• We are unlikely to have a good and meaningful life unless we can overcome our insatiability. (p. 8)
  • Students who knew logic could detect the fallacies committed by others and thereby prevail over them in arguments. (p. 34)
  • And besides providing explanations of natural phenomena, as modern physics does, Stoic physics was concerned with what we would call theology. (p. 34)
  • Stoic ethics, in contrast, is what is called eudaemonistic ethics, from the Greek eu meaning “good” and daimon meaning “spirit.” It is concerned not with moral right and wrong but with having a “good spirit,” that is, with living a good, happy life or with what is sometimes called moral wisdom. (p. 34)
  • Be virtuous, then, is to live as we were designed to live; it is to live, as Zeno put it, in accordance with nature.18 The Stoics would add that if we do this, we will have a good life. (p. 36)
  • By studying logic, they hoped to perform well one of the functions for which we were designed; namely, to behave in a rational manner. And by studying physics, they hoped to gain insight into the purpose for which we were designed. (p. 36)
  • Such godlikeness, the Stoics will be the first to admit, is exceedingly rare. For the Stoics, however, the near impossibility of becoming a sage is not a problem. They talk about sages primarily so they will have a model to guide them in their practice of Stoicism. The sage is a target for them to aim at, even though they will probably fail to hit it. The sage, in other words, is to Stoicism as Buddha is to Buddhism. Most Buddhists can never hope to become as enlightened as Buddha, but nevertheless, reflecting on Buddha’s perfection can help them gain a degree of enlightenment. (p. 37)
  • Stoic tranquility was a psychological state marked by the absence of negative emotions, such as grief, anger, and anxiety, and the presence of positive emotions, such as joy. (p. 39)
  • Besides asserting that the pursuit of virtue will bring us tranquility, I think the Roman Stoics would argue that the attainment of tranquility will help us pursue virtue. (p. 39)
  • Their philosophy, might have been trying to attract students away from the Epicureans, who also dangled the prospect of tranquility before their students. (p. 41)
  • The Roman Stoics, by accentuating tranquility in their philosophy, might have been trying to attract students away from the Epicureans, who also dangled the prospect of tranquility before their students. (p. 41)
  • By highlighting tranquility in their philosophy, the Stoics not only made it more attractive to ancient Romans but made it, I think, more attractive to modern individuals as well. (p. 42)
  • What these students could expect at one of Epictetus’s lectures was not a one-way communication, from Epictetus to his students, about esoteric philosophical theories. To the contrary, he wanted his students to take his lectures personally. He wanted his remarks to strike close to home. He therefore told his students that a Stoic school should be like a physician’s consulting room and that patients should leave feeling bad rather than feeling good, the idea being that any treatment likely to cure a patient is also likely to cause him discomfort. (p. 52)
  • According to Epictetus, the primary concern of philosophy should be the art of living: Just as wood is the medium of the carpenter and bronze is the medium of the sculptor, your life is the medium on which you practice the art of living. (p. 52)
  • ANY THOUGHTFUL PERSON will periodically contemplate the bad things that can happen to him. The obvious reason for doing this is to prevent those things from happening. (p. 65)
  • Seneca therefore points to a second reason for contemplating the bad things that can happen to us. If we think about these things, we will lessen their impact on us when, despite our efforts at prevention, they happen. (p. 65)
  • There is a third and arguably much more important reason. We humans are unhappy in large part because we are insatiable; after working hard to get what we want, we routinely lose interest in the object of our desire. Rather than feeling satisfied, we feel a bit bored, and in response to this boredom, we go on to form new, even grander desires. (p. 66)
  • The problem, though, is that once they fulfill a desire for something, they adapt to its presence in their life and as a result stop desiring it—or at any rate, don’t find it as desirable as they once did. They end up just as dissatisfied as they were before fulfilling the desire. (p. 67)
  • One key to happiness, then, is to forestall the adaptation process: We need to take steps to prevent ourselves from taking for granted, once we get them, the things we worked so hard to get. (p. 67)
  • ACCORDING TO MUSONIUS, we should study philosophy, since how otherwise could we hope to live well? (p. 49)
  • The easiest way for us to gain happiness is to learn how to want the things we already have. (p. 68)
  • THE STOICS THOUGHT they had an answer to this question. They recommended that we spend time imagining that we have lost the things we value—that our wife has left us, our car was stolen, or we lost our job. (p. 68)
