Would you like more peace and tranquility in your life? Would you like to gain contentment and step away from the endless cycle of desire? Would you like to get a handle on your negative emotions? I for one want all of these things and I am willing to make a bet that you would also. The word “tranquil,” is an oxymoron in our crazy world of nonstop meetings, errands, social media updates, and version 2.0 technology purchases. How can we obtain the “good” life? Philosophers and religious leaders have been searching for this answer for millennia. I picked up a book that focused on this question through the ancient practice of Stoicism – A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy by William Irvine. This is an excellent book that introduces the main principles of a frequently misunderstood way of life. Before reading this book, I always viewed a “stoical” person as someone who had no emotion – like a robotic-British-guard who can’t respond to pestering tourists. This view was completely off track…
Stoicism began in Greece and was an amalgamation of several philosophical schools. The three main principles of Stoicism are as follows:
- A Stoic’s highest values are virtue and tranquility.
- A Stoic desires contentment with what they have – not what they would like to have
- A Stoic accepts what is outside of their control and accepts whatever their external environment throws at them.
Virtue in a Stoic sense means living a life that’s aligned with the ultimate purpose of a human – that is to be rational. This rationality leads ultimately to the pillars of virtue: temperance, courage, wisdom, goodness, honesty, righteousness, dignity, integrity, trustworthiness, decency and merit. To be entirely rational, one must be in a tranquil state. A tranquil state is one in which no negative emotions exist. To be completely tranquil, one must not let their external environment control their feelings. For example, a Stoic person in an argument would not become angry from insults and would maintain their tranquility – leading to preservation of their rational base of virtues.
A significant enemy of tranquility is desire. This is especially true when the desire leads to discontentment. Stoics aim to rid themselves of this “desire loop” by appreciating what they already have. This goal is obtained by the practice of “negative visualization.” To practice negative visualization, just imagine the people and things you love as suddenly vanishing. For example, imagine if you woke up today and there was no roof over your head; rain was pouring on your head, and you were shivering with cold from the dampness of the room. Thinking this makes you immediately appreciate your warm blanket and strong roof – two things that you normally take for granted. Another example is imagining that your wife or husband has died. This thought is deliberate but temporary – it doesn’t make you depressed – but instead makes you joyous with your current possessions. This practice is commonly performed among religious individuals who regularly pray – thanking God for His blessings because those blessings are very transitory.
Finally, to achieve complete tranquility, we must understand what things are outside of our control. This is a challenging concept to practice, but it is a life-changing concept when implemented. We cannot control what other people say or do. We cannot control what is going on in the news. We cannot control the millions of variables which bombard us on a daily basis. When things upset us that are outside our control, we must push it out of our mind immediately. This doesn’t mean that we give up helping people but rather it requires us to make better goals. We can only go about our day doing our “best” to help make the world a better place. That is much different than the goal of “making the world a better place.” Trying your best is in your control. Changing the world for the better, unfortunately, is not in your control. This subtle change in mindset leads to considerable changes in anxiety, depression, and discontentment. Stoicism complements well with Christianity, and I feel that these two philosophies combined make for the best possible life. I know a lot of religious people who are very anxious and discontented with their day-to-day existence. Ancient philosophy doesn’t have to be relegated to the dusty shelves of a library – there is wisdom all around us.
Stoicism is so important that I am going to make it the next installment in The Tackle the Library Series. Release date June 2019.