Ever wondered how you can become a better person? Well a long, long time ago, Epictetus did, so now we have an instruction manual for how to live your best life.
Epictetus, a Stoic philosopher way back when, was a brilliant yet humble master of logic. He believed that the primary job of philosophers was to help ordinary people effectively handle the challenges of everyday life and to deal with life’s inevitable ups and downs. He believed that all external events are beyond our control, but we can accept whatever happens calmly and dispassionately. The Art Of Living: The Classical Manual on Virtue, Happiness, and Effectiveness captures just that, in a very direct, no-nonsense type of way.
Epictetus emphasized moral progress over moral perfection. The teachings of this manual won’t turn you into a model citizen in society. What it aims to do is to shift your mindset, and in doing so, bring you more happiness and freedom. Many of the book’s themes are related to the concepts of acceptance and adjusting your mindset to let go of things that are not in your control. By accepting things as they are and controlling your perception of everything you encounter, peace is possible.
Here are the only rules you’ll ever need to live by.
1. Know what you can and can’t control. We can control our opinions, aspirations, desires, and things that we don’t enjoy in life. Remember, you always have a choice on what you feel and how you think. Once you understand this and embrace this principle, happiness and freedom is up for grabs. Don’t bother to bring yourself down with things that are outside your control, such as socioeconomic status, physical appearance, what others think about you, etc. (Otherwise, you will become a frustrated, anxious, and fault-finding person.)
2. Desire demands its own attainment. Don’t be disappointed by what you can’t have if you have no control over it. It’ll only lead to disappointment. Instead, think to yourself: are there things that are within your control that are worthy of your desire? Conversely, don’t spend all your energy repelling all those negative things you can’t control (sickness, death, misfortune). Instead, focus on combating things, within your power, that are not good for you. The power is in your hands!
3. Things and people don’t hurt us, but our views of them can. Beautiful things and horrible things happen all the time. You have a choice on how you let these things affect you. Dissolve your expectations and embrace what you actually get, regardless of if it’s positive or negative. When something bad happens, the only thing in your power is your attitude towards it— you can either accept it or spend all of your energy and emotion resenting it. At the end of the day, it happened, and nothing is going to change that. It’s not things themselves that disturb us, but how we interpret them and how we let them affect us.
4. Never depend on the admiration or acceptance of others. You are a living, breathing human being with your own ideas and opinions about everything you encounter in life. There will always be people who don’t agree with you on some aspect of life. Well, who cares what they think, create your own merit. Got a good idea? Follow through with it. Do you love to learn? Absorb the knowledge and spread the wealth. We only have one life, so do YOU, to the fullest.
5. Nothing truly stops you, because your will is always within your control. You are more than your physical self, so as long as you keep pushing on, you are unstoppable.
6. Take care of what you have, when you have it. And when you don’t anymore (ie. if a loved one dies, if your belongings are stolen/lost), they’ve merely just returned to where they came from. Welp, you really can’t be mad at that.
7. Inner serenity is everything. “It is much better to die of hunger unhindered by grief and fear than to live affluently beset with worry, dread, suspicion, and unchecked desire.” Yes, yes, and yes.
8. Approach life as a banquet. If something is handed to you, take it and enjoy a heaping scoop. If something passes you by, enjoy what you already have and patiently wait your turn. In time, you will get your rightful portion.
9. Avoid adopting other people’s negative views. If you find yourself among people who are hurt, depressed, upset, or angry, show them compassion, but do not allow their emotions and views to pull you down as well.
10. Authentic happiness is always independent of external conditions. Happiness depends on three things, all of which you can control—your will, your ideas and perceptions, and what you choose to do with your ideas.
11. No one can hurt you. If someone is judging you or insulting you, does it really matter if you have the choice to control how you feel? How you choose to react is all in your control.
12. Character matters more than reputation. It is better to be a good person and fulfill your obligations than to have renown and power. Stop trying to be someone else and focus on being the best you.
13. Make the will of nature your own. Someone out there will always be experiencing some sort of misfortune (accident, lost job, death, etc.), and as an outsider, we understand it’s a part of life—life has its ups and downs, duh. Well, when misfortune comes knocking on your very own door, try to see it in the same light as you did with others. Ups and downs are a part of your life too, so learn to accept events without catastrophizing.
14. If you want something, think it through thoroughly, and commit wholeheartedly— or don’t. “A half-hearted spirit has no power. Tentative efforts lead to tentative outcomes.” (aka not much.) It’s fine to have aspirations, but consider them logically and realistically before committing. Be honest with yourself— can you, and will you really do it? Otherwise, don’t commit. It’s one thing to wish, and another to actually do.
15. Never suppress a generous impulse. Act on it without hesitation. Make the world a better place, and be there for the people that need you.
Of course, these are just the first fifteen curated rules to live by. Check out Part II of the series here to improve your life even further.