“Dig deep within yourself, for there is a fountain of goodness ever ready to flow if you will keep digging” — Marcus Aurelius
The easiest way to suffer is to just wait for good things to happen to us. Being a constant optimist, or believing that your destiny is already shaped, whatever you do, is defeatist.
We need to, as Marcus says, dig deep within ourselves. This is where good things happen. This is when the magic happens.
This is where we build pride, and happiness, and self-confidence. We must never wait for anything to happen in order for us to feel a certain way. ie: I will be happy when I am rich, or when I quit this shitty job.
This is putting too much importance on life events, which are out of our control.
Now you might interject: I am working hard to become rich, so I am taking control of the situation.
That is incorrect.
You are working hard, that is true. That is in your control. The process, every action you take consistently with a goal in mind is indeed in your control.
However, things happen, good and bad, and that is life. The outcome of the process, is, 99% of the time, outside of our control.
So no, even if we work hard to change a life situation, we do not have control over the change. Therefore, we should not be expecting anything, or we will suffer. We stay focused on the path, on each action to take, and we do, consistently, the best we can, for that is indeed within our power.
I would like to go a little bit further still, in preventing suffering by retiring myself from any negative outcome that might come my way: even our actions — our hard work, the practice of our duties — often fall outside of our control.
Indeed, if you want to become a pianist, you must practice the piano. What will happen then, if you have an accident and you cannot practice nor play anymore? This is something we need to be prepared. One of the basic principles of stoicism, is indeed to always expect many different outcomes and situations. Remember Seneca who says:
“Nothing should never be unexpected by us.”
In order to truly live our philosophy then, we must actively practice preparation in the way that “bad surprises” do not affect us.
To come back to the example of the pianist who loses his fingers, here are the facts.
He cannot control how good he will become.
He cannot control how much applause he will get.
What he can control, is the practice that he will put in each day. His ability to practice though, can be taken away from him by an exterior event or stimulus that he has no control over. (Accident, family events, etc)
The conclusion to this article is this: there is a lot that we cannot control. There is little that we can indeed control. And that is, ultimately, the way we react and handle events that are out of our control.