In his essay On the Happy Life, the Stoic philosopher Seneca explains how best to pursue tranquility. Basically, we need to use our reasoning ability to drive away “all that excites us or affrights us.” If we can do this, there will ensue “unbroken tranquility and enduring freedom,” and we will experience “a boundless joy that is firm and unalterable.” Seneca claims that someone who practices Stoic principles “must, whether he wills or not, necessarily be attended by constant cheerfulness and a joy that is deep and issues from deep within, since he finds in his own resources, and desires no joys greater than his inner joys.” Furthermore, compared to these joys, pleasures of the flesh are “paltry and trivial and fleeting.”
The tranquility Seneca and other Stoics sought is not the kind of tranquility that might be brought on by ingestion of a tranquilizer – it is not, in other words, a zombie-like state. Stoic tranquility is, instead, a state marked by the absence of negative emotions such as anger, grief, anxiety, and fear, and the presence of positive emotions – in particular, joy.
A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Joy
William B. Irvine
Background on William B. Irvine
Background on Seneca