Here is a rule to remember in future, when anything tempts you to feel bitter: not “This is misfortune,” but “To bear this worthily is good fortune.”Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
Deciding on my first topic after returning to blogging was a challenge, but with all of the suffering out there in the world right now I decided perhaps somebody out there needs a pick-me-up. Many people have lost their jobs, spent most of their savings and are still uncertain about their futures. It’s no surprise that anxiety, depression and feelings of hopelessness are plentiful right now. It’s easy to get swept up in feeling sorry for ourselves, wishing things were different or refusing to get out of bed in the morning. There have been days in the last few months where I’ve definitely struggled with some of these counter-productive coping mechanisms, but allow me to be the voice of reason for you if you’re struggling out there today…
Lesson # 1: It Happens to the Best of Us
As much as we might not like to admit it – we are not special. As suffering increases around the world, our own suffering tends to increase with the whole. I don’t say that to diminish what you’re feeling, but we often tell ourselves stories that can make our difficulties much harder than they need to be.
“Why did this have to happen to me? I’m so unlucky”
“I wish things were different”
“I’ll never recover from this…”
Each of these quotes are examples of irrational and unproductive thoughts that fuel our fears and anxieties. Whatever has happened to you has likely happened to someone else before you and it will happen to someone else again long after you. Things are not different for us, and we might as well just deal with how things are. Recovery will come in time, but it will require both patience and effort. If anyone in the world is capable of bearing the struggles that you are bearing now, then you too can bear this struggle, and if it’s in your best interest to do so – then it’s wise to do so.
Lesson # 2: Your Suffering Won’t Last Forever
No matter what’s going on in your life, no matter how much stress you’re under at the moment, it can help to remind yourself that the painful situation is only temporary. Things will get better. There is more often than not a recovery period where our lives ease up again and we can begin to relax once more. Sometimes it can be a productive exercise to view every challenging event in life as a lesson to learn and grow for the future. Perhaps the Universe was exposing your weak spots so that you could fortify those for the next challenge ahead or maybe its trying to teach you some other virtuous characteristic like resiliency, patience or perseverance. In cases of suffering that is chronic it can help to remind ourselves sometimes that it could be worse. Things might not be easy, but we were never promised an easy life.
We are more often frightened than hurt; and we suffer more in imagination than in reality.Seneca
Lesson # 3: Take Personal Time for Yourself
When life becomes chaotic and stressful, it becomes more important than ever to find a few minutes every day for yourself so that you can connect with your body, your mind and your emotions. Just a few minutes in the morning running a diagnostic and preparing for the day ahead can make a world of difference for our resiliency. A brief reflection at the end of the night on the progress we’ve made–what we’ve done right, and could do better–can also help to keep ourselves on the right track and manage our perspectives.
Lesson # 4: Take Time to be Grateful
Often when we find ourselves troubled we can forget how fortunate we are in many other areas of our lives. You may have lost a job and struggle financially, but you have a supportive partner or family members. Even just a warm bed to sleep in and food to eat is something to be grateful for. Practicing gratitude even in the hardest of times can help us to keep things in perspective and help us to be even more resilient to life’s challenging moments. Objectivity, rather than negativity or positivity can help us to stay adaptable and resilient, prepared for the worst while aiming for the best.
It is in your power to withdraw yourself whenever you desire. Perfect tranquility within consists in the good ordering of the mind, the realm of your own.Marcus Aurelius
Lesson # 5: What Doesn’t Kill You…
This saying may seem like a cliché trope and it really is, but there’s a reason for that – it has truth to it. If our lives were always easy then we would never be challenged and we would never know exactly what we are capable of. Sometimes our struggles are blessings in disguise, turning us to another path in life and we often fail to appreciate this fact until, in retrospect, its long behind us. Imagine yourself in a few years from now reflecting on the great obstacles that you’re facing today. How will you feel when you make it out the other side and survive? What if you not only survive, but thrive? Everything that you endure will make you a stronger person and build your strength of character. Just remember that the Universe is testing you right now, and that you’re capable of much more than you probably believe, but you can only discover this through struggle.
What would have become of Hercules do you think if there had been no lion, hydra, stag or boar – and no savage criminals to rid the world of? What would he have done in the absence of such challenges? Obviously he would have just rolled over in bed and gone back to sleep. So by snoring his life away in luxury and comfort he never would have developed into the mighty Hercules. And even if he had, what good would it have done him? What would have been the use of those arms, that physique, and that noble soul, without crises or conditions to stir him into action?Epictetus
We cannot control what happens outside of ourselves, outside of our own minds, but we can react to what happens around us with grace, dignity, wisdom and courage. It is our judgments of things which give them power over us, and if we can direct our judgments inwards towards our own actions and opinions, then we don’t need to be so disturbed by those external things that are out of our control. Those things are simply the cards that we’ve been dealt, and they don’t need to be anything other than indifferent to us.
Some things are in our control and others not.
Things in our control are opinion, pursuit, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever are not our actions.
Things not in our control are body, property, reputation, command, and, in a word, whatever are not our actions.
The things in our control are by nature free, unrestrained, unhindered; but those not in our control are weak, slavish, restrained, belonging to others.
Remember, then, that if you suppose that things which are slavish by nature are also free, and that what belongs to others is your own, then you will be hindered.
You will lament, you will be disturbed, and you will find fault both with gods and men.
But if you suppose that only to be your own which is your own, and what belongs to others such as it really is, then no one will ever compel you or restrain you.
Further, you will find fault with no one or accuse no one.
You will do nothing against your will.
No one will hurt you, you will have no enemies, and you will not be harmed.Marcus Aurelius
These lessons are all derived from Stoic philosophy which I’m personally a big fan of, and can attest to the power of the principles in helping with my own anxiety/depression/stress. If you are interested in learning more about Stoicism in greater depth then I will leave a few links to my favorite books on the topic below. Any purchases made through these links will help support the blog as well. Thanks for reading!
Link: The Little Book of Stoicism: Timeless Wisdom to Gain Resilience, Calmness and Confidence
Link: How to Think Like a Roman Emperor: The Stoic Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius