Greetings friends! James Bellerjeau here.
When you spend time reading the Stoics, you could be forgiven for concluding that they are a joyless bunch. After all, Seneca regularly reminds Lucilius of all the things in life he can give up: possessions, wealth, friends, fame, public office, health, and more.
The Greek and Roman Stoics lived in very different times than us. It was not unusual for people to suffer outrageous reversals of fortune: a person born into slavery could rise to the pinnacle of society. Likewise, no matter how lofty one's position, a wrong alliance or careless word could result in a person being stripped of office, banished to faraway places, or even killed. So when the Stoics talk about how to deal with adversity, they had plenty of reasons to learn these lessons well.
But to say that your happiness must not depend upon having a thing is not the same as saying you prefer to do without that thing. I explore this idea further in this week's Moral Letter 009 - On Friendship And Philosophy. Understanding this distinction is really important if you want to get the most out of Stoic philosophy. I'll come back to it in future letters, but I encourage you to turn over the idea in your head.
Knowing the difference between wanting something, even wanting it badly, and needing it in order to feel happy, is useful in life.
So in the interest of public service, I published a new kind of article this week:
In this post about career development, I apply Stoic teachings about not letting your professional wants get in the way of your happiness.
And for the sake of variety, I also crafted a simple, rules-based approach, with an easy mnemonic: TIME WE JOG. If you are the kind of person who likes checklists, and who does not, have a look at this:
The theme that you will see emerging in the Moral Letters is self-reliance. Because the world is uncertain and harsh, you need to learn who and what you can depend on. Many things are out of your control. Why put your happiness at risk by counting on things you cannot control? By focusing on what you can control, you increase your chances of success. It takes practice to be sure, but the Stoics believed we can control what we think. Hence the emphasis on knowing your mind and controlling your thoughts.
This week you will see me explore this theme in Moral Letter 010 - On Attending To Yourself.
The Moral Letters this week are short, but powerful. They contain some essential Stoic teaching that I hope will be as useful to you as they have been to me.