The Best Recipe for a Meaningful Life

Four words we should all live by

John P. Weiss
Dec 13, 2019 · 10 min read
Illustrations by John P. Weiss

How would you stay true to yourself?

How would you martial the strength to do all this? How would you stay true to yourself and your principles in the face of captivity, deprivation, and torture?

Vice Admiral James Stockdale

Lameness is an impediment to the leg, but not to the will

Epictetus was born a slave around A. D. 55 in Hierapolis, Phrygia. in the eastern outer regions of the Roman Empire. He was crippled from a broken leg.

“Lameness is an impediment to the leg, but not to the will; and say this to yourself with regard to everything that happens. For you will find such things to be an impediment to something else, but not truly to yourself.” -Epictetus

Early in his life, Epictetus developed an interest in philosophy. His owner (a wealthy freedman and secretary to the Roman Emperor Nero) allowed him to study Stoic philosophy under the guidance of Musonius Rufus.

“The essence of philosophy is that a man should so live that his happiness shall depend as little as possible on external things.” -Epictetus

Later Stoic philosophers like Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius and Seneca may be better known, but it was the former slave Epictetus who helped inspire their philosophy.

I am the master of my fate

Author Sharon Lebell, in her book on Epictetus titled, “A Manual For Living” wrote:

“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” -Viktor Frankl

Other great writers have reflected the thinking of Epictetus. Read Shakespeare’s Hamlet: Act 2, Scene 2:

“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”

Consider these words from the English poet and intellectual John Milton:

“The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.”

Shades of Epictetus’s Stoic philosophy come to mind in the last verse of the English poet William Ernest Henley’s Invictus:

“It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.”

The superficial at the expense of the significant

So much of mainstream society seems focused on the superficial at the expense of the significant. We fixate on physical appearance, status, wealth, political one-upmanship, and fame far more than virtue, character, and the common good.

“I don’t like living around too many fancy-pantsy folks. That ain’t my thing. I’m not into phony people.” -James McBride

Despite living in a time of relative peace and abundance, people today struggle with unhappiness and a lack of fulfillment. They buy into the entertainment industry gods of beauty, wealth, and fame. They envy popular social media darlings, who post carefully curated gym photos and their latest travel pics.

“Vanity is the quicksand of reason.” -George Sand (Amantine Lucille Aurore Dupin)

Are you sculpting an amazing body because you love health and fitness, or because you want attention for your looks? Are you killing yourself at work because of your passion for business, or because you want more income to show everyone how successful you are?

The power of self-reflection

Philosophy is not taught as broadly as it once was in our schools and universities. It has fallen victim to STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) courses, which promise a good return on investment in today’s job market but don’t necessarily help us think about a meaningful life.

“Education begins the gentleman, but reading, good company, and reflection must finish him.” -John Locke

Here are a few self-reflection questions we should all ask ourselves:

“Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.” -Abraham Lincoln

We don’t want to reach the twilight of our lives with a landscape of regrets behind us. We want to look back on a virtuous life, one in which we stayed true to our values.

Do the right thing

Mahatma Gandhi didn’t tell us to “Chase money, looks, and fame,” but rather:

“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”

Do the right thing

Whenever we strive to do the right thing, we not only invest in our good character, we spread a sort of grace in the world. Living with virtue, being kind to others, and guarding our moral character, help insulate us from low self-esteem.

The long-range risks of comfortable inaction

According to Epictetus, don’t just theorize. Apply. Take action in your life. Make things happen. Make a difference.

“Thinking is easy, acting is difficult, and to put one’s thoughts into action is the most difficult thing in the world.” -Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

It’s much easier to think about doing the right thing than to take action in support of the right thing. Yet, the best recipe for living a meaningful life is to take action in support of the right things.

“There are risks and costs to action. But they are far less than the long-range risks of comfortable inaction.” -John F. Kennedy

Admiral John Stockdale survived being a prisoner of war by following the teachings of Epictetus. Epictetus rose above disability and cruel servitude by studying Stoicism and understanding what he could control and what he could not.

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John P. Weiss

Written by

Writer & Artist

Personal Growth

Sharing our ideas and experiences.

John P. Weiss

Written by

Writer & Artist

Personal Growth

Sharing our ideas and experiences.

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