an accidental stoic
One of my most recent philosophical readings is by Seneca of Rome. I have begun the journey into the mind of one of the greatest thinkers, as well as one of the most influential indirect ruler ever recorded in history, and what I have found so far, has been both enlightening, and surprising. The reading is a selection of a series of letters Seneca sent to Lucilius, with both news and advice, in the form of what we would call the modern day essay (of which Seneca is the original founder). These epistles were more than just personal anecdotes and dawdling small talk, it was thought they were actually meant for publication, at least in some small circles, at first.
He adopts Stoicism as his main philosophy. He is by no means the first great Stoic philosopher, but he was the first to ignore the verbal puzzles and logical hairsplitting that most philosophers at the time focused their attention on, and actually discussed how these stoic philosophies could be applied to every day life of every person.
Anyway, enough pedantic back story. I've decided to read several letters a day, to meditate and think on them. I am only on letter "V" and I have discovered something peculiar... I may unknowingly be a stoic myself.
My first surprise came when reading on the matter of wealth, a very touchy subject in my mind. On the one hand, I do drive myself to acquire wealth. I see myself as a future entrepreneur, I want the freedom to do what I want, wherever I want and with whomever I want. I love to travel and want to have the freedom to do what I love, while still earning income, and entrepreneurship fits the bill. The idea many people have in their mind of an entrepreneur, however, is quite contradictory to what I actually want. They usually see someone driven to stop at nothing to build an empire, conquer market share, and pushing to expand until near world domination. I have always had an issue with this model. I see companies grow to millions and billions, consuming natural resources and cranking out products at a mind boggling rate. At the end of a quarter or year, if their growth has not increased by a predetermined percentage, it is considered a negative thing. Microsoft in 2014 aren't losing money, they are in "profit decline" which basically just means that they are making more money, just at a slower rate. To this type of model I ask, when is it enough?
Passages in his Letters affirms my perspective as a stoic's,
It is not the man who has too little who is poor, it is the one who hankers after more. You ask what is the proper limit to a man's wealth? First, having what is essential, and second, having what is enough.
"Enough." The words resonated with me as I read them on the page. We are constantly shown through studies published in articles and hammered over the head in documentaries with the message that once all basic needs are met, anything above that only marginally increase one's happiness. I'm sure you have heard this statement before, which is a testament to how widespread this fact is known. It was known even in the first century a.d., yet many people often don't take these wise words to heart, and still strive for MORE. That's what the American dream is all about isn't it? Always having more.
I believe this mindset to be self destructive both to one's self, and to one's happiness. Sure, it motivates you to strive and achieve your goals, to better yourself at ever turn (which I am a big advocate of), but what is forgotten... is contentment. With this "nothing is good enough" attitude, there is always a void, an emptiness that can never be filled no matter how far you go. It's difficult yo enjoy and realize to be grateful for what you have when you are always chasing after more. We have to learn to stop, smell the roses, and just be happy.
With all that said, I highly recommend picking up a copy of Letters from a Stoic by Seneca, if not to seek wisdom, at least to gain perspective.