As promised here is the second part to our series on Stoicism.
In part 1 we discussed four principles taught by the Stoics that could be applied to your every day life:
Principle #1: You don’t react to events. You react to your opinions about them, and the opinions are up to you.
Principle #2: Do not attach yourself to externals.
Principle #3: Become aware of your perspective.
Principle #4: Overcome the fear of death. This is considered one of the most important philosophical achievements by the stoics.
If you would like to cover these principles in more detail you can read Principles of Stoicism Part 1.
Today we will cover principles 5-8.
These principles are all covered in the book The Practicing Stoic by Ward Farnsworth. Check out the resources page if you’d like to buy a copy (this supports the blog).
There will be three parts to this series.
So let’s jump into part 2.
Principle #5: Your desires are insatiable.
Humans desire what they cannot have…and often overlook the the things they do have.
“Who was ever satisfied, after attainment, with that which loomed up large as he prayed for it.”-Seneca, Epistles 118.6
“You will learn the truth by experience: the things that people value highly and try hardest to get do them no good once they have them. Those who don’t have them imagine that, once they do, everything will be theirs; then they do get them, and the heat of their desires is the same, their agitation is the same, their disgust with what they posses is the same, and their wish for what they don’t have is the same.”-Epictetus, Discourses 4.1.174
Or we can summon the wisdom of Papa Schopenhauer (read Schopenhauer Secrets of Wisdom)
“There is no absolute or definite amount of wealth which will satisfy a man. A man never feels the loss of things which it never occurs to him to ask for; he is just as happy without them; whilst another, who may have a hundred times as much, feels miserable because he has not got the one thing he wants.”-Arthur Schopenhauer, The Wisdom of Life (1851)
It is easy to see that there is no limit to a man’s desires. Desire begets desire, and the more a man attains, the more a man craves.
So how do we manage our desires?
Application of Principle #5: Distinguish between natural desires and those which are imaginary.
Food, shelter, water….these are the necessities of life. Without them you would die.
Fame, fortune, sexual satiation….these are additional desires that take hold of our mind based on their attainment by those around us.
“The sages tell us that no one is poor according to Nature; everyone is poor according to opinion.”-Montaigne, Of Managing the Will (1580)
The application of the knowledge that your desire is insatiable is quite simple.
Remind yourself of the Kings and monarchs which ruled throughout history.
None of these Kings ever experienced a standard of living like that of our own.
Unlimited knowledge in the palm of your hand.
Traveling to foreign lands in mere hours.
Harvests that never fail to yield.
Water you don’t have to fetch.
Yet many still feel miserable…
This is because they are focusing on their unsatisfied desires or comparing what they have to what their neighbor has,
“Natural desires are finite; those born of false opinion have no place to stop”-Seneca, Epistles 16.8-9
Just remind yourself of the natural desires that you have fulfilled (food, shelter, clothing), while reminding yourself that things like fame, fortune, novelty are all desires added by your imagination.
It is often the pursuit of imaginary desires that bring a person satisfaction, but rarely their attainment.
“To obtain something we have desired is to find out that it is worthless.”-Arthur Schopenhauer, On the Vanity of Existence (1851)
Principle #6: Pleasure is overrated.
As I write this there are two real world examples that come to mind.
Aubrey McClendon, a successful businessman in the oil industry. He was estimated to be worth around $3 billion (with a B).
He owned an NBA franchise (a dream so few achieve).
He had a wife and three children.
From the outside looking in, Aubrey was living the American Dream.
Successful and well respected….Aubrey had obtained so many of the desires that dwell in the minds of the masses.
“On March 1, 2016, McClendon was indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of conspiring “to rig bids for the purchase of oil and natural gas leases in northwest Oklahoma”. He died the following day, March 2, 2016, in a single-vehicle collision.”
Whether Mr. McClendon intended to crash his car is unknown.
The point is that this man (even with all his wealth and material success) felt the need to commit a crime (rigging the bid of oil purchases) to acquire more.
Even with all that wealth…..McClendon’s story is a testament to that fact that a man’s desires have no limit.
“For the fault is not in one’s wealth but in the mind itself…..It matters little whether you lay a sick man on a bed of wood or a bed of gold.”-Seneca, Epistles
The next example that comes to mind is a figure from the manosphere (I am sure many of you know)….Roosh Valizadeh.
Roosh was once a successful pick up artist. He did what many American men dream of doing. He left corporate slavery and land of the feminists to pursue a life of traveling the world and “banging women”.
Not only did Roosh achieve his desires of sleeping with exotic women, but he also managed to create an income while doing so.
To many men this is the dream.
“The sages teach us well to beware the treachery of our appetites, and to distinguish true and complete pleasures from those that are mixed and interwoven with even more pain. Most pleasures, they say, caress and embrace us only to strangle us, like thieves.”-Montaigne, Of Solitude.
This is not an effort to bash Roosh in any way.
Roosh is now a practicing Christian and has since disavowed his previous teachings which encourage men to pursue lust.
The point is that Roosh achieved a dream so many men claim they would kill for. And this dream only brought Roosh emptiness and pain.
There is a lesson to be learned from Roosh’s story.
Application of Principle #6: Practice moderation and remind yourself the costs of pursuing pleasure.
“One person seeks joy in feasting and self-indulgence; another, in elections and crowds of supporters; another, in his mistress; another, in the idle display of culture and in literature that has no power to heal. All of them are led astray by delights that are deceptive and short-lived-like drunkenness, for example, which pays for a single hour of hilarious madness with a long-lasting sickness.”-Seneca, Epistles
First ask what is your pleasure, then remind yourself of its costs.