  • Besides contemplating the death of relatives, the Stoics think we should spend time contemplating the loss of friends, to death, perhaps, or to a falling-out. (p. 70)
  • AMONG THE DEATHS we should contemplate, says Epictetus, is our own. (p. 70)
  • Living as if each day were our last is simply an extension of the negative visualization technique: As we go about our day, we should periodically pause to reflect on the fact that we will not live forever and therefore that this day could be our last. (p. 70)
  • Negative visualization is therefore a wonderful way to regain our appreciation of life and with it our capacity for joy. (p. 76)
  • IF WE HAVE an active imagination, it will be easy for us to engage in negative visualization; it will be easy for us to imagine, for example, that our house has burned to the ground, our boss has fired us, or we have gone blind. If we have trouble imagining such things, though, we can practice negative visualization by paying attention to the bad things that happen to other people and reflecting on the fact that these things might instead have happened to us. (p. 78)
  • It is a mistake to think Stoics will spend all their time contemplating potential catastrophes. It is instead something they will do periodically. (p. 80)
  • Negative visualization, in other words, teaches us to embrace whatever life we happen to be living and to extract every bit of delight we can from it. But it simultaneously teaches us to prepare ourselves for changes that will deprive us of the things that delight us. It teaches us, in other words, to enjoy what we have without clinging to it. (p. 83)
  • By contemplating the impermanence of everything in the world, we are forced to recognize that every time we do something could be the last time we do it, and this recognition can invest the things we do with a significance and intensity that would otherwise be absent. (p. 84)
  • While most people seek to gain contentment by changing the world around them, Epictetus advises us to gain contentment by changing ourselves—more precisely, by changing our desires. (p. 86)
  • “Some things are up to us and some are not up to us.” (p. 86)
  • Whenever we desire something that is not up to us, our tranquility will likely be disturbed: If we don’t get what we want, we will be upset, and if we do get what we want, we will experience anxiety in the process of getting it. (p. 87)
  • “Some things are up to us and some are not up to us.” (p. 86)
  • We will want to restate Epictetus’s dichotomy of control as follows: There are things over which we have complete control and things over which we don’t have complete control. (p. 88)
  • This in turn suggests the possibility of restating Epictetus’s dichotomy of control as a trichotomy: There are things over which we have complete control, things over which we have no control at all, and things over which we have some but not complete control. (p. 89)
  • He will be careful to set internal rather than external goals. Thus, his goal in playing tennis will not be to win a match (something external, over which he has only partial control) but to play to the best of his ability in the match (something internal, over which he has complete control). (p. 95)
  • My goal should not be the external goal of making her love me; no matter how hard I try, I could fail to achieve this goal and would as a result be quite upset. Instead, my goal should be an internal goal: to behave, to the best of my ability, in a lovable manner. Similarly, my goal with respect to my boss should be to do my job to the best of my ability. These are goals I can achieve no matter how my wife and my boss subsequently react to my efforts. (p. 96)
  • A practicing Stoic will keep the trichotomy of control firmly in mind as he goes about his daily affairs. He will perform a kind of triage in which he sorts the elements of his life into three categories: those over which he has complete control, those over which he has no control at all, and those over which he has some but not complete control. The things in the second category—those over which he has no control at all—he will set aside as not worth worrying about. In doing this, he will spare himself a great deal of needless anxiety. He will instead concern himself with things over which he has complete control and things over which he has some but not complete control. And when he concerns himself with things in this last category, he will be careful to set internal rather than external goals for himself and will thereby avoid a considerable amount of frustration and disappointment. (p. 100)
  • We must learn to adapt ourselves to the environment into which fate has placed us and do our best to love the people with whom fate has surrounded us. (p. 103)
  • In saying that we shouldn’t dwell on the past, the Stoics are not suggesting that we should never think about it. We sometimes should think about the past to learn lessons that can help us in our efforts to shape the future. (p. 105)
