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©Darius Foroux

Stoic Letter 1

On knowing what you control

It’s so important to only focus on what you control. Everyone seems to talk about that these days, which is great because we all need those types of reminders. But I also feel like I’m constantly bombarded with useless information, which neutralizes those good reminders. This morning I saw something about Bitcoin, and then I spent the next thirty minutes following one link after the other. I started reading about the history of money, but by the end, I was getting lost on Wikipedia. How often does this happen to you? You start with watching a video, then you look something up, and soon you’re down a rabbit hole of useless information.

What I learned from Stoicism is that time is your most valuable resource. Maybe it’s nice to know about everything in the world, but there’s no way we can actually use all the information we consume. So these pursuits are largely a waste of time. I will never get back the time I spent hopping from one Wikipedia page to the next one. We all need to be more conscious of how we spend our time. Most of us know this — we just don’t live it. We squander our time like it’s nothing. We read articles about how bad the world is, we browse the social media profiles of our ex-partners, we watch TV shows we’re not even interested in just to “kill time.” Why kill something so precious? That’s what should really upset you. Not some insignificant message you read on Twitter from some person you don’t even know. We’re all so quick to get triggered by others. Why do we feel the need to respond to every single thing that we run into? We don’t control what other people say or do.

Without accepting that we don’t control most things in life, we can never have lasting happiness. Getting concerned with things outside of our control is a habit. For example, today you might be celebrating the outcome of the US election. In a few months, you might get worked up because the issues you care about didn’t immediately improve. You wish things would change faster. And so the cycle goes. It’s good to practice indifference to things that don’t matter to your happiness.

What does actually matter to your happiness? Good friendships, work that you enjoy, reading books that make you think, walking in nature, working out, watching a good movie — you know this. Last Saturday, I woke up, did some reading and writing, had brunch with my family, then went for a walk together, came back, did some more writing and reading, had dinner, and watched a movie in the evening. It was a good day.

It’s a stark contrast with another day I had last week. I was talking to another friend about this COVID thing. I got a bit carried away. “They just got to shut down the whole world for 3 weeks and we’re done!” That didn’t happen earlier this year, and it’s obviously not going to happen now. I kept that negative energy with me during the day and guess what I did? Not much. I just consumed more useless information. I didn’t create anything useful that day.

Things are the way they are; and we need to deal with it. That’s how it’s been for the past 10,000 years, and probably will be for the next 10,000. What happens after that? No one knows, not even the world’s beloved futurist, Elon Musk. Getting just a little bit heated over COVID was a waste of my energy, and didn’t make anything better for anyone. Our best bet is to make our own lives better — NOW. Start the circle small.

Go to bed a bit stronger — mentally and physically. Help your partner, kids, parents, siblings, friends, and expand the circle like that. I see it as a sequential thing. Start with yourself, and then expand your reach, one person at a time. We probably won’t get old enough to expand the circle to the world. But hey, it’s pretty good if you can make your own life and the lives of the people you care about better. That’s already hard enough. Just don’t make things harder by wasting time on things you don’t control. Know what you can and cannot control! That’s the Stoic’s path to a happy life. If you set a high value on happiness, everything else must be valued less. All the best.

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Creator of the Stoic Letter | My best-selling online class ‘Effective Writing’ is open until January 24. Join here:

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