happiness and friendship

A common misconception that many people have about stoicism is that they think it means one must have full Vulcan-like control of their emotions, as well as forgoing all worldly possessions and living with nothing but the bare necessities, eating the hardest bread and wearing the coarsest fabrics. This misconception comes from our modern day understanding of the word "stoic," which of course has its roots from stoicism, but stoics are not as cold and calculating as our pointy-eared friends. On the contrary, Seneca was a very wealthy man and enjoyed the company of his students and friends, while enjoying the luxuries his title and wealth had to offer him.

 

What Seneca, and many other stoics, meant by their philosophy, was not that one should deprive themselves. He even says, "indulge the body so far as suffices for good health," which means luxuries should be enjoyed as long as it does not come to a detriment. We should enjoy the fruits of their labor, but not become dependent on them. He states that basing one's happiness money, clothes, or any other possessions is dangerous because then what would they have if it were to be stripped away? Equating your happiness to your wealth is releasing your happiness from your own control. Your house could burn down, or the economy could collapse, and if your happiness is dependent on those factors, it will go up in flames as well. 

 

"While he does not hanker after what he has lost, he prefers not to lose them."

 

This is where the idea of control plays in. It is important to distinguish the external and the internal, and while having many external pleasures is nice, control should be used to focus most of your energy on what really matters, the internal. Conversely, going to the opposite extreme is just as dangerous. Trying to prove that you can survive on the minimal by removing the external may seem noble, but doing without certain niceties for the sake of it is not proof of a simple life. 

 

I myself understand this philosophy in theory, but find it more difficult to put into practice. I know for a fact there are a number of things that I would be devastated if I were to do with out, namely, my laptop and my camera. It's something that I have understood over the years from other sources besides these stoics, and while I have reduced the number of my important possessions, I still find it difficult to emotionally detach from everything I own. 

 

Another fallacy in the understanding of stoicism is that stoics do not wish to socialize or have friends because they only serve as a distraction to their internal way of life. While it is true that a person should be self-content in themselves, society and friendship are natural inclinations of human beings. One should be self-content in the sense that they are able to do without friends, and not that they should desire to do without them. 

 

I have apprehension in writing more on this subject, for fear that I may offend some of my own friends, but I do, and have for a long time, shared Seneca's view on this matter. Friendship has always been a big part of my life, but from an early age I discovered how hurtful it can be if all on one's stock is placed in a friend that may in the end betray you. I will spare details, but needless to say ever since a few scornful instances of this nature, I learned a different type of friendship. Instead of one where self-confirmation and happiness is derived from social interaction with any specific person, I see myself as a adjunct to their lives. I do not seek friends for personal gratification, but rather to gratify, and that in turn gratifies me. I still choose to associate with many people, who's company I enjoy and whom with I have a great deal of fun, but regard as acquaintances. Real friends come few and far between, they are they ones that know and love me. To everyone else, I have presented a version of myself that I knew they would find acceptable. Where true  friendship is born, is when they make an attempt to push, or accept it when I push, farther than just the surface. It's those that I have conversations with about the internal, rather than just the external. 

Friendships that are born for the sake of usefulness, not not true friendships. They are, as Seneca calls them, "business deals." 

These types of friendships will continue as long as one individual continues to be "useful" to the other, and ceases once that usefulness has run dry. We see this in many cases among celebrities, where fame and fortune all of a sudden seem to attract an entourage of friends and admirers, but isn't it curious is it that they all disappear once that person comes across any trial? All too often people find themselves caught in these pseudo-friendships, I am no exception. The important thing is recognizing a false comradely for what it is. Not to shun it, or push people away, but for the sake of being conscious and aware. 

 

So no, I do not have over 500 friends on facebook, and you are fooling yourself if you think that you do.