Stoic Letter 12
Lately, I’ve been feeling more and more frustrated with my surroundings. Every day starts to blend together. You wake up in the same bed, look at the same view, eat your breakfast in the same room, see the same neighbors, and so forth. This is the force that drives so many of us to travel.
You could always head out for the weekend if you felt uninspired by being at home all the time. But now, almost a year into this Covid situation, most of us haven’t left our city, let alone our house for more than a day. It’s no wonder you sometimes feel bored, frustrated, and annoyed with your life. Look, I feel the same way.
Here’s how I deal with that to make it go away quickly. This desire to change your surroundings is not new. The Stoics wrote about it a lot. Seneca said it best when his friend, Lucilius, complained about how boring his life was, which made Lucilius feel depressed: “Do you think you are the only man this happened to, and feel amazed as if this was a new experience, that after such prolonged travels and with such changes of scene you have not shaken off your sadness and depression? You should change your attitude, not your surroundings.”
He’s right. Why are we surprised that we get down? I find it especially weird that we insist on blaming our surroundings. “I just need to get out of here.” As if a change of scenery will make our problems go away. There’s no such thing. We think that the problem lies in our surroundings — but the problem is actually our mindset.
The problem is not you. It’s human nature to get used to your surroundings. I haven’t met a single person who doesn’t get depressed by their life if there’s no novelty. It doesn’t matter how great your life is, at some point, you adapt your standards. And when that happens, we feel depressed like Lucilius.
Sometimes you meet these overly optimistic people who always pretend everything is great. You ask, “How are you? And they say, “Wonderful!” Those are the worst cases. Who on earth feels “wonderful” all the time?! Give me a break. Life is hard and anyone who pretends it’s always amazing is fooling themself.
But here’s the thing: You have the ability to snap out of your gloomy mindset. There’s nothing wrong with you; the entity, soul, consciousness, or whatever you want to call yourself. I know this sounds esoteric, but here’s what I remind myself of every time I realize I’m blaming my surroundings: The solution is not out there. The solution is right where you are. All you need to do is change the way you look at things.
Don’t immediately try to change other things — even if you have control over them. “But that’s what the Stoics say you should do! Focus on what you control. And I have control over my decisions. And I decide to get a new job or move to another city!” That’s correct. But Stoicism is more subtle and complex than most people think.
Just because you control certain things, it doesn’t mean you have to exert your control. The key is to operate from a place of equanimity. Be calm and neutral. Let that be your standard method of operation. Make your decisions from there.
When it comes to changing your surroundings, I look at it this way: I would love to take a trip to the Caribbean and do some snorkeling. But I don’t need anything. I’m good the way that I am. Will I go when things are normal? Probably. Will I stay put and enjoy my days if it’s a hassle to go? 100%. There’s no need to change anything to find inner peace. It’s right there where you are. You just have to change your mindset to see it.