In a far corner of the ancient Roman Empire, a wise man constructed the perfect approach to a good life. Even though he had been exiled by a jealous dictator, his students traveled over 500 miles from Rome to northwest Greece to learn his secrets. But only one student’s notes survived to be passed down to us. In them we find the formula for a good life and how to have The Perfect Day.
Who was this teacher that wielded such a threat to the emperor and maintained such a powerful hold over philosophy? What was his message that still holds true today, some 2000 years later?
The wise man’s name was Epictetus. Born a slave in 55 AD, he was granted freedom due to his superior intellect and became a mentor to noblemen and emperors. But soon he was seen as a threat, and the Emperor Domitian turned on him, banishing him – and all philosophers – from Rome in 94 AD. Epictetus settled near Nicopolis where he continued to teach his form of philosophy, known as Stoicism, until his death in 135 AD. His ideas, captured in the meticulous recordings of Arrian in The Discourses, would later influence the Emperor, Marcus Aurelius, in his writings, Meditations.
Stoicism is the guide to a good, moral and productive life. It speaks to anyone that struggles with mistakes, desires, regret, ambition, vanity, conceit, and the chaos of life brought on by other people, writes Sharon LeBelle in The Art of Living, her book about the teachings of Epictetus.
Epictetus’ influence is all around us. You might be familiar with the famous Serenity Prayer used at Alcoholic Anonymous meetings. It is a translation of a Stoic principle from Epictetus’ Discourses: “What, then, is to be done? To make the best of what is in our power, and take the rest as it naturally happens.”
He taught that happiness and freedom begin with understanding this fundamental rule: There are certain things you can control and certain things you can’t control, and you must know the difference. The simple wisdom of Epictetus, passed down over centuries, works just as well today for you as it did for ancient Emperors. He delivers a real-world solution to the problems you face every day and can be summarized in the 3C formula for The Perfect Day.
- Control what you can (your thoughts and actions), to make the right decisions, and to take personal responsibility. Control your mornings and you will win your days.
- Conquer the external chaos to overcome everyday challenges and to deal with life’s inevitable losses and disappointments with grace.
- Concentrate on what counts – your Vision – and be grateful for your place in life.
You do not control if someone else is wealthier, prettier, or happier than you. But while you cannot control these external events, you can control your reaction to them. You are not to worry, be anxious, or waste energy thinking about these things that you cannot control. Instead, you are to control your reactions and to take action every day towards what really matters to you so that you can enjoy your freedom at night. If you take this approach to life then you will have less stress, you will be more productive, and you will overcome worry and anxiety, so that ultimately you will enjoy a good life. Essentially, Epictetus will help you be happy.
Stoicism is a practical approach to a meaningful life, to becoming your best self through constant and never-ending improvement, and to living a life of virtue and goodness. This philosophy prepares you for loss, tempers your desires, and helps you carry on in the face of great adversity. It teaches us to become a better version of ourselves, shows us how to eliminate guilt from our days, how to deal with adversity, fear, and grief, and how to live a fulfilled life, one of joy, happiness, and inner peace
rather than regret.
Epictetus recognized that external desires created an abundance of unhappiness. As Epictetus put it, what upsets people are not things themselves but rather their judgments about things. This is a common problem today. We spend too much time and energy comparing ourselves with others. Comparison is one of the greatest sources of our pain and frustration. To rid yourself of these unnecessary burdens, you need to learn how to tame your desires. Through the wisdom of Epictetus you will overcome your impulses and to act virtuously and ethically. It is necessary that we learn to deal with the chaos in our lives and plan ahead to act pragmatically, not impulsively. We control our behavior, and we must make the right decisions.
What separated Epictetus from many other teachers of philosophy was his emphasis on putting thought into practice. “Do not become attached to things,” Epictetus warned. Control your possession ambition. Be mentally prepared to lose everything. Never get addicted to objects. They are only cheap trinkets, easily replaced. His most famous student, Marcus Aurelius, wrote, “We must wipe impression, check impulse, and quench desire.”
Focus instead on how you live your life and spend your time. Draw lines. Create boundaries. Eliminate temptations. And do what is right for you. You probably know richer, “more important” people than yourself that work less, make more money, and live deeper lives. How do they do it? By using Epictetus’ 3C formula to make the right decisions for their lives.
When you apply the secrets of Epictetus to get better every day, you will overcome obstacles so that you have a better day tomorrow. You will put into place a simple system that will help you avoid making the same mistakes again. If, as Epictetus teaches, you are committed to daily progress you will come to live a happy, virtuous, and fulfilled life, full of freedom and free from regret.
Learn to control yourself and you will control your world.
Learn to conquer the chaos and you will win your days.
Learn to concentrate on what really matters and on what you can influence, and you will make the right decisions for your life.
The 3C formula is timeless. Control what you can and cope with what you can’t. Conquer the chaos in your life. Concentrate on what counts to you. This is how you win victories in modern day battles.
It works as well today in New York City, Mumbai, Sydney, Tokyo, San Paulo, Los Angeles, and Toronto, as it did in ancient Rome and Greece. It works as well for the stockbroker, the writer, the factory worker, the office worker, the manager, the rich, and the poor, as it did for Emperors, gladiators, and slaves. Stoicism will help us all.