May 24

“If pleasure and virtue were interconnected we would not see some things to be pleasurable and dishonorable and other things to be most honorable indeed, but hard and only to be attained by suffering.” – Seneca

A well rounded and full life is not synonymous with an an easy and pleasurable life. There is an incredible depth to the human condition and we will not have the opportunity to experience it reading about it in books, poolside in the sun, with a cold beverage near us, and bellies full of healthy food.

No. A full life experience is found at the end of a long life of working harder than we want to for longer than we want to. It is found at the end of a life of facing the difficult parts of our own personalities and finding ways to either work with them or to turn them into something better.

There will be pleasure as well. There will be times where we are having such a wonderful time we will forget that we were ever sad, or hurt, or lonely. There will be times where we know what we are doing is wrong and not good for us but it feels good, so we do it anyway. And we might regret it for a bit but we will come to realize that this too is part of the full life.

But most of it, most of the things that will make us into who we are, they are pleasurable in their own way but it is typically a more nuanced pleasure and it is one that we often do not realize until long after the difficult task is finally finished. These are the parts of life where we get to say, “I do not miss that. But I am glad I did it.”

May we all have lives filled with such moments.

virtus fortis vocat

 

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May 23

“A person is happy who in their present circumstances, whatever they may be, is satisfied and on friendly terms with the condition of their own life.” – Seneca

Happiness it would seem is to accept the way life is and to be satisfied that this is the way life is.

We can divorce this idea from the idea of settling for whatever life offers us and look at it instead as simply accepting that wherever we happen to find ourselves in any given aspect or facet of our lives, that is where we are. Whether we like it or not, that is the case. And if we choose to accept it and be satisfied with this reality, it will be easier for us to formulate a clearer plan to change the parts of our lives that we would like to improve on.

By taking inventory of our own lives and accepting that things as they are right now are the way they are right now, we will find it easier to detach a little bit from our current situation and when we do that, paths to improvement make themselves more visible.

Opportunities also make themselves more visible.  Because opportunities that we can take advantage of are going to come to us at a level just a little better than where we are right now. If we are honest with ourselves about where we actually are and are on friendly terms with the condition of our own lives, these will be a lot easier to see.

So let’s make friends with our own situations and then, let’s start looking for ways to improve that situation.

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May 22

“How evil and guilty a slavery the person is forced to serve who is dominated in turn by pleasures and pains, those most untrustworthy and passionate of masters.” – Seneca

It would be easy for us to frame this meditation in terms of addiction or some other bad habit that is painfully obvious to those of us on the outside.

What might be less obvious are the little traps we allow ourselves to fall into. The need to respond to every chime our phones make The trap of typing the website for a social media site into the search bar when we are supposed to be looking something up quickly. The inability to let go of a single criticism spoken to us in anger by a colleague or loved one, even when we know they are wrong.

There are so many more, from the food we eat because it is convenient, the time we waste because we are bored to the time we waste because we are fixated on some minor slight. These moments rob us of our potential but worse than that, we put these moments, these external things in charge of our own well being.

We could and we should do better. We can stay in control of the the things we can control, how we think and how we act, how we choose not to react. By doing this we take control back from these externals and we can focus on making ourselves into who we want to be.

It’s not easy but things that are worth it never really are.

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May 21

“You understand without my mentioning it that an unbroken calm and freedom ensue when we have removed from our lives all of the things which either excite or alarm us.”   – Seneca

It is so easy for us to be bothered by the world around us. We are surrounded by news cycles that run all day everyday. Sensationalism regarding the differences between groups of people and the effect these differences have on our society make it into our news feeds every single day. We are bombarded daily with advertisements about goods and services we have to have and warnings about foods, places, and people we should be avoiding.

Add to this that we are so much busier than we need to be, with all of our contacts constantly at our fingertips, social media just a swipe away. We are never really alone. The outside world is constantly engaging us.

If we have the ability to detach from all of it, even if it is only for a few moments a day, we will realize that we are happier and more peaceful reflecting inward rather than be affected from the outside.

Reflecting inward allows us the opportunity to recognize the things we actually have control over and provides us the means to bring about positive changes in our lives. The feedback is almost instantaneous and will encourage us to continue on this path.

Starting today, when we start to feel that panicked feeling of being overwhelmed by life, let’s all take a moment and turn inward. Take a few breaths and focus on one or two things we can control immediately to bring that feeling under control.