  • We can either spend this moment wishing it could be different, or we can embrace this moment. (p. 107)
  • In behaving fatalistically with respect to the past and present, we refuse to compare our situation with alternative, preferable situations in which we might have found or might now find ourselves. (p. 107)
  • Musonius takes this technique one step further: He thinks that besides living as if bad things had happened to us, we should sometimes cause them to happen. In particular, we should periodically cause ourselves to experience discomfort that we could easily have avoided. (p. 110)
  • Or we might periodically allow ourselves to become thirsty or hungry, even though water and food are at hand, and we might sleep on a hard bed, even though a soft one is available. (p. 111)
  • Voluntary discomfort can be thought of as a kind of vaccine: By exposing ourselves to a small amount of a weakened virus now, we create in ourselves an immunity that will protect us from a debilitating illness in the future. (p. 112)
  • The Stoics see nothing wrong, for example, with enjoying the pleasures to be derived from friendship, family life, a meal, or even wealth, but they counsel us to be circumspect in our enjoyment of these things. There is, after all, a fine line between enjoying a meal and lapsing into gluttony. (p. 115)
  • What Stoics discover, though, is that willpower is like muscle power: The more they exercise their muscles, the stronger they get, and the more they exercise their will, the stronger it gets. Indeed, by practicing Stoic self-denial techniques over a long period, Stoics can transform themselves into individuals remarkable for their courage and self-control. (p. 116)
  • Leave it to the Stoics to realize that the act of forgoing pleasure can itself be pleasant. They were, as I’ve said, some of the most insightful psychologists of their time. (p. 118)
  • TO HELP US ADVANCE our practice of Stoicism, Seneca advises that we periodically meditate on the events of daily living, how we responded to these events, and how, in accordance with Stoic principles, we should have responded to them. (p. 119)
  • Epictetus takes Seneca’s bedtime-meditation advice one step further: He suggests that as we go about our daily business, we should simultaneously play the roles of participant and spectator. (p. 121)
  • Another sign of progress in our practice of Stoicism is that our philosophy will consist of actions rather than words. (p. 122)
  • They thought that man is by nature a social animal and therefore that we have a duty to form and maintain relationships with other people, despite the trouble they might cause us. (p. 129)
  • A person who performs well the function of man will be both rational and social. (p. 129)
  • Throughout the millennia and across cultures, those who have thought carefully about desire have drawn the conclusion that spending our days working to get whatever it is we find ourselves wanting is unlikely to bring us either happiness or tranquility. (p. 133)
  • The Stoics recommend that we prepare for our dealings with other people before we have to deal with them. Thus, Epictetus advises us to form “a certain character and pattern” for ourselves when we are alone. Then, when we associate with other people, we should remain true to who we are. (p. 134)
  • We should instead seek, as friends, people who share our (proper Stoic) values and in particular, people who are doing a better job than we are of living in accordance with these values. And while enjoying the companionship of these individuals, we should work hard to learn what we can from them. (p. 135)
  • Besides advising us to avoid people with vices, Seneca advises us to avoid people who are simply whiny. (p. 135)
  • People, Marcus reminds us, do not choose to have the faults they do. Consequently, there is a sense in which the people who annoy us cannot help doing so. It is therefore inevitable that some people will be annoying. (p. 137)
  • If we detect anger and hatred within us and wish to seek revenge, one of the best forms of revenge on another person is to refuse to be like him. (p. 138)
  • I use the word insult in a very broad sense, to include not just verbal abuse, such as calling someone a name, but also “insults by omission,” such as slighting or snubbing someone, and physical insults, such as slapping someone. (p. 142)
  • Suppose, however, that I don’t respect the source of an insult; indeed, suppose that I take him to be a thoroughly contemptible individual. Under such circumstances, rather than feeling hurt by his insults, I should feel relieved: If he disapproves of what I am doing, then what I am doing is doubtless the right thing to do. (p. 145)
  • A Stoic sage, were one to exist, would probably take the insults of his fellow humans to be like the barking of a dog. (p. 145)
  • If something external harms me, it is my own fault: I should have adopted different values. (p. 147)
  • And how are we to respond to an insult, if not with a counterinsult? One wonderful way, say the Stoics, is with humor. (p. 147)
