Finding Happiness the Epictetus Way : #1


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Epictetus was a stoic philosopher. His ‘Enchiridion‘ is full of simple yet profound wisdom on ‘how to be happy.

It begins with a very powerful statement :

‘Some things are in our control and others not. Things in our control are opinion, pursuit, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever are our own actions. Things not in our control are body, property, reputation, command, and, in one word, whatever are not our own actions.”

My Commentary: Epictetus says that things in our lives fall under two categories: Things that we can control & things that are not within our control. The events/circumstances of our life are outside our control but how we interpret them & how we react to them is very much in our control. The wise focus their energies on things that are within our control whereas fools waste their time trying to blame/complain about things outside our control. People are not disturbed by things, but by the view they take of them. There is only one way to happiness and that is to cease worrying about things which are beyond the power of our control.

“If it is peace you want, seek to change yourself, not other people. It is easier to protect your feet with slippers than to carpet the whole of the earth.” ~Anthony De Mello

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.” ~ Reinhold Niebuhr

“Our lives are not determined by what happens to us but by how we react to what happens, not by what life brings to us, but by the attitude we bring to life. A positive attitude causes a chain reaction of positive thoughts, events, and outcomes. It is a catalyst, a spark that creates extraordinary results.”~ Anon

Philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre said:
“Freedom is what you do with what’s been done to you”.
In other words: freedom consists in finding the point of power, which is always in the present moment. It also means: how you respond to what happens is more important than what happens.~Eckhart Tolle

” Life is 10% what happens to me and 90% of how I react to it. We are in charge of our Attitudes.” ~ Charles Swindoll

This point has also been stressed by Stephen covey in his book ‘Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’. The first effective habit he describes is “Be Proactive” that is no matter what happens we still are in charge of our responses. To bring his point home further he has used the concept of circle of influence & circle of concern which are similar to Epictetus’ ‘Things within our control’ & ‘Things outside our control’

Things within our control = Our circle of Influence

Things outside our control = Our circle of Concern

Covey says that effective people spend time in their circle of influence, focusing on things that they can indeed control. Whenever we blame others for our miseries we are acting out of our circle of influence.

As long as we choose to blame the circumstances in our life on people and things in our external environment, we remain powerless to change these circumstances. We become the victims of our external environment, and in the process expend a tremendous amount of mental energy complaining about the lack of control over our lives. Only by understanding that the circumstances in your life are your responsibility will you be able to regain control over your life. You can then be proactive, and consciously improve the quality of your life by acting responsibly in the present.

This is beautifully illustrated by Chuck Gallozzi  the author of the book, ‘The 3 Thieves and 4 Pillars of Happiness, 7 Steps to a Life of Boundless Joy’  :

You go to a restaurant and order a steak. You specifically ask to have the steak well-done, explaining that you can’t eat it if it’s rare. Twenty minutes later, the waiter returns with a covered, sizzling plate and walks away. You uncover the plate and find the steak is rare. You are now angry.

You can choose to remain angry, but that would be unwise as it would ruin your meal. Instead, you choose to stop and think about the situation. You ask yourself how these stupid mistakes happen. As soon as you do, the answer appears. Mistakes happen because we’re dealing with people, and people make mistakes. That’s why pencils have erasers. Making mistakes is part of our nature. We’re imperfect. And since you’re a person, you, too, make mistakes and upset people.

After arriving at this conclusion, your anger is gone. You calmly call the waiter, return the steak, and ask him for one well-done. Also, you spontaneously add, “Since I have to wait again, perhaps you can bring me a free cappuccino to pass the time.” The waiter answers, “I’ll be happy to sir; I’ll get you one right away.”

You are proud of the way you responded and look forward to the pleasure of a cappuccino. This turn of events came about only because you changed your mental state. It is only in a state of calmness that your creativity can spring into action and think of “the cappuccino solution.” Instead of ruining your dinner, you improved it! And the restaurant gets a chance to make up for


September 7, 2011. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Greek Philosophers, Happiness, Inspiration, Meaning of Life, My lifestyle, My Values, Philosophy, Reflections/Musings, Wisdom.


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