The first thing should always be our attitude.

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May 20

“A happy life must set value upon all of the things which adorn our lives without over-valuing any one of them, and must be able to enjoy the bounty of Fortune without becoming her slave.” – Seneca

We are going to have some good times. Many of us may very well enjoy good fortune most of the time. We are going to have more than we need and we are going to live in comfort most of the time.

But we need to remember not to allow the good things we experience to become the only thing we look to experience in this life. We should hold the good times in high value but we should also remember that we hold these times in such high value because they are rare.

If every day were a good day we would get used to it, we would become a slave the the good times. We would need even better days to feel good about and even worse, we would not be able to weather the hard times as well. We would become weak, and soft. Our ability to detach and see that bad times and good times are the same, they are not in themselves either good or bad, it is just how we choose to see and experience them.

We should be choosing to experience life fully. Good and bad. And we should be grateful for the opportunity.

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May 19

“These good things which people gaze at in wonder, which they crowd around to view, which one points out to another with speechless admiration, are outwardly beautiful, but within they are miseries to those who possess them.” – Seneca

The stuff. All the things we wish we had. All the things we wish we could afford. All the things we want to buy. All the things we rack up credit card debt to possess.

If we take a moment and think about the things we have spent the money on, the things we might even still be paying credit card bills to have possessed before we had the actual means to possess them. Where are they right now? How many times a day do we use them. A week? A month? Was it worth it?

Some of us may even own things that still cost even more in upkeep, a house that is a little bigger than we could afford, maybe we bought the higher end car than our neighbor, a better stereo, the list goes on. These possessions, these things that we needed to have at the time, they become a source of stress. They do in fact become part of our misery, more so than some of the stresses that work, and other responsibilities push on us.

We should instead be focusing on the things that are going to enrich our lives. Focusing on the things in life that make us better. The things that offer to provide us with the best chance at a well rounded life experience. These things are often not the flashy things, they are often not the things others will be impressed by and they are never the easy things. But they are the things that are worth it.

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May 18

“If a person ever allows their mind some breathing space and takes the time to communicate with themselves, what truths they will reveal to themselves after they have been put to the torture of their own introspection.” – Seneca

Detachment and self reflection, two of the most effective skills we can develop are also two of the most difficult to implement and almost impossible skills to master.

Detachment is the ability to step back and look at our situation, at our lives, as if we were separate from them. This allows us to see the bigger picture. By stepping back and giving our brain some breathing room we are able to not only see what is going on in our own lives but also the most important part, the role we are playing in our own situation.

This is where self reflection can become a brutal exercise. When we have stepped back and taken a more objective look around we see the whole picture better. Inevitably, if we are then going to apply even a small amount of self reflection it can be difficult to face the reality that we play a major role in our own frustrations and struggles.

The good news is that this will be the part that we actually have control over, us. we can control how we continue to act, how we choose to see our situation, and the areas we choose to work on improving.

But the beginning of this like the beginning of anything worthwhile, is the most difficult part.

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May 17

“Let us therefore inquire. not what is most commonly done, but what is best for us to do.” – Seneca

Conventional wisdom. Keeping up with the Joneses. Following the herd. If we are going to learn anything from motivational posts on social media, it is that these are all things that we would avoid if we are going to live full lives that have purpose and meaning.

It turns out that these ideas are not only an internet phenomenon. They have been around for millennia, and for good reason.  People as a group tend to settle for what is comfortable, what is easier, and the things that are enjoyable.

We all, deep down, know on some level that these are also the things that are the least likely to help us fulfill our goals of living content, full lives with purpose and meaning. We know that things that are actually going to allow us to grow, to improve, and to find that meaning in our lives are in fact not comfortable, they are not easy and often they are not enjoyable either.

We should choose to be doing the things that we know will make us better at whatever it is we want to improve at. Maybe that means we get up earlier, maybe we add in exercise, cut out certain foods, or maybe we read instead of watching television.

Whatever it is, we should choose to be better.

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May 16

“You may observe this in human life: no one can merely go wrong by themselves, but they must become both the cause and adviser of another’s wrong doing.” – Seneca

Busy. We are all just so busy. But if we took the amount of time we spent on things that weren’t actually productive, how much time do we really spend doing things that need to be done? How often do we find ourselves putting things on our plate that are not going to help our productivity? How often do we find ourselves giving these unimportant tasks to our spouses? Our coworkers? Our children?

