It isn’t the things themselves that disturb people, but the judgements that they form about them. Death, for instance, is nothing terrible, or else it would have seemed so to Socrates too; no, it is in the judgement that death is terrible that the terror lies. Accordingly, whenever we are impeded, disturbed or distressed, we should never blame anyone else but only ourselves, that is, our judgements. It is an act of a poorly educated person to blame others when things are going badly for him; one who has taken the first step towards being properly educated blames himself, while one who is fully educated blames neither anyone else nor himself.
– Epictetus, Handbook, 5
Take 5-10 minutes and sit quietly, thinking of occasions in the recent past when you reacted in a ‘passionate’ way (attaching value to things like fame and prosperity), and also on occasions when you reacted with a ‘good emotion’, remembering that what matters most is acting virtuously.
Perhaps for about 15 years after graduating from college and engaging in the "rat race" of "climbing to the top" at work, I focused a lot on chasing happiness by pursuing things that were largely out of my control. I bought into the concept that rank, power, status, authority would bring me happiness. I was able to achieve a lot of those things, but many times I failed to attain them. Consequently, my mental health and inner disposition would rise and fall and turn like a roller coaster.
Eventually, I came to learn these things don't matter or matter much less than I placed value in them. I learned that I could be content in any situation and this was largely due to the writings of Marcus Aurelius and Epictetus.
I used to be upset when unexpected events occurred and when I had to do something I didn't want to. Now I roll with the flow and focus on my ability to choose how I view events.
A similar thought is encapsulated with a Charles Swindoll quote:
The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, the education, the money, than circumstances, than failure, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company...a church...a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice everyday regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past...we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude. I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% of how I react to it. And so it is with you. We are in charge of our attitudes.Evening Reflection
So reflect on this: the result of wisdom is stability of joy. The wise person’s mind is like the superlunary heaven: always peaceful. So you have this reason to want to be wise, if wisdom is always accompanied by joy. This joy has only one source: an awareness of the virtues. A person is not capable of joy unless he is brave, unless he is just, unless he has self-control.
– Seneca, Letters, 59.16
Did your emotions today express an attempt to respond virtuously and what could you do to make this happen tomorrow and to experience the ‘joy’ that Seneca describes?
Detached observation - that is the most succinct way I can describe how to control my attitude and emotions. I don't always succeed, but the more I practice it, the more slow I am to react to things (events, peoples' words and emotions).
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