From Vol. 4, Issue 9, September 2022
A life that flows well
The goal of Stoicism is happiness, living the good life. Zeno, the founder of Stoicism defined it elegantly:
Happiness is a good flow of life… The end may be defined as life in accordance with nature or, in other words, in accordance with human nature as well as that of the universe. - Zeno, Stobaeus, ii.7
When we read about Stoicism, we read about people like Admiral Stockdale who was imprisoned in Hanoi during the Vietnam War for seven years and how Stoicism helped him to survive the horrific conditions he faced. We read about ancient Stoics such as Seneca who faced his death sentence by suicide with equanimity.
Such stories are inspiring. However, problems like these are far removed from our everyday experiences. It is highly unlikely that most of us worry about being captured by foreiegn soldiers, or arbitrarily ordered to die.
However, we all experience mundane day-today problems. We have our daily stresses, anxieties, worries, regrets. We procrastinate, we pay attention to the wrong things, we take offense, we cannot seem to manage to assume our role. Thousands of thoughts such as these flow thourgh our mind every day:
Why is she so ungrateful?
Did he really give me dirty look?
I hope I have enough money saved for retirement.
My colleague was really rude to me.
I hope I don’t miss my flight.
The room is too hot.
I work hard and yet it gets me nowhere.
Life is passing me by.
My boss is so insensitive.
I wish the winters were not so long.
The problem with such thoughts is that they make us unhappy and are not helpful because they don’t solve any of our problems. They just make us miserable.
Dale Carnegie tells this interesting story to illustrate how our minor problems can get the better of us:
On the slope of Long's Peak in Colorado lies the ruin of three gigantic trees. Naturalists tell us that they stood for some four hundred years. ... During the course of one tree’s long life it was struck by lightning fourteen times, and the innumerable avalanches and storms of four centuries thundered past it. It survived them all. In the end, however, an army of beetles attacked the tree and leveled it to the ground. The insects ate their way through the bark and gradually destroyed the inner strength of the tree by their tiny but incessant attacks. A forest giant which age had not withered, nor lightning blasted, nor storms subdued, fell at last before beetles so small that a man could crush them between his forefinger and his thumb.
Yes, we survive cancer. We lose our jobs and get better ones. The stock market collapses and we somehow land on our feet. We go through a divorce and pick up the pieces. Most of us have the resilience to handle life’s major crises, even if we don’t believe we can.
But that’s not true of our everyday anxieties, worries, and regrets. They are our constant companions throughout our life. No matter how rich we are, how educated we are, how healthy we are, we are all subject to everyday worries, anxieties, and other problems. Each one of these, on its own, is trivial and powerless to alter the course of our lives. They are like beetles that attack the tree. No beetle, on its own, can damage a tree, But when thousands of them band together they can destroy a might oak.
To lead the good life, it is important that we don’t let every annoyance – the tiny beetle – get us down. In this issue of THE STOIC, our contributors show us how to tackle these ‘beetles’ .
Dr. Chuck Chakrapani, Editor