This might be the only time we want to start with other people and then slowly work towards fixing a problem in ourselves.

Not only are we guilty of wasting our own time but we are all very likely guilty of wasting someone else’s as well. Probably someone we love. Just think about how many busy work tasks we push onto our spouses, our children, our friends.

As we move through our day today, let’s make a mental note of each of the tasks that we ask others to do. And as we get better of recognizing how much busy work we ask others to pick up we should start to ask ourselves, does this need to be done? Is it something we would do if we were able? Is it going to help the other person as well?

If we can answer yes to all of those questions, fine the task is important. If we answer no to any of them, maybe we should rethink it. We live in a chaotic time, there is always more to put on our plates, we should be careful about how much we place on anyone else’s to-do list.

And once we get good at not pushing busy work onto those around us, we should look inward and start trying to eliminate it in our own lives.

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May 15

“Now nothing gets us into greater troubles than our subservience to common rumor, and our habit of thinking that those things are best that are generally perceived as such.”         – Seneca

We’ve all at least heard the adage, “If everyone jumped off a cliff…” we know how it goes. And not a single one of us is likely going to want to think of ourselves as followers, many of us prefer to think of ourselves as leaders, most if not all of us would prefer to see ourselves as individuals.

If we look at our lives however, we find evidence that we are following the crowd more than we might like to admit to ourselves, we all buy the same things, we read the same books, watch the same shows and in our won communities often have the same politics/religions/beliefs.

And we all subscribe to the same conventional wisdom. If we look a little deeper into many of the commonly held beliefs and the way we understand the world, we are often wrong. Entirely wrong.

So for today, let’s step back from what we know a little bit. Because there is a good chance what we know is not quite as robust as we believe it to be. Let’s approach some of the same things we have been doing daily for a long time now with an attitude that we might have been doing them wrong. Let’s see if we can’t relearn a few things we have known for a really long time.

And let’s see if that approach makes us see things, just a little differently. If it does, maybe it is worth applying this to the rest of our lives.

virtus fortis vocat

May 14

“Everyone wants to live a happy life, but we are dull at perceiving exactly what it is that makes life happy.” – Seneca

Happiness. We are all seeking it in our own way. But are we asking the right questions? A quick search for book about happiness would indicate that while we all want to be happy, most of us have no idea where to start.

If we were to design a basic pattern of happiness what would it include? For our purposes, we will define happiness as a state of well being, contentment, and a generally decent quality of life.

If we look at our current quality of life, most of us will have to concede that it is in fact fairly decent, possibly even downright good. This is especially true when we compare our situation to that of other humans around the globe. In that, most of us have satisfied the requirement for happiness.

But are we content? In most case, we are not. We lose perspective of just how good our lives are and get trapped in the wanting. We get pulled into the idea that somehow external things, outside of our own control hold the keys to our being happy. We could and should instead choose contentment.

For some of us, this is going to be harder than others. We might not be where we actually need to be in order to feel contentment, or perhaps we are simply not ready to change our frame of mind. But we can look at where we are and ask ourselves, what would we need in order to feel content?

And then plan our lives out around the answer to this question.

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May 13

“Pleasure like a kind of bait, is thrown before everything which is really bad and easily lures greedy souls to the hook of destruction.” – Epictetus

The easy path, the immediate gratification, the quick fix, or just going for what feels good instead of what we know is good for us. Having that one more drink that we know is going to interrupt decision making or eating that eating that food that we know we’re not supposed to. Maybe it’s going over the head of one of our co-workers to get that promotion.

Everyday we make little choices choices that define who we are as people. While they may appear to be little choices, when we make them repeatedly they end up deciding who we are. So when we make the choice to give in, to just take the easy path we need to remember that we are choosing who we are.

If we decide that it’s okay to cheat or give in to temptation this one little time we will typically also tell ourselves that we don’t do this all the time. We should take a moment and we should look back on how often we make those little compromise.s or even better, keep it in our mind at all times going forward. We should start tracking these compromises.

