When someone over two thousand years ago is able to grasp something so long after its existence, then it is definitely something in which it pays to get caught. Writings of the ancient Greek philosopher Seneca are such timeless treasure of wisdom
“There is a big difference between the size of philosophy and that of wealth; the former shines with original light and the latter borrowed; in addition, philosophy makes us happy and immortal, for teachings will outlive palaces and monuments.”
Seneca, a member of the Stoicism movement, was in many ways the forerunner not only of existentialism and humanistic considerations but also of zen Buddhism and of mindfulness. Wisdom of Stoics can be seen as this in general. Seneca’s writings teach us happiness that “transcends all circumstances.” Therefore, let’s dive into Seneca’s ancient wisdom.
True wisdom, Seneka says, “is to enjoy the present moment without anxiety about the future; not to bother with hopes or fears, but to be content with what we have, which is more than enough; Humanity’s greatest wisdom is in us. ” The real wisdom, he thinks, is to learn who we are and live accordingly, how to balance our emotions and be content. “Don’t teach me how to gain wealth and be content, teach me instead, how to lose it and be content anyway,” he says.
Sometimes just living is an act of courage.
The state of human perfection is calmness, Seneca thinks. “He who judges well and perseveres in it maintains a constant state of calm; he sees the true state of things, practices order, measure, decency in all his actions, and benevolence in his nature. ”Wisdom and peace follow when, instead of the superficial things that seduce or scare us, we give ourselves to this lasting pleasure, Seneka argues. One should find that pleasure within oneself.
Seneca’s philosophy is close to eastern zen Buddhism in many ways. He believes that the condition of a satisfied man should not depend on external circumstances. A satisfied man is calm in all circumstances. In most cases, it is our unrestrained desires that create problems for us, our unbalanced imagination that goes beyond our objective needs, he believes.
Infinite desires as a source of suffering
In reality, we really have everything we need, says Seneca. When unbalanced, our desires can become infinite, he thinks, and therefore we can become inconsolable for their unfulfilled fulfillment. In doing so, we do not see that the nature of our desires is what drives us to be unhappy, instead of reality.
You act as mortals in what you fear, and as immortals in what you demand.
On the contrary, calm conscience, sincere thoughts, virtue-driven acts, and indifference to sporadic events are what one must derive good feelings from. Seneca believes that difficulties should not be considered cruelty of destiny, but challenges, because getting to know the dangers leads us to overcome them, and so we become stronger.
The sailor’s hand becomes thickened, the soldier’s hand strong, and the tree most exposed to the wind will release its thickest roots.
So, according to Seneca, happiness is based on the wisdom that is capable of distinguishing between what is essential and what is to be discarded. Wisdom, therefore, understands the difference between the value of things and the ordinary “public” opinion of their value. “The very beginning of wisdom makes life easier,” he said, but it is not enough to know only, but wisdom should become something we practice every day.
Attitudes of stoics
Because philosophy is not a theoretical practice but something that should guide us daily in our works. “Philosophy is the health of the mind,” he says. Such philosophical wisdom then gives us peace of mind, regardless of the circumstances. Seneca himself translated this teaching into practice when he stoically submitted to Nero’s death sentence.
In those moments, it was Seneka who comforted his desperate friends by telling them that it was precisely in such moments that a man exercised a stoic attitude. In such difficult moments of life, it should be applied. After all, Seneca did not consider that life does not put pain or obstacles in front of a man. But the stoic attitude described above, he thought, allows him to overcome these difficulties and suffering more easily.
Sources: Henry Hazlitt: The wisdom of the stoics.
Alain De Botton, Utjehe filozofije.