Epictetus was born into slavery about 55 CE.
Once freed, he established an influential school of Stoic philosophy, stressing that humans can’t control life, only our responses to it.
In The Art of Living, he advocated clear thinking, ruthless self-examination, and building your character.
To speak in modern terms, Epictetus was a doer. Indeed:
“First, say to yourself what you would be; then do what you have to do.”
Let’s look at a few of Epictetus’s principles, so we can live a happier and more meaningful life.
Know what you can control and what you can’t
We spend an awful lot of energy on things outside of our control. This is cause for great pain and is best avoided.
Things outside of our control include others’ opinions and attitudes, whether we were born into wealth or slavery, and what kind of body we have.
It’s better to focus on the things we can control, namely: our own opinions, aspirations, and desires. These are of our concern, because they are directly subject to our influence.
“Happiness and freedom begin with a clear understanding of one principle: Some things are within our control, and some things are not. It is only after you have faced up to this fundamental rule and learned to distinguish between what you can and can’t control that inner tranquility and outer effectiveness become possible.”
Can you make the distinction between what you can control and what you can’t?
Events don’t hurt us, but our views of them can
We can’t choose our external circumstances, but we can always choose how we respond to them.
Things themselves don’t hurt or hinder us. Nor do other people. How we view these things is another matter. It is our attitudes and reactions that give us trouble.
Take losing a job for example. To some people, this means the end of the world. To others, it presents an awesome opportunity. How is that so?
It boils down to people’s responses. We can give ourselves a pessimistic or an optimistic explanation. The various explanations lead to different actions and outcomes.
Epictetus tells us to accept events as they occur, to view them as indifferent and impersonal, which is in line with optimistic thinking. Don’t jump to any hasty conclusions about yourself or how the world works. Be careful of adopting others’ negative views.
Start living your ideals
Epictetus shares a practical and down-to-earth philosophy, free from fluff and wish-washy thinking.
Wisdom is revealed through action, not talk. Practicing principles is more important than proving them. It’s all in the work.
Decide which principles you wish to exemplify, then find role models to emulate, and start living your best life today.
If a Roman slave can do it, so can you.