We should also keep in mind that with each of these decisions we are building a habit and if we are making two decisions to make the right choice and be stronger everyday and ten decisions to make the wrong choices be a little weaker every day we’re still headed down the path of weakness. We’re still headed towards destruction

Instead we should keep front and center in our mind that we always want to be getting better we always want to be making the stronger decisions and then we should go about the business of making them, every day.

virtus fortis vocat

May 12

“If a person should transgress moderation the things which give the greatest delight would become the things which give the least.” – Epictetus

Hedonic adaptation or the hedonic treadmill is the idea that we get used to our current level of quality of life. This goes for all types of pleasure and hardship, one of the easiest examples to use though it is not as accurate would be thinking about why we need to drink more alcohol to feel the same effects after we’ve been doing it for a while. It’s also why when we make a lot of money, when we buy a big house or when we buy a big fancy car that’s really comfortable, why eventually, we get used to those things.

In each case, the opposite is also true. When we deprive ourselves of luxury, when we go without the creature comforts, when we take the path that is going to be more difficult, we also become used to dealing with hardship. We adapt.

But here is the kicker, when we choose to deprive ourselves of the luxuries of life even the small luxuries become that much more enjoyable. If we are disciplined in our diet, even a small treat is a luxury. If we are disciplined in our schedule, a small break can be a time of rest and reflection. If we discipline our bodies, difficult tasks become easier and more enjoyable. And if we discipline our minds and our emotions, time with friends and loved ones becomes far more meaningful.

More than just being more enjoyable because we’ve deprived ourselves of luxury, these things become more enjoyable to us because we know that we have earned them.

May 11

“We should enjoy good fortune while we have it, like the fruits of autumn.” – Epictetus

We all know that good things and bad things are going to happen to us in this life and that all of the good and the bad things that happen have aspects to them that are beyond our control. In most cases good things and bad things are just going to happen to us and how we respond to them is the only part we actually control.

Just as we should not be upset by the bad things that happen to us and we should not look at them as reflections of who we are, we should not be proud of the good things that happen to us. We should not act as if the good things that do come to us were brought about solely by our actions. But that does not mean that we can’t enjoy them while they are here.

More importantly, much like the fruits of autumn, we can store our good fortune for later use. We can do that by determining when good things happen to us whether these good things have an aspect to them that can be set aside for later use. If they can, we should do just that because just like money saving up good fortune can pay for itself more in the long-term then if we just went and spent it right away.

As we move through our day today when we experience pleasant things let’s ask ourselves, ‘is this something that I am able to put off the enjoyment of now and get more out of later?’

If the answer is yes, let’s come back and revisit these during a more difficult time when we might actually get more out of them.

virtus fortis vocat

May 10

“A person is unreasonable who is troubled by the things that happen as the result of nature’s necessity.” – Epictetus

Whether we like it or not, we are headed towards degeneration. Someday, we are going to lose our abilities, someday we will be less strong, less mobile, our skill sets will deteriorate and we will lose some of our basic freedoms. Eventually, we will lose our ability to earn a living and at that point we will be left to try to live off of the wealth that we have been able to gather up to that point. We will depend on that accumulated wealth to sustain us for the rest of our lives and then we will die.

That is a rather bleak to look at our lives, especially the end part of our lives but it is also a realistic way to look at it. Choosing to be upset by these facts, choosing to allow them to get into our minds and affect our daily lives does us no good and in fact probably harms us more than we realize.

Instead of allowing ourselves to be negatively affected by the inevitable, we can train our bodies to maintain our strength and mobility for as long as we are able, we can train our minds to learn new things so that when our abilities starts to fail we can pivot and take up new challenges and exploit new opportunities, and we can train ourselves in resource discipline so that we require less to live and are able to live off less wealth then we would if we continued on our current path.

So yes, we are going to get weaker, we are going to lose abilities, we are going to eventually be stuck with what we have acquired in this life but that does not mean we need to go towards that end resigned to our fate just waiting to die.

No. We can work towards giving ourselves the best opportunity to enjoy the entirety of our lives. It just takes will and discipline

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May 9

“Envy is the antagonist of the fortunate.” – Epictetus

We have so much in this life to feel fortunate about. We have blessings that we fail to recognize as blessings. We have electricity at the touch of a switch, clean water at the turn of a knob, warmth when it is cold, shelter when the weather is disagreeable, and we have access to more food than we probably need. We carry with us the means to access the entire vault of human knowledge, in our pockets!

