The Happiness Connection  

Ancient words for a modern age

Studying philosophy

When I was in university, several of my friends were philosophy majors.

Their reason for choosing a degree in philosophy was a complete mystery to me. Why would you study the words of ancient wisdom when you could be taking a degree that would lead to a profession like education, law or engineering?

It’s only with age that I’ve come to appreciate the positive influence the words and practices these ancient philosophers had to offer, and how timeless their thoughts were. Philosophy literally means “love of wisdom.”

As a new calendar year starts, many of us take time to reflect. We want to find wisdom in the year that’s finished so we can enjoy a better life in the year to come.

With that thought in mind, I want to share some ancient wisdom that feels as relevant today as it did hundreds of years ago.

“We suffer more often in imagination than in reality.”

Seneca (4 BC – 65 AD)
Advisor to Roman Emperor Nero.

My mom used to tell me to “cross that bridge when you come to it.” It was her way of advising me not to worry about stuff that might never happen.

When challenges happen, you deal with them. For the most part you have no other choice. If your dishwasher breaks, you get it fixed or start doing your dishes by hand. Worrying that it’s old and might break serves no useful purpose. It could keep running for years.

Reminding yourself of Seneca’s words may be just what you need if you want to worry a little less in the year ahead.

“Men are disturbed not by things, but by the view which they take of them.”

Epictetus (50 AD – 135 AD)
Born a slave. Lived in Rome until he was banished.

Your brain receives information from your senses. Because it likes the world around you to make sense, it assigns meaning to the things you’ve seen, heard, smelled, touched, or felt. Smelling smoke doesn’t necessarily mean danger, although that may be the first thought that comes into your mind.

If you see a friend scowling at you, your brain may jump to the conclusion that they’re mad at you. But just because that’s the first story your brain creates, it doesn’t mean it’s accurate. You get to choose a different perspective if you want.

Maybe they had a disagreement with their partner or received annoying news from their boss. There’s every chance that the look on their face has absolutely nothing to do with you.

Just because your brain quickly assigns meaning to the information it receives, doesn’t mean you have to believe its interpretation without question. If the initial story disturbs you, choose a different one.

“I have often wondered how it is that every man loves himself more than all the rest of men, but yet sets less value on his own opinions of himself than on the opinions of others.”

Marcus Aurelius,
Roman emperor (161 AD-180 AD)

The truth of these words strikes me every time I read them. Why is it that we give so much power to the words of others? You may leave your home feeling like a million dollars, but it only takes one negative comment from another person to send you into a whirlwind of doubt.

There’s an evolutionary reason for this. In primitive times, it was vital that humans worked together if they wanted to survive. One way of ensuring that this happened, was for individuals to buy into the opinions and behaviours of the group as a whole.

If you rebelled, you were banished. That action was akin to death because it was virtually impossible to survive by yourself.

Caring more about the opinions of the group served humans when they roamed the savannah, but we’ve moved on since then. This is just one example of an outdated program that modern humans carry. If you want to break free from this obsolete behaviour, the first step is to be aware that it exists.

It’s unlikely that being aware of your tendency to take the opinions of others to heart will stop that behaviour in its tracks, but it can help you make better decisions. Rather than assuming they must be right, you can pause and think about it with a clearer mind.

Perhaps there was a reason for their comment, or maybe you were reading more into it than they intended. In the end it’s your opinion that really matters. Go back to the words of Seneca and choose a perspective that brings you peace.

Reflection is the way adults learn. It’s something that’ll make your life richer and keep your brain in good condition.

If you want to start a reflection practice, the words of these philosophers may be a good place to begin.

Amazingly, their wisdom is as applicable to life today as it was when their words were first recorded.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

More The Happiness Connection articles

About the Author

Reen Rose is an experienced, informative, and engaging speaker, author, and educator. She has worked for over three decades in the world of education, teaching children and adults in Canada and England.

Research shows that happy people are better leaders, more successful, and healthier than their unhappy counterparts, and yet so many people still believe that happiness is a result of their circumstances.

Happiness is a choice. Reen’s presentations and workshops are designed to help you become robustly happy. This is her term for happiness that can withstand challenge and change.

Reen blends research-based expertise, storytelling, humour, and practical strategies to both inform and inspire. She is a Myers Briggs certified practitioner, a Microsoft Office certified trainer and a qualified and experienced teacher.

Email Reen at [email protected]

Check out her websites at www.ReenRose.com, or www.ModellingHappiness.com

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

Previous Stories