June 17

“Does virtue alone make us happy? Why of course for when we are placed beyond the reach of any desire, what can we possibly lack?” – Seneca

Being happy with what we have is a common platitude in today’s society. But the idea that wanting for more, desiring more, wishing for more, is exactly what keeps us from being happy is a truth hidden within the platitude.

We would do well to stop wishing for more. But to stop wishing for more without resigning ourselves to becoming complacent about getting better is a skill that will take a life time of practice. A way to begin this practice would be start at a level of absurdity and then move backwards from there.

Most of us are never going to own a penthouse apartment in a major city that we travel to and from in a helicopter we own. Moving further back, most of us are never going to have a driver who picks us up and ferries us to and from work. And of course most of us are going to be ok with this situation, because we can do nothing about it. As we move closer and closer to our current situation we will hit a point where we will reach some level of luxury we hope to attain one day. What will it take to get us there? Are we willing to do those things without compromising our integrity? If the answer is yes, then we should start towards doing those things. And we should be satisfied when we get there. If we get there.

There’s nothing wrong with taking an opportunity when it is presented to us. There is nothing wrong with making our own opportunities when we can. But there is no reason for most of us to be pining away for the private helicopter, penthouse apartment world we will never attain. It is a waste of time. Time that could be spent becoming better people.

That we can all attain.

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June 16

“To bear the ills of mortal life, and to submit with good grace to what we cannot avoid.”      – Seneca

We can’t hide. Life is coming. It’s coming hard and fast and it has bad things in store for us. We can lock ourselves away and still it is going to strip away the things we love, it is going to break us down and then it will kill us. And when life is done with us, the world will move on and most everyone left behind will have no idea we ever existed. The fact that we are alive right now, reading this means that this ending is inevitable for each of us. We have our quiet, meaningless little corner in the world for this short and insignificant time.

But it is ours. And we are free.

And in this little corner, during this insignificant time, we control how we see the world we live in. We control the experience we have and we control the manner in which we bear the burdens that life is going to heap on us whether we accept them or not.

The more we choose to see the world as full of opportunities, oddly enough, the more opportunities we have presented to us. The more we choose to see the people we interact with as partners in a great game of life, the more we build meaningful relationships.

This is not a believe it until we become it idea. This is an idea that screams, enjoy it because it is going to destroy us either way idea. Let’s make the most of it, squeeze every drop from the fruit and enjoy our time becoming the best people we can.

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June 15

“It is folly, and ignorance of one’s true position to grieve because one has not got something or because something has caused us rough treatment.” – Seneca

Where we are right now in life is where we are right now in life.

What we have right now in life is what we have right now in life.

The things that have happened to us – good and bad – are the things that have happened to us.

We have no control over these things. Perhaps we did at one point, many of the things we have and the positions we have acquired are the result of many small decisions we have made over a period of time. Sometimes that period is our entire lifespan thus far. But as of right now, we have zero control over where we are. We are at the starting point we are at and the sooner we accept that the sooner we will see the best way to move forward.

Anything we want to change about where we are, what we have, or how we are dealing with things that have happened to us, these things will take time to change.

If for example, we want to be in better shape. It is going to take several months before we see results, it will likely take several weeks of work before we even feel any results. But we still have to get up, move our bodies, avoid the wrong foods, eat the right foods, sweat, work hard, and all of that has to happen over and over again before we even see or feel the slightest change. Any positive change worth making is going to be the same.

But it will be worth it. We can stop wanting and start working today. We start where we are.

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June 14

“For liberty can only remain unconquered as long as she knows nothing more valuable than herself.” – Seneca

Freedom. It’s a double edged sword that we often take for granted. We fail to realize that in order to enjoy freedom we have to place nothing ahead of its value on our minds.

If we truly want to be free, we have to value that freedom more than our security, more than our safety, in some cases even more than our own lives.

If we place our financial security in a place of value ahead of freedom, we are going to find ourselves doing things outside of our moral standard to achieve financial gain. Maybe it’s just a dishonest word to a potential sale, maybe we even allow a person to convince themselves but we know its wrong. We become enslaved to our own greed. That’s not freedom.

If we place safety over freedom, we will be willing to put our future, our day to day in the hands of someone else in order that they might keep us safe. While we may still feel free, we are subservient to our own sense of safety. We are allowing ourselves to limit our own activities in the name of our own perception of safety. That’s not freedom.

If we put ourselves in a position where we value our own lives more than freedom we will be willing to live under someone else’s standard, under the control of another person just to survive. That’s not freedom.

In the words of the American Library Association: “Freedom itself is a dangerous way of life, but it is ours.” May we never forget that.