Still we find ourselves wanting more and better things. Better phones, better cars, better homes, and more toys than people two generations ago would have been able to imagine. And why do we want all of these things? Because they are available and because if other people can have them why can’t we?

For starters, our wanting of things takes our focus away from the things we have. The things we take for granted. And when we take things for granted in our lives we stop being grateful for what we already have. When we stop feeling grateful we start to feel unfulfilled. When we rob ourselves of our ability to feel fulfilled we rob ourselves of our own contentment.

Let’s start giving back to ourselves by remembering the things we should be grateful for and focusing on attaining only the things that will enrich our lives.

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May 8

“The value of knowledge, like that of gold is valued in every place.” – Epictetus

If we would like to find ourselves invaluable at work, home, and in our social circles we would do well to begin that journey by making ourselves more knowledgeable. Our ability to help solve problems that might come up make us valuable to any one with a problem we can help with. The more knowledgeable we choose to make ourselves, the more problems we can find ourselves helping with. The subjects we choose to become more knowledgeable are ultimately individual and up to each of us but if we want to gain valuable knowledge we would be wise to choose subjects we find our friends and coworkers struggling with.

Any gains in knowledge or ability come to us with a big caveat. It is all well and good to learn new things, get better at new skills, and share them with others but it is more important to remain modest. Gaining new knowledge, even important and useful knowledge does not give us a license to go around solving everyone’s problems. First we have to demonstrate competence in areas related to the problems we want to solve, then we wait. We wait until someone seeks our assistance and then we provide it as best we can.

No one likes a know it all, and there is a fine balance between gaining knowledge, being excited to share it, and bombarding our friends and coworkers with pretentious vomit from our newly informed minds.

Let’s look to gain as much knowledge as we can in this life, for its own sake. If we never actually get to use it, at least we have it.

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May 7

“If you wish to live a life free from sorrow, think of what is going to happen as if it has already happened.” – Epictetus

Each of us are going to experience difficulties that are going to be so hard on us that we will question our own ability to get through them. Of these, the loss of a loved one is likely going to be the hardest thing many of us are going to face. Some of these losses can be predicted. For example, most of us with living parents can expect to survive beyond their passing.

While it is not fun to think about anyone dying, especially a loved one, it is helpful to keep in mind that death is an unavoidable part of life. We are all – each of us – going to die. Ignoring it, pretending it isn’t going to happen, or lying to ourselves to believe that not thinking about these things is the same as happiness helps nothing. It’s still coming.

A better but slightly counter intuitive approach is to think about these things as if they have already occurred. Literally, pretend a loved one has already died. What did we wish we had said? Done? Are we happy with the relationship we maintained with them? Did we make them feel how important they were to us while they were living? Even in the best of relationships the answer to those questions is likely to be ‘no.’

By practicing this a few times a week, maybe even a few times a day we give ourselves the opportunity to do something about these relationships before it is too late.

Because death is coming. For all of us.

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May 6

“You ought to choose both physician and friend not the most agreeable, but the most useful.” -Epictetus

That is not to say to us that we should be using our friends anymore than we use our physician, or mechanic, or anyone we have a reciprocal relationship with. If we remember however, that we are the average of the five people we spend the most time with, we will also remember how important our friend choices are.

We should all be aiming to be better friends. Better friends are the type of people who have friends that know without a doubt that they are valued by them. Our friends should know that we consider them important and that we will go out of our way to make certain that they can feel that. Like a lot of social interactions though, our act of making our friends feel important has to come from a genuine place.

It is easier to be genuine about looking up to our friends if they actually possess traits that we admire about them. It is hard to stay friends with someone we look down on or feel sorry for because we struggle to make them feel important. It is true we could likely find things to admire about just about anyone we encounter in life but if we are early in our journey along this path we should be making choices that are going to lead to success. In the beginning, that is going to mean choosing to associate with the friends that we naturally admire and developing the skill of making sure they know that they are important to us.

As we get better our circle of friends can grow infinitely larger based on our ability to find admirable traits in others.

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May 5

“Whoever is least disposed in mind by calamities, and in act struggles most against them, these are the best people in states and in private life.” – Epictetus

We are all going to face difficult situations and sometimes life is just going to seem like one terrible event after another. It is easy to allow it to overwhelm us. It isn’t difficult to find ourselves feeling as if we are standing on our tippy toes in water up to our chin and the waves are getting a little bigger every minute.

