A lesson from the ancient Stoics that still applies today…

One of my favourite reads is the daily blog from the Daily Stoic which contains more timeless, practical wisdom than anything else I have come across on the internet. I also like to include suggestions drawn from Stoicism  s appropriate when helping people in hypnosis to make useful changes in their thinking, beliefs and lifestyle habits.

So is a recent Daily Stoic blog which I thought I should share as a useful “thought for the day”…..

It might seem like the Stoics didn’t have fun, didn’t experience pleasure. They did write, after all, quite a bit about the emptiness of chasing sex or money or fine wines. But just because they scorned excess luxury and comfort doesn’t mean their lives were empty and joyless.

Quite the contrary.

In his book The Expanding Circle, the philosopher Peter Singer explains that what they were actually doing was trying to avoid the paradox of hedonism. It’s interesting, he writes, that “those who seek their own pleasure do not find it, and those who do not seek it find it anyway. The pleasures of a self-centred life eventually pall and the drive for still higher levels of luxury and delight brings not lasting satisfaction. Real fulfilment is more likely to be found in working for some other end. Hence, these philosophers claim, if we want to lead a happy life, we should not seek happiness directly, but should find a larger purpose in life, outside ourselves.”

Perfectly said.

It’s not that the Stoics didn’t experience pleasure, it’s that they found pleasure by seeking purpose. Most of the Stoics had huge fortunes or came from powerful political dynasties. They could have coasted, soaked up all that was given to them. But instead of being lazy or entitled playboys, they were of service to others. They worked on their art. They made scientific breakthroughs. They dedicated themselves to their children. They did their duty.

And from all this hard work came pleasure and pride and satisfaction. Was it the same pleasure that would have come from Rome’s famous bacchanals? No…it was better. Because they earned it. Because it was sustainable. Because it wasn’t something that slipped from their grasp or disappeared every time they got close to it. Because they weren’t pursuing the pleasure, they were pleasantly surprised when it ensued.

​As we talked about recently, the best things in life are byproducts of doing the right things. So it goes for pleasure and happiness and joy. You don’t get them by seeking things for yourself, but by the very opposite, by searching for purpose outside yourself.