Stoic Letter 16
What does it take to be happy? Going out with friends? Hanging out at the beach, drinking a mojito? Earning a lot of money? Good health?
Our Stoic friend, Seneca, argued that it was something else. He said: “No one can live happily, or even bearably, without the pursuit of wisdom.”
In my experience, this is 100% accurate. That’s why I’m surprised people are getting knocked out by the mental toll of the pandemic. Healthy people with jobs and safety complain about how hard life is right now.
I can relate to it a bit. But remember that our ancestors went through much harder times than now. And they didn’t have the wonders of the modern world.
Don’t get me wrong, I also wish life was different. But it isn’t. Simple as that. Complaining will only make things harder for yourself. And if you want to be happy, that’s the last thing you want to do.
The problem is that we have a wrong definition of happiness. What is it? Going to dinner and a movie? Watching your favorite artist live? Seeing your team play at the stadium? These are just a few of the things I’ve heard people complaining about not being able to do. Is your attachment to these things worth giving up your happiness for?
You and I both know that those things never led to true happiness in the first place. We should trust the advice from the ancient Stoics, who lived in truly hard times. In Ancient Rome, a lot of men didn’t live beyond age 30. If I lived back then, I would probably be dead by now.
It’s a pretty harsh reminder, but it helps me to stay grounded. Life today isn’t so bad even with all the challenges we face.
So, how can you live happily? According to the Stoics: Dedicate your life to the pursuit of wisdom. You don’t have to be the smartest person in the world. That’s not what wisdom is about. It’s about having meaning in your life.
It’s about waking up every day and getting excited about all the stuff you can learn that day. Isn’t that the most exciting thing in the world? You can literally learn about millions of things.
The other day, I watched this documentary called My Octopus Friend. It’s about a relationship between a man and an OCTOPUS. Wait, what? An octopus? Yes, those soft-bodied, eight-legged, alien creatures that swim in the ocean. They became buddies. The man visited his octopus friend every single day for almost a year. Sounds a little weird, and it is, but the film was truly heartwarming. And fascinating too.
That movie exemplifies the importance of the pursuit of wisdom. The man who formed a relationship with the octopus was actually depressed before. Even though he was a family man and did well professionally, he lacked meaning in his life at the time. But when he discovered his eight-legged underwater friend, he lit up with excitement. He went diving in ice-cold weather through rain, wind, and storms. Didn’t matter how he felt. He just wanted to learn everything about the octopus.
That can be you too. You don’t have to dive into the ocean and befriend a cephalopod. Just learn new things. Immerse yourself into the things that make you curious. Dedicate your life to wisdom. It’s the only way to live a consistently happy life. And fortunately, the pursuit of wisdom is something that’s always available to us — even when we’re stuck inside. All the best.