And we all know a few people that just seem to weather every storm life sends them without even breaking stride. It is a safe bet that we have all wished we could share their approach to life. But it’s hard to do when we seem to be taking on water at all times.

There is a simple three step process to training our minds to act like those people we admire in a time of crisis.

Step one is to detach from the situations, or all of the situations. We need to stop fighting against the waves and just hold our breath for a minute. By stepping back from the crisis we create some distance, it helps if we look at our own lives as if they belonged to someone else. What would we encourage this person to do? This will lead right into step two.

Step two is to make a list of things we need to tackle, we should list them in order of importance and we should attack each item on the list without giving a second thought to the issue coming up next. By focusing entirely on one task at a time the forces working against us seem smaller and easier to manage. This reduces our stress and allows us to stay detached.

The third and final step is to repeat the above two steps as often as necessary in order to keep  the things we can control under our control. This is not going to make life easy but then our goal should not be to have an easy life. Our goal should be to have a challenging but fulfilling life.

By stepping back and seeing our problems from the outside and then attacking our problems one at a time, we can have just that.

virtus fortis vocat

May 4

“When our friends are present, we should treat them well. When our friends are absent, we should speak of them well.” – Epictetus

Of course we should treat our friends well, that is how we maintain friendship. But what does that mean to us? We should be truly interested and invested in their lives. They should feel like when they are with us, we are listening and giving them all of our attention. Our most important goal in any friendship should be to be certain that our friends know that we consider them to be important at all times.

But it is when our friends are not around that we can do the most to show them how important they are to us. Speaking well of others when they are not around isn’t just going to make them look good. It will actually change the way people think about them and interact with them. This will make their lives better.

As an aside, it also makes people think better of us. If we share all the good things we can think of about someone every time that person comes up in conversation it makes us look like we care about others and value other people. And we should. This will lead to people being far more open and straightforward with us and far more willing to collaborate with us on just about everything.

So for the rest of this week, let’s try this out. Every time someone comes up in conversation let’s try to mention as many things as we can think of that are good about this person or good things that are happening in their lives. Let’s see if we notice a difference in the way people interact with us by the end of the week.

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May 3

“The necessity of circumstance proves friends and detects enemies.” – Epictetus

We have all heard similar expressions about bad times showing us who our friends really are. What we need to think about in relation to our goal of mastering self control and focusing only on the aspects of life that we have control over, is that our friends choose to remain friends with us and there is little we can do about their decision making.

Instead we should be looking at quotes like these in terms of our own behavior. Would we be the friend or the enemy when the necessity of circumstance starts to sort everyone out? It is likely true that the majority of us would prefer to be the friend.

We become the friend in bad times by remaining truly and genuinely interested in the people we share life with. If we take an interest in the lives of the people we interact with, we can not help but see them as they are, unique and wonderful people.

When these unique and wonderful people are going through hard times, we can’t help but identify with them simply because we have taken a genuine interest in them and their lives. During these times we also have the beautiful gift of detachment, meaning that we can see more of the big picture of what they are going through. This puts us in an excellent position to offer the appropriate amount and type of assistance without making the affected person feel pitied.

When the circumstances arise, let us make the effort to be the friend and not the enemy.

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May 2

“Be careful to leave your children well instructed rather than rich, for the hopes of the instructed are better than the wealth of the ignorant.” – Epictetus

We have all seen it. The person we knew who had everything given to them, they didn’t seem to understand the value of anything did they? It’s a known fact that one of the best ways to ruin a small business is to pass it down to one of the owner’s children. Why is that? Because it is impossible to understand and appreciate the amount of effort and responsibility required to build and maintain a business or any organization unless a person was involved. Like anything, we see the success but what we don’t see is the work, failure, and persistence that leads to the success.

It serves us and those involved with us better to live an example of being caught up in the process and less about the success. It helps to remember that a huge part of success and failure have more to do with external forces outside of our control than they do with things we can actually affect. Instead, we should focus on getting ourselves better at whatever we are trying to be successful with. We should quietly go about improving our abilities, our perspective, and most importantly our attitude.

With a little luck, our quiet example will be followed by the people in life we most hope to influence.