Pleasure: Pornography. (read Purge Porn From Your Life…Watch What Happens.)
Costs: Time, wiring brain towards spectatorship, wiring brain for anxiety and depression
Pleasure: Alcohol/Smoking weed
Costs: Health, money, cognitive abilities
Pleasure: Chasing lusts
Costs: Time, STDs, unplanned pregnancy, association with a less than ideal women for a long duration of time.
You can do this with any pleasure.
Write it down if you have to. Inking the costs of these pleasures can be a real wake up call.
“Every man may grow rich by contacting his wishes.”-Johnson, The Adventurer
Again, the stoics aren’t saying to go cold-turkey and give up every pleasure life has to offer.
But rather, the Stoics suggest you manage these pleasures. Moderate them.
“Lack of moderation is the plague of pleasure. Moderation is not the scourge of pleasure, but the seasoning of it.”-Montaigne, Of Experience (1580)
To close out this principle I want to share with you this snippet from Epictetus:
“When you are tempted by some apparent pleasure, guard yourself – just as with other impressions – against being carried away by it. Let the thing wait for you, and give yourself some delay. Then think about two times to come: the time when you will enjoy the pleasure, and the time afterwards, when having enjoyed it, you will regret it and reproach yourself. Compare this with how pleased you will be, and how you will congratulate yourself, if you don’t do it. “
Principle #7: Never look to others on how to think or act.
“How much trouble he avoids by not looking to see what his neighbor does or thinks – by looking only to what he does himself.”-Marcus Aurelius
“I have never wished to satisfy the crowd; for what I know, they do not approve, and what they approve, I do not know.”-Epicurus
“Praise is so pleasing to the mind of man, that it is the original motive of almost all our actions.”-Johnson, The Rambler
“Who does not willingly exchange health, tranquility, and life itself for reputation and glory.”-Montaigne, of Solitude
We are all guilty of this. We try to live our lives in such a manner that extracts the most praise from the crowd.
Or think of the people who want nothing more than internet fame.
The instagrammers, the Youtubers, we live in a society where people are judged on their follower count instead of their actions.
“What could be more absurd than to suppose the same ignorant and common people you despise, when taken one by one, are of any greater consequence when taken together?”-Cicero
This principle can be boiled down to a single statement: Think for yourself.
Application of Principle #7: Stop looking to others for confirmation. Silence the crowd.
I’ve stated this before.
But I don’t much like those life coaches who charge men hundreds of dollars for an hour of common sense “life advice”.
Surely enough though…there will be some men who pay those prices.
There is nothing inherently wrong in seeking the counsel of someone wiser than you (isn’t that what we are doing with stoicism), however in the modern world there are hundreds of voices we hear every day telling us how we should think or act.
All this noise causes you to lose track of your own voice.
What are your own desires?
What are your own inclinations?
You’ll never know if you are constantly seeking counsel outside of yourself.
Another key application of this principle is to question the masses/mainstream.
The approval of the mob is seductive (just watch the video above). Do not be enticed by the praise of the masses.
The more a man pursues conformity with the mainstream masses, the more he loses himself.
What others think is such a powerful adversary to freedom. Again we call upon Seneca’s wisdom:
“Liberty is having a mind superior to injury, a mind that makes itself the only source from which its pleasures spring, that separates itself from all external things, avoiding the unquiet life of one who fears everybody’s laughter, everybody’s tongue.”
Value your own judgement/opinions in the highest esteem.
Principle #8: Value that which actually matters.
As humans with insatiable desire we tend to place value on the wrong things.
We value money more than time.
We value the past and future more than the present.
We value praise over health.
“The present time is very short – so short, indeed, that for some it seems not to exist. It is always in motion, it flows and hurries on; it ceases before it arrives.”-Seneca
“The swiftness of time is infinite – something that appears more clearly to people looking backwards. It escapes the notice of those focused on the present, so gentle is the passage of its headlong flight.”-Seneca
According to the Stoics, time is one of our most valuable possessions. (Read This Once a Month…Life Is Short)
Yet we often fail to appreciate the value of time because it is intangible.
We cannot see time.
We hesitate when someone asks us for five dollars, but will gladly without question offer up five minutes of our time.
In regards to the present….
We often place more value on the future and past:
“Instead, therefore, of always thinking about our plans and anxiously looking to the future, or of giving ourselves up to regret for the past, we should never forget that the present is the only reality, the only certainty; that the future almost always turns out contrary to our expectations.”-Arthur Schopenhauer
Value your time and health above all else.
For life is nothing more than your time, and time is most valuable when you can experience it in a healthy state.
Application of Principle #8: Remind, remind, remind. Never stop reminding yourself of what is truly important.
“My time is limited.”
“My time is limited.”
“My health is finite.”
“My health is finite.”
Remind yourself a few times a day.
Do not let this make you anxious, but rather let this reminder ease you into the present.
“I cannot change the past, and I do not control the future.”
All you control are your present actions. Your present thoughts. Focus on those. This principle is similar to mantra: “love the process.”
Only once you commit to process do you give yourself a chance to do things the right way.
You will not focus on making mistakes, future “what-ifs” or outcomes, but rather on the present moment and doing something right in this moment.
“Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today.”
Remind yourself daily of the finite nature of this present moment. Only once you understand and appreciate its value will you begin to make use of it.
That is all I have for you today.
I understand this is a bit long of an article, but I hope you gained some value from it. I enjoyed writing this as this wisdom is a good reminder for myself. I hope to write part three some time in the next couple of weeks.
Talk to you guys soon.
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