  • The kinds of humor we might use in response to an insult, self-deprecating humor can be particularly effective. (p. 148)
  • Of the kinds of humor we might use in response to an insult, self-deprecating humor can be particularly effective. (p. 148)
  • Nothing is more pathetic, after all, than a person who, a day after being insulted, walks up to the person who insulted him, reminds him of what the insult was, and then gives his reply to it. The Stoics realized this and as a result advocated a second way to respond to insults: with no response at all. (p. 148)
  • Advocates of politically correct speech therefore petition the authorities—government officials, employers, and school administrators—to punish anyone who insults a disadvantaged individual. Epictetus would reject this manner of dealing with insults as being woefully counterproductive. He would point out, to begin with, that the political correctness movement has some untoward side effects. One is that the process of protecting disadvantaged individuals from insults will tend to make them hypersensitive to insults: (p. 151)
  • Emotions such as grief, the Stoics understood, are to some extent reflexive. (p. 153)
  • THE STOICS’ PRIMARY grief-prevention strategy was to engage in negative visualization. By contemplating the deaths of those we love, we will remove some of the shock we experience if they die; we will in a sense have seen it coming. (p. 154)
  • Rather than mourning the end of his life, she should be thankful that he lived at all. (p. 155)
  • This is what might be called retrospective negative visualization. In normal, prospective negative visualization, we imagine losing something we currently possess; in retrospective negative visualization, we imagine never having had something that we have lost. (p. 155)
  • Anger, says Seneca, is “brief insanity,” and the damage done by anger is enormous: “No plague has cost the human race more.” (p. 159)
  • It is true, he says, that people sometimes benefit from being angry, but it hardly follows from this that we should welcome anger into our life. (p. 159)
  • When dealing with this sort of shallow individual, it does not make sense to become actually angry—doing so will likely spoil our day—but it might make sense, Seneca thinks, to feign anger. (p. 161)
  • Although Seneca rejects the idea of allowing ourselves to become angry in order to motivate ourselves, he is open to the idea of pretending to be angry in order to motivate others. (p. 161)
  • We should, he says, fight our tendency to believe the worst about others and our tendency to jump to conclusions about their motivations. (p. 161)
  • As Seneca observes, “our anger invariably lasts longer than the damage done to us.”7 What fools we are, therefore, when we allow our tranquility to be disrupted by minor things. (p. 162)
  • What seems vitally important to us will seem unimportant to our grandchildren. Thus, when we feel ourselves getting angry about something, we should pause to consider its cosmic (in)significance. (p. 163)
  • When angry, says Seneca, we should take steps to “turn all [anger’s] indications into their opposites.” We should force ourselves to relax our face, soften our voice, and slow our pace of walking. If we do this, our internal state will soon come to resemble our external state, and our anger, says Seneca, will have dissipated.10 Buddhists practice a similar thought-substitution technique. (p. 163)
  • We should ignore what other people think of us. (p. 169)
  • IRONICALLY, BY REFUSING to seek the admiration of other people, Stoics might succeed in gaining their (perhaps grudging) admiration. Many people, for example, will construe the Stoics’ indifference to public opinion as a sign of self-confidence: Only someone who really knows who she is—someone who, as they say, feels good about herself—would display this kind of indifference. (p. 171)
  • More generally, he argues that not needing wealth is more valuable than wealth itself is. (p. 174)
  • Wealth has the power to make people miserable. (p. 174)
  • Rather than living to eat—rather than spending our life pursuing the pleasure to be derived from food—we should eat to live. (p. 176)
  • When we find ourselves wanting something, we should pause to ask whether the desire is natural or unnatural, and if it is unnatural, we should think twice about trying to satisfy it. (p. 177)
  • Those who crave luxury typically have to spend considerable time and energy to attain it; those who eschew luxury can devote this same time and energy to other, more worthwhile undertakings. (p. 178)
  • The idea is that it is possible to enjoy something and at the same time be indifferent to it. (p. 180)
  • Living in a nursing home resembles, in many respects, being in high school. (p. 191)
  • This is the downside of failing to develop an effective philosophy of life: You end up wasting the one life you have. (p. 192)
