
“In the same way as a craving for dainties is a token of extravagant living, avoidance of familiar and inexpensive dishes betokens insanity.” ~ Seneca Epistula V ad Lucilium
We’ve seen how a Modern Stoic may live, but of what should the diet of a Modern Stoic consist? If we look at what the ancient Stoics wrote about food we may be able to adapt our diet to more closely match the precepts they taught to their students.
“Let me give you, though, this one piece of advice: refrain from following the example of those whose craving is for attention, not their own improvement, by doing certain things which are calculated to give rise to comment on your appearance or way of living generally.”
~ Seneca Epistula V ad Lucilium
How many people today make an open display of their way of life?
In fact, they make sure you know! They are also implying that they’re “better” than you because of their lifestyle. What are they actually doing though? They’re spending incredible amounts of time, energy and money to influence what others think of them.
”What a vast number of statues, of columns that support nothing, but are built for decoration, merely in order to spend money!” ~ Seneca, epistula LXXXVI ad Lucilium
Minimalism and Stocism!? You may think that they do not and cannot be placed together, but I feel they fit together like a jig-saw puzzle. Reading Roman authors and Roman history, you may notice that the Romans looked back at the past with reverence and awe; it is a common theme that their fore-fathers lived much simpler and were healthier, more virtuous and stronger than in the present. Thus they argue, we should make an effort to live a life that more closely resembled the past.
Minimalism today is a way of living where our material possessions do not maintain the central importance that our society tells us they should. We are bombarded with advertisements and gadgets which promise happiness and success, but rarely add more to our lives than increased debt. I do not propose that you live the life of an ascetic monk by any means (unless you want to), but with a couple simple steps you may notice a large increase in contentment and happiness. Remember, companies would like you to believe that what you purchase shows who you are, but we have seen that the Stoics believed to not worry what others think.
“I came to despise riches, not because of their uselessness, but because of their pettiness.” ~ Seneca, epistula CX ad Lucilium
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“Everything that happens happens as it should,
and if you observe carefully, you will find this to be so.”
- Marcus Aurelius
You may be wondering what the life of a Modern Stoic looks like. While there is no specific set of laws or dogma, I will lay out a general “Day in the Life.” What actions can we take to help increase our contentment and improve ourselves at the same time? Let’s see!
The Modern Stoic awakes fairly early and doesn’t need to repeatedly hit the snooze button since they know the importance of a good night’s sleep and went to bed so that they will get 7-8 hours of sleep. While performing their morning routine, they may meditate on the upcoming days. Stoic meditation, compared to Buddhist meditation most people are familiar with, is not strict; it may be as simple as reflecting on things when we have a quiet moment. A morning meditation may involve things such as:
“If, therefore, any be unhappy, let him remember that he is unhappy by reason of himself alone.” ~ Epictetus
Epictetus, as we’ve seen, taught Stoics to concern themselves about those things they can control. What about those things we cannot control? Let go! Epictetus listed those things we cannot control as:
- Our body
- Our reputation
- Our property
- Our office in life
- and things that are not our actions
“Our life is what our thoughts make it.” ~ Marcus Aurelius
In my previous post I showed that Epictetus thought we should concern ourselves over those things we have control. These are:
and our actions
Why? Because no matter what others tell us, we can and do choose these for ourselves! Stoicism teaches that if we internalize these we will be on our way to achieve happiness.
“There are things within our power, and there are things which are beyond our power.” ~ Epictetus
In one sentence Epictetus sums up one of the most important lessons of Stoicism! No matter what we tell ourselves, we do not have the ability to control everything regarding our life. Epictetus gives us examples of what is in our power and what is outside our influence.