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May 1

“Chose the best life, because experience will make it pleasant.” – Epictetus

A lot of life happens to us, we affect very little of the on goings of it; even in our careers, families, and social networks. The one thing we have complete control over is ourselves; how we act, how we react, and how we choose to view life. The best life then, is the life in which we have chosen to focus our energy on developing and improving ourselves.

This life is also the most enjoyable for a number of reasons. The first and likely most powerful reason is that it is the life where we are going to enjoy the best results. When we focus on the things we actually control and affect, we get to see much more rapid and impressive results than if we sprinkle in a bunch of effort towards things we do not control and therefore can not affect.

The other reason that this life is more pleasant is that it greatly reduces our stress. When we think about the things in life that stress us out, really keep us up at night in our current situation or recent past, what are they? Often, they are things that we have little to no control over. By learning to let go of these things that we can not control, we remove their ability to cause us stress.

Let’s chose the best life for ourselves and get to working on ourselves.

virtus fortis vocat

April 30

“Fortify yourself with contentment, for it is an impregnable fortress.” – Epictetus

Contentment is a state of happiness and satisfaction. If we use them interchangeably, contentment is the act of choosing to be happy and satisfied. It is the art of controlling our situation by controlling the one thing we can, ourselves. By choosing to be content in the situation we are currently in we choose to accept the way things are and that the only changes we can really count on are the ones that start with us.

Contentment is not the same thing as settling. Settling would be us accepting things the way they are and then assuming there is nothing to be done to improve the current situation. Every situation can be improved upon. But in order to make effective and lasting improvements, we need to understand that all of the changes we wish to make, start with us.

What contentment does offer, is protection from the negative effects of failure and rejection. If we are coming from a place where we are already happy and satisfied, then failing at an attempt or having someone respond negatively to a request become less discouraging. If we are content with where we are in life we will be less desperate/nervous in a job interview, applying for a loan, asking a love interest our on a date, or even just attending social events.

Being content oddly enough, is the best first step in making self improvements. It removes the risk.

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April 29

“Nothing really pleasant or unpleasant subsists naturally, but all things become so through our understanding.” – Epictetus

There is an actual psychological phenomenon to explain the quote above. It’s called the hedonic treadmill or hedonic adaptation, it is our tendency to return to a relatively stable state of contentment regardless of changes in our situation. No matter how good or how bad it gets for us, we will normalize the change and return to our previous level of contentment. And that is not necessarily a bad thing.

If we work towards achieving contentment with our current position in life, this does more for us than just take away the risk of trying new things or reaching for new goals – if we are content where with our current situation, failing at new things and having to stay where we are is not nearly as frightening. Being content where we are in life fortifies us against the external things life is going to throw at us, good and bad.

By recognizing our current level of contentment and holding onto the understanding that many of the things that life throws at us are outside of our control, we can ignore the blips of ups and downs we might otherwise experience before the hedonic treadmill pulls us back to baseline.

We can work on our emotional discipline instead.

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April 28

“We should not have either a blunt knife nor a freedom of speech which is poorly managed.” Epictetus

This is less about being able to yell, ‘fire’ in a crowded theatre and more about the purpose and efficacy of speech. Speech is one means of communicating with other people and even sometimes with the trained domesticated animals we share our lives with.

Good communication should leave the recipient clear about the intended message and any meaning that needs to be inferred. Hence the comparison to a knife.

Rather than being blunt in our communications, we should be precise, surgical. Only saying what needs to be said in order to move the conversation along to a productive or meaningful outcome.

If that sounds robotic and rigid to us, we need to consider the more important aspect of our communication. Listening. If we use our speech to augment what those around us are saying only enough to express that we are interested in what they are saying and we would like them to continue, or to agree with them, or disagree politely and request an explanation, if we communicate in those terms, we will watch all of our relationships thrive.

\So let us practice wielding our speech like surgical instruments, only cutting into the conversation to do the most good. Otherwise, we should listen to those around us and use our listening to improve our understanding.

By understanding better, doors we never would have seen will open to us.

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April 27

“Contentment, as it is a short road and pleasant, has great delight and little trouble.”            – Epictetus

Contentment should be our goal when we think about happiness. Being content as in not wanting for anything more in our lives is something that should be within reach for each of us.

This is likely why the author classifies contentment as a short road. Many of us should be able to accomplish contentment simply by changing the way that we look at our own lives. If we stop looking at all of the external things, many of which are way outside our control and start to focus on the things we can control, we will find very quickly that we could have been content in our own lives for quite some time now.

