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Stoicism and the Art of Happiness by Donald Robertson
The Stoics also emphasized the notion that by anticipating possible future adversities we can learn to take away the sense of ‘surprise’ or ‘shock’ that often accompanies their occurrence, seeing them instead as something natural and in some cases inevitable in life.Donald Robertson, p. 159
The truth is that Stoicism has a lot to offer modern readers. However, I’ve found the predominant use of ancient Greek terminology to describe key concepts for English readers has had a dampening effect on its adoption in the US. There’s nothing wrong with using Greek words to describe Greek ideas. The problem is that many modern readers are unfamiliar with these foreign words. This means readers must learn both a “new language” and new cognitive strategies in order to make Stoic philosophy an accessible way of life.
A Strange New Vocabulary
- Eudaimonia – happiness/sense of fulfillment from living a “noble” (Reason-focused) life
- Ataraxia – tranquility/peace of mind
- Hupexhairesis – reserve clause/Fate Willing/I’ll do all in my power, but I accept that it may not turn out how I planned.
- Prosechê – attention to one’s mind/mindfulness of your thoughts
I think this is where Robertson has done a remarkable job in creating a textbook for modern Stoicism to rival the historic Handbook of Epictetus in it’s usefulness to the common reader. There are so many great texts on Stoicism—both ancient and modern—that it can be difficult to know where to start your search.
Robertson has made your decision effortless and given you the best of both worlds from Seneca to Hadot. If you want a solid understanding and a real chance at practicing the Stoic way of life, grab a copy of this book and start reading today. Robertson not only provides a slew of source material, but he also gives us a helpful format that provides structure and guidance as we learn how to approach life with Stoic mindfulness.
Additionally, the novel Teach Yourself format reinforces key concepts to help you maximize your understanding as well as easily refer back to the material as you interact with it. Some of the most helpful features include “Try it Now” practice exercises, “Case Studies” and “Self Assessments.”
Give this one a chance and experience the rich history of the Stoics while getting real world perspectives and even psychological insights from CBT – Cognitive Behavior Theory. Stoicism as a philosophy of life can help you achieve your best.
There really is no shortcut to success. It takes constant work and repetition to create the skills necessary to build your best life.
It is only with hard work that greatness can be achieved. Too often we look at those around us and end up envying their possessions, fortune and fame. The truth is that we can be unfair in those moments.
- Why are we upset about another’s good fortune?
- What are we fighting for—a home full of “stuff” or a better life?
- Are we jealous or are we seeking opportunities that may be withheld from us?
We seem to forget that the cornerstone to success isn’t luck but effort. Success—in whatever form it takes for you—can only be achieved when you direct that effort toward your goal. You can’t wish for a better tomorrow. You have to build it one day at a time.
- We can dream of having the fortunes of others.
- We can wish for the winning lottery ticket.
- We can imagine the great deeds and generous donations we would make if only we had “the money.”
When we do those things, we missed the point. We spent all of our energy dreaming but never planning. We will spend all our time imagining how we would spend uncollected fortunes, but we will never plan a way to make that fortune.
For some reason, too many of us spend our days stuck hoping that the our lucky day will come, that we’ll will win the lottery, or that a windfall will find its way to our doorstep. I find that discouraging. Why can’t we spend our days actively building that better tomorrow? What can we do today other than dream?
Desire can be a two edged sword. It can motivate you to accomplish more when you wield it as a tool to aid you in your labors. However, it can also easily hold you back if you spend your time longing for the golden blade of your neighbor.
A blade wielded is a helpful tool. A blade set aside or longed for performs no labor. It’s better to use a rusty blade to accomplish your work than to do nothing. What does it matter if your tool is old as long as it aids you in your purpose?
In modern words, use the tools you have. Don’t let your hangups, embarrassment or opinions keep you from achieving your goals.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately on what it means to be a good person. There’s isn’t really a user guide available that works for everyone—though I’d recommend A Guide to the Good Life by William B. Irvine as one place to start.
For my own part, I think I’ve found at least four timeless principles I believe we can all still live up to in our modern world if we embrace hardship and uncertainty as the opportunity we need to become better versions of ourselves.
Wisdom —know you’re often wrong in your beliefs and that others are better qualified to illuminate the truth.
Courage —endure hardship in the name of progress rather than retreating to a life of comfort and leisure.
Justice —sacrifice privilege for the security of the whole; we create law and surrender to order so that discord and tyranny do not consume us.
Temperance —accept no extremes and always seek, and if not found, create a middle path; we do not force our beliefs on others but find a way for all of us to share the communal space and its burdens.