  • In our youth, because we assumed that we would live forever, we took our days for granted and as a result wasted many of them. In our old age, however, waking up each morning can be a cause for celebration. (p. 194)
  • It is, after all, hard to know what to choose when you aren’t really sure what you want. (p. 203)
  • Along with avoiding negative emotions, we will increase our chances of experiencing one particularly significant positive emotion: delight in the world around us. (p. 204)
  • We need, in other words, to learn how to enjoy things without feeling entitled to them and without clinging to them. (p. 205)
  • Finally, the Stoics are careful to avoid becoming connoisseurs in the worst sense of the word—becoming, that is, individuals who are incapable of taking delight in anything but “the best.” (p. 205)
  • Stoicism was also undermined by the rise of Christianity, in part because the claims made by Christianity were similar to those made by Stoicism. (p. 210)
  • The Stoics were not stoical! (p. 213)
  • Many of us have been persuaded that happiness is something that someone else, a therapist or a politician, must confer on us. Stoicism rejects this notion. It teaches us that we are very much responsible for our happiness as well as our unhappiness. (p. 221)
  • Although the strategy of gaining happiness by working to get whatever it is we find ourselves wanting is obvious and has been used by most people throughout recorded history and across cultures, it has an important defect, as thoughtful people throughout recorded history and across cultures have realized: For each desire we fulfill in accordance with this strategy, a new desire will pop into our head to take its place. This means that no matter how hard we work to satisfy our desires, we will be no closer to satisfaction than if we had fulfilled none of them. (p. 224)
  • Among their recommendations were the following: • We should become self-aware: We should observe ourselves as we go about our daily business, and we should periodically reflect on how we responded to the day’s events. How did we respond to an insult? To the loss of a possession? To a stressful situation? Did we, in our responses, put Stoic psychological strategies to work? • We should use our reasoning ability to overcome negative emotions. We should also use our reasoning ability to master our desires, to the extent that it is possible to do so. In particular, we should use reason to convince ourselves that things such as fame and fortune aren’t worth having—not, at any rate, if what we seek is tranquility—and therefore aren’t worth pursuing. Likewise, we should use our reasoning ability to convince ourselves that even though certain activities are pleasurable, engaging in those activities will disrupt our tranquility, and the tranquility lost will outweigh the pleasure gained. • If, despite not having pursued wealth, we find ourselves wealthy, we should enjoy our affluence; it was the Cynics, not the Stoics, who advocated asceticism. But although we should enjoy wealth, we should not cling to it; indeed, even as we enjoy it, we should contemplate its loss. • We are social creatures; we will be miserable if we try to cut off contact with other people. Therefore, if what we seek is tranquility, we should form and maintain relations with others. In doing so, though, we should be careful about whom we befriend. We should also, to the extent possible, avoid people whose values are corrupt, for fear that their values will contaminate ours. • Other people are invariably annoying, though, so if we maintain relations with them, they will periodically upset our tranquility—if we let them. The Stoics spent a considerable amount of time devising techniques for taking the pain out of our relationships with other people. In particular, they came up with techniques for dealing with the insults of others and preventing them from angering us. • The Stoics pointed to two principal sources of human unhappiness—our insatiability and our tendency to worry about things beyond our control—and they developed techniques for removing these sources of unhappiness from our life. • To conquer our insatiability, the Stoics advise us to engage in negative visualization. We should contemplate the impermanence of all things. We should imagine ourselves losing the things we most value, including possessions and loved ones. We should also imagine the loss of our own life. If we do this, we will come to appreciate the things we now have, and because we appreciate them, we will be less likely to form desires for other things. And besides simply imagining that things could be worse than they are, we should sometimes cause things to be worse than they would otherwise be; Seneca advises us to “practice poverty,” and Musonius advises us voluntarily to forgo opportunities for pleasure and comfort. • To curb our tendency to worry about things beyond our control, the Stoics advise us to perform a kind of triage with respect to the elements of our life and sort them into those we have no control over, those we have complete control over, and those we have some but not complete control over. Having done this, we