It is a pleasant road because the act of looking at our lives and teasing out which things are within our control and which things are not leads to self reflection. This leads to understanding and respecting ourselves more. Which ultimately leads to us feeling better about ourselves. Then we start working on the little things that we can control and w start to see some changes. This leads to us wanting to accomplish more and suddenly we find ourselves months or years down the path and we realize that we are content with who we are and where we are going.

We will also find that the path of self reflection and the self mastery that comes with focusing on the things within our control bring a lot of joy as well.

So let’s get on the path, stay on the path, and learn to enjoy the path.

virtus fortis vocat

 

April 26

“For what is reasonable then and in our power is this, to not allow our judgement to be the only thing which resists the universe: for it is strong and superior.” – Epictetus

Some days it seems as though the universe might just have it in for us. It doesn’t of course,  but it often feels as if the entire world is conspiring against us. The world or universe or whatever we want to look at doesn’t care about us at all. In fact, the majority of people on Earth are completely unaware of our existence. Our sphere of impact is remarkable small relative to the size and scope of the world we live in. The aspects of our own sphere that we control is even smaller.

As we read the paragraph above, most of us will recognize the truth in those words and few if any of us would argue that our impact or control are bigger than they actually are. It’s easy to have this perspective as we are reading a short daily meditation that has little if any bearing on our lives. When we are in the middle of an issue and are drawn into the weeds, it is a lot harder to take this perspective.

Our thought exercise today should be this: let’s ask ourselves three questions with each issue we might face today. Is the issue itself within our control? Can we have any affect on the outcome? If we maintain a positive attitude will we make this better for everyone involved?

As you might imagine, one of these three questions carries far more yes answers than the others.

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April 25

“If a person attempts to turn their mind toward these thoughts, and to persuade themselves to accept with willingness that which is necessary, they will pass through life with complete moderation and harmony.” – Epictetus

Everyone we have ever met has been through something they currently consider the most difficult event in their lives. Some of us might even have trouble deciding which one of the difficult events that we have endured is in fact the most difficult.

Today, let’s think back to the most difficult situation we have ever encountered and dealt with. We can spend the rest of the day thinking about how much control we had over the event occurring in the first place and then we can focus a little on the event itself. Specifically, let’s think back to two aspects of the event. The first being how the event has affected us long term, both negative and positive. The second being how we dealt with the event as it was unfolding, in the immediate aftermath and how we have processed it long term.

As we think about the most difficult thing we have ever had to endure with these specific angles in mind, we might find that we could have saved ourselves a lot of frustration and heartache if we had moved to acceptance a little faster.

It is important to keep in mind, acceptance is not the same as resignation. Acceptance does not mean that responsible parties should not be held accountable, it does not mean that we sit on our couches and watch life pass us by. Acceptance means that we recognize that in any situation there are many aspects we have no control over. We need to be able to accept these aspects as out of our control so that we can be most effective in the areas we do control. Some of the things we have no control over will be harder to accept than others. Reflecting back on past difficult times, dissecting them and recognizing what could have been done differently helps us prepare for future difficulties. And there will be future difficulties.

Reaching acceptance earlier will lead to more contentment.

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April 24

“A person who is dissatisfied with things present and what is given by fortune is ignorant in life, but one who bears these things nobly and rationally and the things which proceed from them is worth of being considered good.” – Epictetus

Life will come at us fast and there is little we can do about that. We can prepare as best a person can and still be caught unawares by the twists and turns life has in store for us. At those moments, those times when life has surprised us yet again, that is when we get the opportunity to see who we really are.

How do we respond to these unexpected tastes of fate? If we find ourselves getting down, blaming others, or generally being pessimistic then we can reason that we are not sticking to the aspects of the issue we have control over. We are setting ourselves up for further disappointment, frustration, and unnecessary suffering.

If instead, we accept that this is the new reality, reflect on what we could have done differently to avoid the situation, and then finding a sensible plan to deal with the situation or use it to our advantage we are taking what life has to offer and making the most of it. We are setting ourselves up to do better in the long run and see more opportunities

How we deal with life, the way we view and address the problems and blessings that life brings to us directly plays into our contentment and sets us up for future opportunities or hardships.

In the words of Jon Kabat-Zinn, “You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.”

Let’s all learn to surf.

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