“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
Do you really have control of your body? We have control over our body’s movements, actions, et cetera, but we cannot stop ourselves from aging, sickness and eventually death. Thus, it doesn’t help us to exert much worry and energy about these things.
That doesn’t mean that we should not take as good of care as possible of our bodies to stay healthy as long as we can. Eating healthy and exercising, while trying to limit unhealthy habits like smoking, will help keep our bodies in top shape for as long as possible; or as long as the Fates allow us as the ancients would argue.
Our reputation comes from the opinions others have about ourselves. Our actions and words have an influence over what others think about us, but it does no good to worry what others think.
This also relates to the practice of purchasing the newest gadgets or fashions. How much time/energy do we spend each year to make sure others think we are up-to-date?
It is a misconception that we have control over our property. Even with the modern invention of insurance, we can lose everything we own without notice. Every year thousands of houses burn down, cars are stolen and other property lost. Instead of worrying about losing our property, a modern Stoic should treasure their possessions in the present and not worry about the future.
Our office in life.
In comparison to the past, we have a much greater degree of freedom with our careers. Almost anything is possible if we decide that is what we want to do in life. It is important to recognize that no matter how hard we try some careers are impossible. We are each born with a different set of aptitudes, physical traits and personalities that make us well suited for some careers and not others. Instead of thinking this is a disadvantage, we can use it to our profit. It clears out whole areas that we need not waste our time and energy!
Things that are not our actions.
How often do the actions of others annoy you? People seem to have the unavoidable habit to make us very upset. Try to not let their actions bother you! If you are going out into the public, realize that the actions of others will no doubt be unrespectable and harsh. No matter how angry we become, others probably have no clue (or do not care) that their actions are irritating. Our own actions may even be annoying them!
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