Learn to live like a Stoic by enrolling on Stoic Week 2020, starting 19 October. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed these in the past, just got to make these concepts and techniques ‘sticky’ once the week is through…
Yesterday’s post from Jeremy in Hong Kong was about William Irvine’s A Guide to the Good Life, a book that shows how ancient Stoic philosophy is still relevant and needed today. And yesterday’s Wintergatan Wednesday video also included a review of William Irvine’s book, coincidentally.
Intrigued, I knew I had this book on my Kindle somewhere, so I thought I should re-read it and maybe blog a review of this book myself.
But then I realised I already had, back in 2013.
Once again, surprised Present Me thanks diligent Past Me for all his help with forgetful Future Me.
I think it’s pretty obvious to those that know me that I’m a glass-half-empty kind of guy.
The bright and dark sides of optimism and pessimism
Many psychologists classify the population as predominantly optimistic — some claiming 80% of people are optimistic, others stating that 60% of us are somewhat optimistic. This seems an optimistic appraisal to me. Some experts agree — they believe that optimism itself may affect the validity of research on positivity.
I still struggle with the concept that a positive outlook is a choice, that I could simply choose to be optimistic. But then my better half just sent me this:
Optimistic October calendar
Let’s stay hopeful and focus on what really matters. This Optimistic October Action Calendar has daily suggested actions to do throughout October 2019 to help you be a realistic optimist and have goals to look forward to.
I’ve not come across Action for Happiness before, but it could be just what I was looking for.
Action for Happiness
Our patron is The Dalai Lama and our members take action to increase wellbeing in their homes, workplaces, schools and local communities. Our vision is a happier world, with fewer people suffering with mental health problems and more people feeling good, functioning well and helping others.
And there’s an app, too.
Octobers can be such gloomy months; summer has long gone, the nights draw in, the clocks go back. Perhaps that’s why these pick-me-ups are so necessary now. For instance, Stoic Week 2019 is starting up again next week, 7–13 October. I enjoyed it last year, and will give it another go.
And coincidentally, just as I was about to publish this post, a newsletter with links to these articles has just landed in my inbox.
Being depressed in the ‘world’s happiest country’
Finland regularly tops global rankings as the happiest nation on the planet, but this brings a unique set of challenges for young people struggling with depression.
A 60,000-year-old cure for depression
Traditional healers have been entrusted with the well-being of indigenous Australian communities for as long as their culture has been alive – yet surprisingly little is known of them.
Sounds like we need all the help we can get.
Some advice, via Daily Stoic, on how to better manage your mood that feels decidedly counter-intuitive.
How to keep your cool: an interview with James Romm
My own favorite is summed up in the quote: “Do you want to be less angry? Be less aware.” Anger often starts from noticing too many subtleties of the way others interact with us. In many cases, we’d do better not to notice the slights and microaggressions that can drive us nuts if we let them. One can will oneself to ignore such things — a practice many long-married couples will instantly recognize!
Wired’s review of a new book has a somewhat click-baity headline.
Social media has totally warped how you think about happiness
That higher-status jobs lead to more happiness is only one of the social narratives that Dolan’s book surgically dismantles. Happy Ever After may sound like a cheap self-improvement guide to positive thinking; in reality, it is a pragmatic inspection by an LSE-qualified behavioural scientist.
And it’s not just about securing a good job. Dolan also tears apart the myth of monogamous marriage and of long-lasting marriage; the myth of having children, of going to university or of earning a lot of money. Of owning your own property. Of donating to charity (and not bragging about it). Even of being healthy.
It may sound like a blow to what you have always been taught – but the link between all of these things and happiness is, according to research, extremely loose.
He’s done his research, so has the numbers to back that up, but he talks about social narratives being to blame for our unrealistic expectations and harsh judgements of ourselves and others, not social media. That’s just the mechanism by which these narratives are being magnified.
It all sounds a little Stoic.
I’m glad I happened across this article in time.
The secret to happiness is simple: live like a Stoic for a week
We don’t control what happens to us, we can’t control what the people around us say or do, and we can’t even fully control our own bodies, which get damaged and sick and ultimately die without regard for our preferences. The only thing that we really control is how we think about things.
It’s an invitation to learn a little about this ancient philosophy.
Modern Stoicism: Stoic Week 2018
On October 1, 2018, the seventh annual Stoic Week takes place and Modern Stoicism are inviting people in the UK and from around the rest of the world to participate and learn how to live like a Stoic for a week. The idea behind the week is to give people an opportunity to see whether Stoic philosophy can help them live a more fulfilling life today.
I’ve mentioned Stoicism here before: I was getting wound up by my damned phone and displaying some decidedly un-Stoic attitudes towards it, before remembering a book I had just finished and had obviously not taken on board. A re-read is due, I guess.