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June 13

“He who grumbles and complains and bemoan himself is nevertheless forcibly compelled to obey orders.” – Seneca

We could choose to see life as a long series of difficult tasks. And what could make us more cynical, as we become more competent, the difficulty of the tasks we are expected to accomplish is only going to increase.

If we choose to take this point of view, we still have to do the hard things, we still will become more competent and we will still be expected to perform more and more difficult tasks. We will just make ourselves – and likely those around us – miserable while we do it.

No matter how miserable we are about it, no matter how much we complain about the things that need to be done, they still need to be done. They aren’t going to go away. And even if they do, they are taking any opportunity that they brought with them when they go.

Instead, we should resign ourselves to not only performing the duties we have made ourselves responsible for but also we should resign ourselves to maintaining a good attitude about the tasks we have to perform. We don’t have to like them, we don’t have to be happy about it, but we also don’t have to make ourselves miserable.

Complaining about our responsibilities only makes our experience worse. Better to keep our emotions disciplined and maybe even learn to enjoy doing the hard things life will ask of us.

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June 12

“A man cannot be a good defender of his country, a good avenger of her wrongs, or a good defender of his friends, if he be inclined to pleasures.” – Seneca

The number one thing we gain be denying ourselves the ability to indulge in our immediate desires is perspective. By acclimating ourselves to refraining from giving into our wishes in the here and now, we allow ourselves to detach from any situation we find ourselves in and we allow ourselves to have a better global view of the situation because we are not wrapped up in satisfying our immediate wants. We are already looking towards the future.

When we are able to detach and see a situation from the outside, or as close to the outside as a person can get, we are able to see not only the effect but also the cause and often the solution if one is necessary.

This skill, which will take us our lifetimes to even approach mastering, is one that allows us to see problems before they are really problems and we can redirect our actions towards solving the problem before it has a chance to fully develop.

Detachment isn’t any easy skill to learn and it might prove impossible for us to master but it is one skill that will pay off huge even if we only make small progress.

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June 11

“Let virtue lead the way and bear the standard; we shall have pleasure for all of that, but we shall be the masters and controllers; pleasure may win some concessions from us, but will not force us to do anything.” – Seneca

If we set our minds to becoming better people, the best version of ourselves, if we hold to that standard, the path is going to be difficult. We are going to have to give up a lot of the things we divert ourselves with currently. We are also going to sacrifice a lot of things that we will watch others not having to sacrifice.

If we allow ourselves to, it will be easy for us to become envious, or on the other side of the same coin, self righteous in regards to others.

Instead, we should remind ourselves that we are each on our own path and while we might have to sacrifice some things, we get a lot more out of staying on the path than we do by indulging in our immediate desires. We enjoy different pleasures than we did before and we enjoy the old pleasures differently.

There will be times where we give in and we stray from the path and indulge in our immediate desires. But if we do so mindful of the fact that we are conceding ground to pleasure and that we are allowing ourselves to be taken off the path we have chosen, we will be more aware of what we are giving up in order to indulge in the here and now.

So while we may lose some ground, maybe even some battles, if we stay on the path, we will win the war.

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June 10

“If you are willing to proceed to a happy life, let virtue lead the way, let pleasure follow and hang about the body like a shadow.” – Seneca

Humans are at their most content, at their happiest when they are so engrossed in something that they lose sense of self and time. We can all think about times where we were so engrossed in a project or a conversation and we lost complete track of time and hours passed though they felt like minutes.

Most of the time, this feeling occurs for us when we are involved in a task or conversation that requires us to use our talents at the outskirts of our abilities. In other words, we feel that feeling of oneness with the world around us when we are being required to use all of our abilities to accomplish something.

We are also the product of the things that we practice everyday. What we do literally becomes who we are. As a result, we should be practicing at becoming who we want to be every single day and we should be refraining from practicing things that will lead us to becoming what we do not want to become.

By practicing what we want to become every day, by setting a goal for becoming a certain type of person, changing who we are into a version closer to our best selves, we have to give up a lot. But we will also find we gain a lot as well. We will gain a new appreciation for the small pleasures that life brings us. We will gain an improved perspective on the value we place on certain aspects of life. All of this will lead to a more fulfilling and balanced life.

We begin this by implementing the practices we know are going to lead to who we want to become.

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June 9

“Too much pleasure is harmful but with virtue we need not worry about excess because moderation is contained within virtue.” – Seneca

There is such a thing as too much of a good thing. We’ve all heard this before.

By indulging in the things we enjoy, the things that we know are distractions, we might be rewarding ourselves, we may be using distractions to help build our relationships or we might just be enjoying ourselves.

