It was an amusing coincidence that, early today, I suddenly remembered an Aeon article on the value of Stoicism I read before. The article was posted exactly two years ago, so perhaps my mind just pulled a Facebook memories/Timehop on me.
In this season which triggers depression among some (especially those who can’t lay off the sad parts of Love Actually for the nth time), and as we close the year with a lot of crazy things happening in this world, the article couldn’t have come at a better time.
A few choice paragraphs from the article:
“Stoicism has its root in the word stoa, which is the Greek name for what today we would call a porch. Actually, we’re more likely to call it a portico, but the ancient Stoics used it as a kind of porch, where they would hang out and talk about enlightenment and stuff.
The Stoics themselves believed in gods, but ultimately those resistant to religious belief can take their Stoicism the way they take their Buddhism, even if they can’t buy into such concepts as karma or reincarnation. What the whole thing comes down to, distilled to its briefest essence, is making the choice that choice is really all we have, and that all else is not worth considering. ‘Who […] is the invincible human being?’ the Greek philosopher Epictetus once asked, before answering the question himself: ‘One who can be disconcerted by nothing that lies outside the sphere of choice.’
Any misfortune ‘that lies outside the sphere of choice’ should be considered an opportunity to strengthen our resolve, not an excuse to weaken it. This is one of the truly great mind-hacks ever devised, this willingness to convert adversity to opportunity, and it’s part of what Seneca was extolling when he wrote what he would say to one whose spirit has never been tempered or tested by hardship: ‘You are unfortunate in my judgment, for you have never been unfortunate. You have passed through life with no antagonist to face you; no one will know what you were capable of, not even you yourself.’ We do ourselves an immense favour when we consider adversity an opportunity to make this discovery – and, in the discovery, to enhance what we find there.“
This year wasn’t the best. But then again, who’s counting? Is there really a way to measure the amount of happiness one encounters between periods of time? (Perhaps this is when comparison takes away the joy we have of the present, like what I said in an old blogpost.)
The year is almost over, and I think, despite it all, I’m okay. I’m fine. I’m happy. Call it sincerely delusional, but I take comfort that I am surrounded by good friends and people I love, and a chance to start anew.
And lest be I accused of it, let me be the first to call myself out: yes, it reeks of a certain kind of privilege to even talk about happiness when there’s so much misery and suffering everywhere.
But as Albert Camus, hero of the absurd, has said:
“In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer. And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger–something better, pushing right back.”
Enjoy the holidays, and the few days we have of 2016.
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