Some other introductions.
And then there’s this one, from the School of Life. A little harder to get, I think.
Another great introduction to Stoicism comes from Maria Popova‘s philosophy and literature blog Brain Pickings.
A Stoic’s key to peace of mind: Seneca on the antidote to anxiety
With an eye to the self-defeating and wearying human habit of bracing ourselves for imaginary disaster, Seneca counsels his young friend: “What I advise you to do is, not to be unhappy before the crisis comes; since it may be that the dangers before which you paled as if they were threatening you, will never come upon you; they certainly have not yet come. Accordingly, some things torment us more than they ought; some torment us before they ought; and some torment us when they ought not to torment us at all. We are in the habit of exaggerating, or imagining, or anticipating, sorrow.”
That blog is such a rabbit warren, I could get lost down there all day.
An antidote to the Age of Anxiety: Alan Watts on happiness and how to live with presence
Wisdom on overcoming the greatest human frustration from the pioneer of Eastern philosophy in the West.
How Not To Worry: Timeless 1934 Advice on Controlling Anxiety and Mastering Life
“We must gain victory, not by assaulting the walls, but by accepting them.”
100 Days of Overthinking: An Illustrated Diary of Mental Meanderings
A visual serenade to presence and a lamentation of how we continually eject ourselves from it.
Peanuts and the quiet pain of childhood: how Charles Schulz made an art of difficult emotions
“Readers recognized themselves in “poor moon-faced, unloved, misunderstood” Charlie Brown — in his dignity in the face of whole seasons of doomed baseball games, his endurance and stoicism in the face of insults. He … reminded people, as no other cartoon character had, of what it was to be vulnerable, to be small and alone in the universe, to be human — both little and big at the same time.”
I’ve had this iPhone for years, got fed up with it, got fed up with always having to chase the updates, always trying to catch up with the latest OS, always fighting off the built-in obsolescence, didn’t bother renewing the contract with O2 (when it finally ended) but instead went off in a huff and bought a cheap, pay-as-you-go, crappy dumb-phone, something deliberately not fashionable, with hardly any “features”, that was out-of-date before it started. ‘If I can’t always have the newest and fastest, I’ll have the oldest and slowest; that’ll show them,’ I thought, not really knowing who ‘they’ were or why I felt the need to show them anything.
But, as so often happens, I got bored with what I had and wanted something new. Again.
But of course what I should have done was – not do that. What I should have done was – remember the book I’ve just finished reading, A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy, by William B. Irvine. (Here are three summaries he wrote for Boingboing.net.) That would have saved me a lot of trouble.
Stoicism was a big deal back in the day, up there was Cynicism and Epicureanism and the other Greek and Roman schools of philosophy. Seneca, Epictetus and the emporer Marcus Aurelius were big exponents, but it’s pretty unheard of today, in any kind of structured way. Sure, we know what being stoical means, what being philosophical in the face of some adversity means, but that’s about it.
What the Roman stoics wanted, above all else, was tranquility. No negative emotions, such as grief, anger and anxiety, only positive ones. They felt the majority of our negative emotions were caused by our insatiability. We’re just never satisfied. We work hard to get what we want but then, when we get it, we eventually lose interest in it and go on to want the next new thing. And so on. This even has a name: hedonic adaptation. Sounds very grand.
“One key to happiness, then, is to forestall the adaptation process: We need to take steps to prevent ourselves from taking for granted, once we get them, the things we worked so hard to get.”
Lots of similarities with Buddhism, especially around the notion of impermanence:
“By contemplating the impermanence of everything in the world, we are forced to recognize that every time we do something could be the last time we do it, and this recognition can invest the things we do with a significance and intensity that would otherwise be absent.”
There are many techniques in that book that can help the reader contemplate such things as impermanence, as well as how to ‘stoically’ deal with all the crap life may throw at us. It all makes for fascinating reading, and I’ve been trying to out some of it into practice in various settings – with good results. Some of it reminded me of CBT; stepping out of your comfort zone to “immunise yourself against a fair amount of future anxiety.”
But I kept coming back to their views on desire, though that seems to be harder for me to internalise. Rather than working to satisfy whatever desires we find ourselves with, we should be learning to be satisfied with our life as it is, we should learn to be happy with what we’ve got.
I wish I had remembered that before I wasted all that time on that stupid phone.
I know you’re not interested, but I did finally jailbreak it, by downgrading to iOS 4.o and running redsn0w, but Cydia and ultrasn0w couldn’t get the damned thing to work with my other SIM card. Not bothered, didn’t want it anyway.
Like the Buddha says, stop wanting stupid shit.