By Erin McQuilkin
Humans have existed on Earth for hundreds of thousands of years. Civilisation has progressed, societies have become more complex. Yet the struggle of existence is timeless and unchanging. How to become a better person? How to be happy?
These questions have been in the atmosphere for millennia. By becoming benevolent people, we can increase the happiness of those around us and improve our own well-being.
As we move into 2021, some of the best advice was recorded over two thousand years ago by the Stoics. Marcus Aurelius was particularly prolific, gifting human civilisation his masterpiece, Meditations. Other Stoics include Seneca and Epictetus.
The Obstacle Is The Way
Marcus Aurelius’ profound insight; “The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.” may be simple, but what does it mean? We all have to deal with the world outside ourselves, one we cannot control. Obstacles appear, difficulties arise, things go well or fall apart. When things go wrong, it is common to lose emotional stability and lash out at others or ourselves with self-doubt and negative self-talk.
Aurelius advised that we learn to accept the unchangeable world and shift our perception, so the obstacles become opportunities. I try to practice this, and the greatest thing I can do as a human is to learn and develop. This outlook reclaims the power from the outside world and places it in my hands. Keep learning, keep becoming better, and you will rise.
It Can Only Ruin Your Life If It Ruins Your Character
“It can only ruin your life only if it ruins your character. Otherwise, it cannot harm you—inside or out.” Again Aurelius looks at the problem of the outside world not bending to our will. When things don’t go our way, instead of reacting with emotional outbursts, negativity or spite making us and others suffer, he suggests we look within and realise that none of these exterior situations, positive or negative, truly affects who we are as a person. To be a better human, choose to shine in every scenario for emotional stability soothing and uplifting those around you with your example.
Memento Mori: Don’t Take Anyone Or Anything For Granted
“You could leave life right now. Let that determine what you do and say and think.” Here Aurelius seeks to shake us out of our half-awake slumber. This life is ephemeral, and upon birth, we are given the prognosis of unavoidable death. Memento Mori is the reminder that we are mortal and don’t know how long we have here, therefore, we shouldn’t take anything or anyone in our life for granted. It makes us live more freely, honestly and kindly.
Use it as an ever-present touchstone to ground you in the now by living as if you are a dying man and take advantage of every precious opportunity. This word talisman is a motto I tattooed on my wrists to remind me to live, something I think makes me a kinder and braver human. We do not have forever to walk the surface of this earth, this time we have is precious.
Be Graceful In Both Success and Failure
“To accept it without arrogance, to let it go with indifference”, Aurelius highlights that to be our highest selves, we must maintain a state of balance within our minds. To cultivate a balanced and serene state, we must accept whatever circumstances we experience without going to emotional extremes or being too influenced by what is happening. When followed, his advice protects us from feeling terrible about ourselves when things don’t result in a triumph and from turning into an egomaniac when we do come out ahead. How the world judges us and what it hands or takes away must not affect our internal state if we want to be a good-natured and stable person.
Aurelius recommends to accept success without becoming arrogant and narcissistic and to accept failures with indifference. The goal is to control the ego while still maintaining a basic level of confidence. None of these external things says anything about you as a person. You are simply you, a being full of your own gifts travelling this world on your own journey.
What Would A Stoic Do?
Scouring the web for advice on how to be a better person, you will quickly notice patterns in the lists available. The most repeated recommendations are to accept change, stop making excuses (for yourself), stop being angry and become a role model. In other words, accept the external world, control your inner world and be virtuous no matter what you might be passing through. This is Stoicism at its most basic level.
For two years, I have been travelling the world, observing outside societies and people while experiencing my own trials and tribulations. My main focus during this time has been to release any illusion of control and flow with change as it happens. Once I moved into this mindset, I recognised how constant change is and became more fluid towards external alterations without getting upset. This simple metamorphosis in perspective dramatically improved my life. So if you want to try this technique just ask yourself, what would a Stoic do?