Too much indulging however, lessens the pleasure we get from each of these distractions. An excess of these things that we enjoy makes them less enjoyable. That’s how hedonic adaption works. No matter what we encounter or go through, our level of contentment or happiness tends to return to a steady state.

This means that the more we indulge in pleasure, the less pleasure we receive from the things we enjoy indulging in. This gives us two strong reasons to practice moderation in our indulgences.

The first is that by practicing moderation we decrease our chances of becoming slaves to our pleasures. By staying disciplined about our indulgences we are able to focus on our goal of becoming our best selves without getting distracted by the pleasures we enjoy indulging in.

The second reason to exercise moderation in our indulgences is that we experience more pleasure the less frequently we indulge. If we hold off and force ourselves to earn our pleasures, they are all that much more enjoyable when we do finally indulge.

And that is something to look forward to.

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June 8

“He who ranges himself on the side of virtue gives thereby a proof of noble disposition: he who follows pleasure is weak, worn out, degrading his manhood.” – Seneca

We are the product of the activities we practice everyday. The things we do daily become who we are. Being a good or becoming a bad person isn’t the product of adopting some philosophy or making a change in our thoughts. It is us choosing what we do everyday and making sure that our actions are moving us in the direction we want to be moving in. If we are not consciously choosing our actions we are choosing to not play a role in deciding who we become.

The negative of this would be a warning that we should not practice what we do not want to become.

But the positive is that if we want to become good people, if we truly want to become our best selves, all we have to do is determine what our best selves would do. And then do that. Every single day.

That’s it. By acting like our best selves every day, eventually we embody our best selves.

While that sounds simple, let us try it for a few days and then decide just how easy simple can be. Spoiler alert, it is really hard.

But it is also worth it.

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June 7

“Modesty can never assert itself, when shameful idleness is dignified with an honorable name.” – Seneca

Well earned and short periods of relaxation are good for us, to be certain. They are even better for us if we share them with people we care about. These times allow us reinforce bonds, reflect on recent accomplishments, and plan for future endeavors.

But those moments of reflection and leisure are not where people feel the most alive. These are not the moments that allow us to experience the true joy of being fully in the moment.

It turns out that feeling, feeling like we are completely immersed in the world around us and at the same time unaware of any distractions, this beautiful feeling only comes to us when we are involved in performing a task or solving a problem that utilizes the outer limits of our skill sets.

In other words, we feel the best, we are the most content, we might argue the happiest, when we are fully utilizing, even taxing our abilities as human beings.

But mentally we all long for those quiet moments, the leisure. Why?

We all likely fail to recognize the things in life that actually make us feel better. We likely look to the wrong things for leisure as often as we fail to realize that eating well and exercising are actually more enjoyable than eating poorly and being sedentary. Just as we fail to realize that reading a book is more enjoyable than watching television.

So when we feel like we’ve earned a little down time today, let’s take on a small project that we’ve been wanting to work on or taking on a new project we’ve wanted to try. Maybe we start something we’ve had in the back of our minds for a little while.

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June 6

“The vicious hide their excesses in the lap of philosophy.” – Seneca

There are people, huge groups of them in fact, who would have us believe that the realization of all of our wildest dreams lie at the end of their particular program or process. As it turns out, our wildest dreams often appear to involve wealth, material possessions, and status symbolism. And we collectively, allow this to be labeled as self help.

If instead we help ourselves by detaching a little bit from our own lives and do our best to look at them objectively from the outside, we might see that a large part of why we turn to these self help sources in the first place is that our goals are to control things we have no control over. No process, no program, no guru is ever going to grant us power over the things we can not control.

We do not need anyone else’s help realizing the difference between the things we have control over and the things which we do not. We require only a small amount of self reflection and a touch of brutal honesty with ourselves to see the difference there.

Once we have those two things separated out, we can focus our energy on the things we have control over and we can allow the things we do not have control over to do as they will.

When we start to control the things we can and recognize the things we can not control, then we can begin to help ourselves.

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June 5

“I can show you many people beset by pleasures, people upon whom Fortune has showered all of her gifts, people you must admit are bad people.” – Seneca

Successful people are not necessarily good people, though good people tend to be successful in their own way.

We would have to allow ourselves a lot of denial and revision to reality to convince ourselves that the luxuries that come with material success do not bring pleasure along with them. Of course they do! In many ways that is the first reward that leads us along a path of pursuing material success. Our problems arise when we allow the trappings of success to become just that, trappings. When we are working towards more and more possessions, more exotic vacations, more high tech gadgets, when our goal becomes more. That is when we are trapped.

We would have to do some serious mental editing to ignore the toll this lifestyle obsession takes on those who choose this path. When we find ourselves trapped by pleasures, when we find ourselves working towards a goal of more, we find ourselves ignoring other aspects of our lives in search of more. We become adapted to the luxuries and pleasures we have and if we take them for granted we continue to search for more.