should not bother about things over which we have no control. Instead, we should spend some of our time dealing with things over which we have complete control, such as our goals and values, and spend most of our time dealing with things over which we have some but not complete control. If we do this, we will avoid experiencing much needless anxiety. • When we spend time dealing with things over which we have some but not complete control, we should be careful to internalize our goals. My goal in playing tennis, for example, should be not to win the match but to play the best match possible. • We should be fatalistic with respect to the external world: We should realize that what has happened to us in the past and what is happening to us at this very moment are beyond our control, so it is foolish to get upset about these things. (p. 227)
  • Unlike Zeus (or God), evolutionary processes are indifferent to whether we flourish; they are concerned only that we survive and reproduce. (p. 231)
  • Those who could experience pain were therefore more effective at transmitting their genes than those who couldn’t, and as a result we humans have inherited the ability to experience pain. It is also because of evolutionary processes that we possess the ability to experience fear. (p. 232)
  • We can use our reasoning ability to conclude that many of the things that our evolutionary programming encourages us to seek, such as social status and more of anything we already have, may be valuable if our goal is simply to survive and reproduce, but aren’t at all valuable if our goal is instead to experience tranquility while we are alive. (p. 235)
  • Evolutionary processes made us susceptible to suffering but also gave us—accidentally—a tool by which we can prevent much of this suffering. The tool, once again, is our reasoning ability. (p. 235)
  • The Stoics, although they didn’t understand evolution, nevertheless discovered psychological techniques that, if practiced, can help us overcome those aspects of our evolutionary programming that might otherwise disrupt our tranquility. (p. 238)
  • People’s ignorance about how and why aspirin works did not stop it from working. (p. 240)
  • At spare moments in the day, make it a point to contemplate the loss of whatever you value in life. (p. 251)
  • AFTER MASTERING negative visualization, a novice Stoic should move on to become proficient in applying the trichotomy of control. (p. 252)
  • Applying the trichotomy of control, besides helping me manage my own anxieties, is an effective technique for allaying the anxieties of the non-Stoics around me, which anxieties might otherwise disrupt my tranquility. (p. 253)
  • As a Stoic novice, you will want, as part of becoming proficient in applying the trichotomy of control, to practice internalizing your goals. (p. 253)
  • In your practice of Stoicism, you will also want, in conjunction with applying the trichotomy of control, to become a psychological fatalist about the past and the present—but not about the future. (p. 253)
  • Self-deprecating humor has become my standard response to insults. When someone criticizes me, I reply that matters are even worse than he is suggesting. (p. 255)
  • This is the problem with anger: It feels good to vent it and feels bad to suppress it. (p. 256)
  • I have also found that it is quite useful to use humor as a defense against anger. In particular, I have found that one wonderful way to avoid getting angry is to imagine myself as a character in an absurdist play. (p. 258)
  • I have experimented with a program of voluntary discomfort. I have not attempted to go barefoot, as Musonius suggested, but I have tried less radical behavior, such as under-dressing for winter weather, not heating my car in the winter, and not air conditioning it in the summer. (p. 259)
  • WHENEVER YOU UNDERTAKE an activity in which public failure is a possibility, you are likely to experience butterflies in your stomach. I mentioned above that since becoming a Stoic, I have become a collector of insults. I have also become a collector of butterflies. (p. 260)
  • WHEN DOING THINGS to cause myself physical and mental discomfort, I view myself—or at any rate, a part of me—as an opponent in a kind of game. (p. 262)
  • I have become dysfunctional as a consumer. When I go to a mall, for example, I don’t buy things; instead, I look around me and am astonished by all the things for sale that I not only don’t need but can’t imagine myself wanting. (p. 266)
  • I know, thanks to my research on desire, that almost without exception the philosophers and religious thinkers who have contemplated life and the way people normally live it have come to the conclusion that it is the vast majority of people who are making a mistake in their manner of living. (p. 277)
  • Those wishing to read the Stoics would do well to start with the essays of Seneca, especially, “On the Happy Life,” “On Tranquility of Mind,” and “On the Shortness of Life.” These can be found in Seneca: Dialogues and Essays (Oxford University Press, 2008). (p. 281)