Shorts: Epictetus and External Events

by Antonia Case on August 10, 2013

Think about what usually makes you angry, frustrated, anxious; most likely it has something to do with external events that are beyond your control. Your boss, your family, the economy, your past, the future.

Stoic philosopher Epictetus offers one of the most compelling teachings to prevent pointless nail biting and despair. He teaches us to separate life into two groups, the areas of life under our control (Internal) and those beyond our power (External).

It’s fair to say that most of us spend our short lives stressed out over external happenings: What do people think of me? Are property prices sinking? Am I going to get sick and die? Much of what worries us is out of our hands. While fixated on these things, we fail to bolster and develop our sovereign domain – our thoughts, beliefs, impulses and attitudes.

“In our power are opinion, movement towards a thing, desire, aversion, turning from a thing; and in a word, whatever are our acts.” According to Epictetus, unhappiness comes from trying to control the areas of our lives that are in the power of others, such as the economy, the media, or the actions and opinions of others.

Rather than feeling victimised and out of control, we should take responsibility for what we can control – our internal world.

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