Until we start to approach life with a sense of gratitude for what we have, down to the smallest of luxuries, this cycle will consume our waking hours. It will consume our lives.

Let us develop our sense of gratitude early, and focus on becoming better people now.

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June 4

“The pleasures of the wise are mild, decorous, verging on dullness, kept under restraint and scarcely noticeable.” – Seneca

That doesn’t sound like a lot of fun does it? Pleasure that could be perceived as dull? That sounds like a bore.

If we compare two versions of pleasure. The first being the contentment found in enjoying a walk through a sunny park in the middle of a hectic workday. A few moments to allow our minds to wander, to take in the beauty of the day, and remind ourselves that we are filling our place in this beautiful world. The second being a busy night of getting food, drinks, and spending an evening on the town.

Both of these are fun in their own way, but only one revitalizes us, gives us a better perspective on our purpose, and reminds us of the reason we choose to avoid the second pleasure most of the time.

By approaching life with a sense of gratitude for the experiences and little luxuries we have, our ability to find pleasure in little things.

This protects us from becoming slaves to pleasure and allowing it to control our decision making. Like any drug, the more we give in to pleasure, the more of it we need to feel the high that comes with enjoying pleasure. It is far better to allow what pleasures come on their own to season our lives and focus our energy on becoming the best people we can.

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June 3

“If a person is engrossed in pleasure, how will they resist toil, danger, want, and all of the ills which surround us and threaten our lives? How will they bear the sight of death or pain?” – Seneca

There is an idea, a life philosophy that is as pernicious as it is prevalent in society today. The idea that happiness is somehow in and of itself a good goal for our lives.

The bothersome bit about happiness as a life goal is that happiness is an emotional state predominated by positive emotions. Sometimes in life, often in fact, we are going to encounter events and times where positive emotions would be the wrong experience. During these times, experiencing positive emotions would be a pretty big clue that there is something seriously wrong and we need professional help.

A well rounded life experiences a range of emotional states. Many of them are predominated by negative emotions. Anxiety, pain, fear, and confusion would be just a few of the emotional states that might accompany events we look back at someday and see as pivotal and important events in our own lives. Events we wouldn’t trade for all the pleasant emotions in the world.

Further more, setting happiness as our goal in life robs us of our ability to cope when things do go sideways on us. And they will go sideways on us. Life is going to knock us flat on our backs a few more times before the ride is over. If our goal is happiness, we might see ourselves as failures during those times. If we see ourselves as being open to full well rounded lives, we will see these as opportunities to grow.

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June 2

“Do you ask what I seek from virtue? I answer, ‘Virtue.’ It is its own reward. Does this not appear great enough, when I tell you that the highest good is an unyielding strength of mind, wisdom, magnanimity, sound judgement, freedom, harmony, beauty?” – Seneca

The reward in living a life in pursuit of being the best people we can become is that we get closer to becoming the best people we can become. This is enough of a reward, in and of itself.

When we learn to discipline ourselves to focus our energy and attention only the things that we actually have control over, we have a sense of peace and increased control over our destiny. This is a reward.

When we learn to discipline our reaction to the events that occur around us, even to us and we control our thoughts to keep us from being hurt or offended by things we had no control over, our interpersonal relationships become easier and more enjoyable. This is a reward.

When we learn to discipline our impulses and decision making we find ourselves wasting less time, money, and energy on things that we don’t need or things that will not truly provide a benefit to us on our path. This leaves us with more time, money, and energy. This is three rewards.

So let’s stay on the path and every once in awhile let’s take a look around us and take inventory of all of the rewards the path has provided us with.

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June 1

“We do not choose virtue because it gives us pleasure but it also gives us pleasure if we choose it.” – Seneca

There is a lot of joy and plenty of pleasure to be had in living a life that focuses on developing as individuals and recognizing that the things we can control are the things that relate directly to us, our thoughts, our actions, our response to the world around us.

The peace that comes with understanding the things we do and do not control and then focusing on only that is pleasurable in itself. The freedom that comes with disciplining our reaction to the external world, our actions, and our end of relationships is very pleasurable.

This is not why we have chosen to focus on developing ourselves into better people or why we have decided to withhold the base pleasures of life for a chance at a higher realization of life. But the pleasures that come along with that decision do help to soften the blow of the difficulty we have to endure to keep moving along this path. They help a lot.

Recognizing that we control our response to the world around us and that we choose our own emotional response to things gives us power over our own happiness, in any situation. This in turn gives us the opportunity to be grateful for even the smallest pleasures we might encounter along our path.

It is up to us.

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