July 14, 2021 - The Stoic Gym Blog
How to be Happy — Seneca’s Dozen
[An outline of Seneca’s On Happiness]
In this discussion addressed to his brother Gallio, the Stoic philosopher Seneca lays down the path to happiness: What are basics of happiness, what is the path to happiness, how to handle pleasure, how to practice virtue, how to enjoy money that may come your way, and, most of all, how to understand yourself. What follows is a summary of the dialogue. (The summary is based on my book Stoic Happiness (https://amzn.to/2LwZZCa), a plain English version of Seneca’s discourse on happiness.)
The basics of happiness
1. Don’t follow the crowd
Most people are unaware of things that will make them happy. But they think they are. So, they give us untested advice. If we follow others we will be led astray and will end up being unhappy. What should you do? Give your mind some breathing room. It will figure out what is good for it.
2. You don’t have to go far to find happiness
Happiness is very close to us. When you stop being alarmed and excited by petty things, you will be continuously free and calm. Don’t get carried away by short-term pleasures. Act in line with human nature. This means three things:
Keep your mind bold and vigorous,
Endure things with courage when needed, and
Take care of your body and how it looks, but don’t obsess over it.
The path to happiness
3. Understand that what is good comes from your mind and not from outside
Recognize good and bad only if they come from your mind. Keep your mind free, undisturbed, and firm. Don’t get carried away by pain or pleasure.
4. Deal with what is in front of you
Deal with what is clearly in front of you and don’t be swayed by fear, hope, or desires. Be content with the present.
5. Be single-minded in pursuing virtue
Take care of your body and other ‘good’ things you have. But don’t let them rule you. Remember, pleasure comes from virtue and not the other way around.
How to handle pleasures
6. Use pleasure, but don’t indulge in it
Cheerfulness does not come from excessive pleasure but from a moderate enjoyment of it. You cannot face life’s challenges by indulging in excessive pleasure. Avoid vicious forms of pleasures such as arrogance, boasting, insulting, and sloth. When you are a prisoner of pleasure, you postpone other things and trade freedom for pleasure. When you use knowledge (virtue) rather than pleasure as your guide, you will want nothing, and you will be free and will face no misfortune.
How to pursue virtue
7. Pursue virtue, even if you are criticized for it
You will be criticized if you follow virtue, but don’t give up because good thoughts result in good things.
8. Live by these rules
Don’t hoard and don’t squander.
Things gain value when you give them to others.
Don’t do anything in private you would be ashamed to do in public.
Be pleasant and gentle with your enemies.
Forgive voluntarily. Meet people halfway.
Do according to your conscience not according to what others might think.
Don’t damage your — or anyone else’s — freedom.
How to enjoy money
9. Admit money into your home, not into your heart
You don’t have to stop enjoying material things as long as you don’t become attached to them. You are not condemned to poverty. But earn honorably and share with others. Wealth can be used for good purposes and therefore has value. But make sure you own your wealth and it doesn’t own you. Money is desirable but not a ‘good’.
10. Money doesn’t make you important, poverty doesn’t demean you
Life’s ups and downs do not matter. Be moderate in your desires, rather than suppressing your sorrows. When you are poor, know how to fight. When you are wealthy, be gentle. Don’t get attached to wealth. Don’t mind other people’s insults.
How to understand yourself
11. Don’t criticize others, but understand yourself
Instead of being critical of others understand how your mind is whirled round and spun about by some hurricane and how you alternate between hope and despair.
12. Prepare yourself for misfortunes
This summary is based on
by Chuck Chakrapani