(Ep. 02) Mental Health: THE STOIC APPROACH

“He suffers more than necessary, who suffers before it is necessary.”

Seneca

Because of the standards we place on ourselves and each other as individuals and as a society, there is always pressure. To make money, to live a successful life, to chase happiness, to have a good family, to look good. All that pressure and so much more.

At some point, one has to wonder, about the alarming rate of depression, the rising number of suicides and the common cases of panic attacks and nervous breakdowns. I wondered. I really did. I still do. What could be the way forward? There has to be, right?

On that note, I decided to pluck a page from the philosophy of Stoicism. Well, I plucked several pages from stoicism. For two main reasons; the first being that the philosophy gives us a great deal of insight on how to protect our peace of mind and our mental health in the long run. The second being that the modern perspective of stoicism is perhaps summarized in the following words “the art of not giving a ‘damn’” which I have to say is not well understood by most of us.

But what really is Stoicism?

So, what really is Stoicism? It definitely is not leading a life of zero emotions. It certainly is not living life unaffected by the happenings of whatever is around you.”Zero care, zero pain, zero damns,” It is never that. Like most of us believe it to be.

In a world full of trials and tribulations, we can understand why one would want to be an emotionless individual. Because it is far much easier to not care than to shoulder the burden of caring and whatever pain that may come with it. Not to mention the romanticized concept of not giving a damn that has somehow found its way into our modern day life- that if you look like the person who does not care, people want to be like you. You are the “real deal.”

“But should we care or worry about everything?” That. That question right there is what stoicism is all about. Knowing what to worry about and what not to. Knowing what is beyond you and what is not. What you can control and what you cannot. Hence, the two buckets.

Bucket A: “a little bit of chance, a little bit of fate”

Whatever happens to you has been waiting to happen since the beginning of time. The twining strands of fate wove both of them together: your own existence and the things that happen to you.”

Marcus Aurelius

Some things happen because they were meant to happen. The Stoics realised this and it formed the key tenet of their way of life. To trouble yourself over that which you have no control over is to take away from your happiness and peace of mind; It is to welcome the bouts of depression and the unnecessary anxiety. Let us place those things that are beyond our control in Bucket A.

I have an example I once used with a best friend of mine. Imagine this: Every day we live our homes and go about our businesses. Unless there is some sort of real threat we know for sure is coming, we never really think of the number of things that could go wrong out there as we are about our businesses. We really do not think of the possibility of an accident, being hurt, getting robbed or all that negativity our minds are capable of conjuring up in our thoughts.

We wake up everyday hoping to have a good day and we sometimes tell ourselves that the things that happen are beyond our control. We seem to understand that aspect of life until it comes to certain issues we perceive as important. For instance, we often get sad over the fact that we were not born with “riches,” or “good looks.” We even go so far as to convince ourselves that if we had the money or the looks life would be perfect. Not to mention the complaining we do about other things like illnesses, the time of your death, the outcomes of certain events and other peoples opinions. We forget that we have zero control over such things and we keep eating our minds over them.

When Freidrich Nietzsche was going through a difficult time in his life, it became too overwhelming for him that he had to find a way to make sure he did not lose his mind during such times. Keep in mind that Nietzsche was a guy who really believed in a person’s will and that a human being could strive and make things happen for himself regardless of the adversity and difficulties one may face. Even he had to come to terms with the fact that there are some things in life we cannot even imagine that we have control over. He had to develop a concept known as “amor fati” meaning the love of fate for the peace of his mind.

To take from this then, who are we to trouble ourselves with matters beyond our control when the greats who lived before us did not?

Bucket B;

Some things also happen because we make them happen. The things within our control. The effort we put in certain aspects of our lives, our moral judgments regarding certain issues, our responses to people’s opinions, our goals in life and others. Let us place those things in our control in Bucket B.

It does not make sense to be passive about that which you can control. For passivity breeds mediocrity– doing nothing and “resigning to your fate” because “it is something that was meant to happen,” when you know so well there is something you can do about whatever situation you are in.

An example I find common to most of us is when we complain that “The System is Broken.” We spend so much time complaining about the system and invest so much energy in hating it instead of finding a way to work around it. More often than not, the lazy among us (I am guilty of having said this myself) would say; “Well there is nothing I can do about it, the system is so broken I cannot work with it,” – an excuse to lazy around. Well if you cannot work with it, how about working around it?

The Stoic in You

While the Stoics believed in a world where things are pre-determined for you, they did not sit around with an attitude of ‘resigning to their fate’ like most of us do. They had to develop a way they could use whatever was given to them and make the best out of it. As we like to say; “We play the cards we are dealt,”-They called this “Soft Determinism“.

Making the best of what you have. It seems to me like that ought to play a part in the peace of your mind and your mental health generally. I mean we see the numbers, don’t we? People getting a myriad of sicknesses trying to achieve things unnaturally; the plastic surgeries, chasing the “paper” in any way possible, dropping principles in order to be accepted by others and so much more we try to do at the expense of our peace of mind.

To put it simply, in the words of Epictetus, “Some things are up to us and some things are not up to us.” And that, accepting that right there might just help with the health of your mind and the peace within.

“We must accept what happens as we would accept the fall of dice, and then arrange our affairs in whatever way reason best determines.”

Plato

8 comments

  1. Love the use of quotes at the beginning and end to bring out the message. I also liked what Epictetus said. Just as I liked the message behind this blog post. Know what you can control and focus your energy and effort on that. 🌻

    Liked by 1 person

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