From Vol. 4, Issue 12, December 2022
Joy to the world
Feature || Karen Duffy; Francis Gasparini
A season of celebrations around the world
As the year draws to a close, the calendar is full of dates to celebrate no matter who you are. Diwali, Halloween, Dia de los Muertos, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, the New Year. In the spirit of our Roman forebears, one year I organized a Saturnalia celebration on December 17 with gag gifts. My beloved nuclear family members received caganers – traditional Catalan figurines of people pooping. My husband got a golfer and my son got a hockey player. I know they treasured these comical little fellows because they are stored somewhere so safe that I’ve never seen them again.
We are in a season of celebration, of lights and feasts. We brighten the darkness with the promise of a new beginning. We revel in the horribly ugly sweaters, the nog, and the holiday traditions passed down across the generations, such as the German tradition of dressing up as the demon Krampus and terrorizing small children. In Japan, KFC has managed to convince people that Americans celebrate December 25 with a family-sized bucket of fried chicken, but this charming custom hasn’t taken root in my home – yet.
Stoicism, a joyful philosophy
Stoics are often tarred as humourless and dour, but we know that’s not true. Stoicism is a joyful philosophy. The world is a tough place to live in. We all face challenges as small as a busted heel and as large as climate change. We are called on to fix the heel and heal the environment, but that doesn’t have to rob us of celebrations. As Seneca said,
We should take a lighter view of things and bear them with an easy spirit, for it is more human to laugh at life than to lament it. - Seneca, On Tranquility, 15.2.
Stoicism is a method of living in peace and clarity that can be applied to life under any circumstance, in crisis, chaos, and in celebration. The Stoic virtues are your guidelines: Wisdom is a gift to yourself, so give yourself the time to read and reflect. In Justice, we can donate gift cards to kids in foster care via www.felixorganization.org. Many of these children are in foster care because their parents are incarcerated, and this may be the only gift they receive. In Courage, we can forgive someone, perhaps yourself. Courage is also showing up, at any time of year, to volunteer at a mission or deliver meals to the homebound. Courage is stepping out of your routine and a time of new beginnings is a great place to start. In Moderation, we reflect that the Stoics honoured a way of life where wisdom, self control, and personal responsibility created harmony.
Nothing in excess
The Temple of Apollo at Delphi bore the inscription “Meden Agan” – nothing in excess. In this season of excesses is our time to find our balance. Stoic happiness clarifies your purpose, and this season, we can aim to evolve into a stronger mind and a more resilient version of yourself. Happiness is an inside job, and this season, share your inner light with those around you.
The Stoics prized the highest state of human existence, where wisdom, self control, and personal responsibility were in harmony. They called this state “eudaimonia” – from the roots “eu” meaning good or beneficial, and “daimon,” your inner spirit or authentic self. Eudaimonia is translated as happiness or flourishing.
A journey in the happy path
Our life’s journey is along a path to this happy state. The Stoics understood that our human goal was happiness. But the happiness they sought was not temporary, like the euphoria of a kiss under the mistletoe at midnight on New Year’s Eve, or a turkey tryptophan induced coma in front of a football game after a family feast – though these are for me “preferred indifferents”.
All of which is to say that while we know true happiness isn't found inside gift wrapping or at the bottom of a cup of holiday cheer, we should nevertheless take pleasure in everyday joys when we can. As Epictetus said,
Join in the holiday and the dance, and sing hymns of praise of the festival. - Discourses, 4.1
If gimpy, grumpy old Epictetus got out on the dance floor, we should too.
Wishing you the best of the season whatever you celebrate.
Karen Duffy is a producer, actress, and former MTV VJ. Her latest book on Stoicism. Wise Up (https://amzn .to/3PpLv5D) is published by Seal Press.