Freedom is the only worthy goal in life. It is won by disregarding the things that lie beyond your control. We cannot have a light heart if our minds are a woeful cauldron of fear and ambition.
Do you wish to be invincible? Then don’t enter into combat with what you have no real control over. Your happiness depends on three things, all of which are within your power: your will, your ideas concerning the events in which you are involved, and the use you make of your ideas.
Authentic happiness is always independent of external conditions. Vigilantly practice indifference to external conditions. Your happiness can only be found within.
How easily dazzled and deceived we are by eloquence, job title, degrees, high honors, fancy possessions, expensive clothing, or a suave demeanor. Don’t make the mistake of assuming that celebrities, public figures, political leaders, the wealthy, or people with great intellectual or artistic gifts are necessarily happy. To do so is to be bewildered by appearances and will only make you doubt yourself.
Remember: The real essence of good is found only within things under your control. If you keep this in mind, you won’t find yourself feeling falsely envious or forlorn, pitifully comparing yourself and your accomplishments with others.
Stop aspiring to be anyone other than your own best self: for that does fall within your control.
A New Interpretation by Sharron Lebell
Sharon Lebell is a philosophical writer and musician who lives in Northern California. She also produced Epictetus’s A Manual for Living.
Epictetus was a Greek Stoic philosopher. He was born a slave at Hierapolis, Phrygia (present day Pamukkale, Turkey) and lived & taught in Rome until 94CE, when Emperor Domitian banished philosophers from the city. Epictetus went to Nicopolis in northwestern Greece for the rest of his life. In exile, he established a school of philosophy where his distinguished students included Marcus Aurelius.
Epictetus taught that philosophy is a way of life and not just a theoretical discipline. To Epictetus, all external events are beyond our control; we should accept calmly and dispassionately whatever happens. However, individuals are responsible for their own actions, which they can examine and control through rigorous self-discipline.
Epictetus’s chief concerns are with integrity, self-management, and personal freedom. Heartfelt and satirical by turns, his lucid resystematization and challenging application of Stoic ethics qualify him as an important philosopher in his own right.
Books by Epictetus include:
- Art of Living: The Classical Manual on Virtue, Happiness, and Effectiveness
- Discourses and Selected Writings (Penguin Classics)
- Enchiridion [enchiridion means “manual”]
- The Complete Works of Epictetus