You’re having a bad day. Toast came out burnt, car won’t start, traffic on the way to work, disaster after disaster at the office, what do you do? Do you sit down and cry? Sometimes life hits us rough, but it’s not what happens around us that matters, it’s our response to it. What do you do when everything goes to shit?
“The chief task in life is simply this: to identify and separate matters so that I can clearly to myself which are externals not under my control, and which have to do with the choices I actually control. Where do I look for good and evil? Not to uncontrollable externals, but within myself to the choices that are my own…”
— Epictetus, Discourses, 2.5.4–5
The fact is, many of the things that happen to us are completely outside of our control. We can bitch and complain about them, trying to place blame on people for the evil that befalls us, but true serenity can’t be found unless you suck it up, and accept the fact that shitty things happen, and you just have to deal with them.
The good and evil that Epictetus speaks about are not byproducts of the world around us, but rather byproducts of what we do. The world is neither good nor is it evil. It simply is. The good and evil is created by us. We interpret situations as good and evil.
The website I’ve been working on for four months just got shot down in a design review meeting and the project canceled. What am I going to do about it? I could blame the reviewers for not seeing the good in an obviously wonderful product. I could get pissed off and refuse to do anymore work until my website is approved. Or I could simply accept the fact that it happened, and move on with my life. I control my reactions.
My depressions acting up today and I feel like complete crap all day? The one thing I can control is how do I react to it. I can’t control my depression, but I can control what I do with it. Instead of bending over, I can fight my hardest to do something, anything really, and get my mind off of it. Depression isn’t an obstacle, it’s a challenge to be met.
The only separation from us and animals is our human consciousness, the consciousness that allows us to control how we think about things, what we think about things, and make conscious decisions based on facts, rationale, and Logos instead of submitting to the wave of emotion.
“Keep this thought at the ready at daybreak, and through the day and night — there is only one path to happiness, and that is in giving up all outside of your sphere of choice, regarding nothing else as your possession, surrendering all else to God and Fortune”
— Epictetus, Discourses, 4.4.39
By recognizing that you are indeed control of you, and almost everything that happens in this world is outside of the realm of your control, you’ll quickly find that the majority of things in your life are simply fate. Give up your possession of them, and you’ll find that the one thing you can control is you.