Happy is the man who can endure the highest and lowest fortune.
He who has endured such vicissitudes with equanimity has
deprived misfortune of its power.”
– Seneca, Roman Stoic philosopher (c. 4 BCE – CE 65)
I’m not certain that happiness consists of enduring the highest and lowest fortune has to offer. Most of us endure such highs and lows (or believe we do) during our lives.
Depriving misfortune of its power by living through the vicissitudes of life can hardly be the road to happiness if all of us that don’t die in the process manage to live through them. Enduring them with steadiness of mind may be a sign of emotional flatness, an inability to feel strong emotions, even in times of stress.
Seneca’s true meaning may have been lost in translation. I’m going to say he meant that people who can live through the trials of their lives as well as the high points without succumbing to excesses or emotional trauma were well prepared to face them.
Being able to cope with the best of times and the worst of times requires skill and knowledge. The knowledge is pretty simple. To cope with these eventualities, we need to know that they will come, both the good and the bad, and that we will survive them and return to some sort of normal state of life. Bad always passes, for everyone, so long as they live through it. Exceptionally good times don’t last forever either.
Just knowing that much makes us prepared to face the ups and downs of life better.
The skill part of being prepared for the inevitable variations of life means having the ability to see past the emotional element to the results or consequences that will follow.
If we are going to a place we haven’t been before and we travel for hours without knowing exactly where we are, we might feel that we’re lost. Even if we know we are following a route proposed for us, we may feel uncomfortable about the fact that nothing around us is familiar. Yet if we focus on the road as the path to the goal and not as a place of discomfort and unfamiliarity, we can get through the trip knowing that the end we want to reach will arrive, in time. We aren’t lost if we know we’re on the right path.
Life is the same. If we know that hard times will befall us, we have a plan to get through them and something to fall back on to ease the strain, we can feel confident that we will get through them safely. If we know that good times won’t last forever and prepare a plan to account for severe downturns, we can live through them with equanimity as well.
Preparation, having a plan for coping, is the key.
Most people fear bad times but have no plan for coping with them when they arrive. They also don’t likely have a plan to get through good times without indulging in excesses (“We’ve got to have a bigger house and a better car”). When either arrives, they fall apart (in some sense), though in different ways. Look at the statistics of what happens to the lives of lottery winners, even though they may buy tickets for years hoping to win.
We don’t have to live our lives as if we are going to die next month or next week. But we should keep in mind that some day the very last day of our life will come. We need to make sure that we have taken into account everything we would like to have accomplished, no matter when that day may arrive. That includes what we might say to or do with our loved ones. That day may come decades from now, or it might come tomorrow.
Worse, for many of us, would be when our spouse dies (or leaves the family home). Though we may be as devoted as possible to our mate, we also need to consider the possibility that a day of being alone may come. If we have a plan for what we would do if that eventuality should arrive, we can put the plan into effect and survive it as safely and with as little self destruction as possible.
Life is not just a matter of living. Living through the vicissitudes of life requires us to have plans we can put into effect when fortune deals us a bad hand or a particularly good one at any unexpected time.
What would you do?
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today’s Epidemic Social Problems, a book about how, what and when to teach children the knowledge and skills they need to live with equanimity through the ups and downs of life, and to teach them before they’re needed.
Learn more at http://billallin.com