The ancient Greek philosopher Epictetus was one of the most influential Stoic thinkers. His teachings focused on achieving inner peace by controlling one’s perceptions, desires, and aversions. Epictetus believed that human suffering stems from placing too much value on things outside of our control. By following certain principles, a person can attain tranquility and emotional resilience regardless of external circumstances.
In this post, we will explore seven essential Stoic principles outlined by Epictetus that enable a person to become unaffected by anything that happens to them. Applying these practical philosophies helps cultivate wisdom, self-mastery, and indifference to misfortune. By internalizing these teachings, a person can detach from distress and anxiety to live a more fulfilling life. The insights from Epictetus transform how we relate to the world around us and within us. Let’s examine these powerful ideas for calmness and self-possession, even in adversity.
1. Control your perceptions, not external events
The Stoics believed that we cannot control external events, only our perceptions and judgments about those events. Epictetus said, “It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.” Don’t waste energy on things outside your control – instead, focus on controlling your inner world. Train yourself to remain calm and rational regardless of circumstances.
2. Focus only on what you can control
There are some things entirely outside of our control – the actions of others, health, reputation, etc. Accept and embrace this lack of control. Epictetus said, “Some things are up to us, and some are not.” Focus your energy solely on what is within your power – your attitudes, values, and will. Detach from the rest.
3. Accept things as they happen
The Stoics practiced amor fati – loving one’s fate. Embrace reality just as it is – don’t resist or resent the present moment. As Epictetus stated, “Do not seek for things to happen the way you want them to; rather, wish that what happens happen the way it happens.” Acceptance brings peace of mind. Flow with life’s events.
4. Remember you will die someday
Contemplating mortality helps us realize how brief life is. Epictetus said, “You are a tiny soul carrying a corpse.” Our time is limited – keep this perspective to avoid wasting time on pointless anxieties. Living every day as though it could be your last brings presence and gratitude.
5. Don’t expect people to be perfect
Expecting perfection from others leads to constant frustration and resentment. Epictetus warned against this, saying, “Remember that it is we who torment ourselves; we exasperate ourselves, we make ourselves fretful and querulous.” Understand that all people have flaws and weaknesses. Forgive others for their shortcomings.
6. Envy no one
Envy is poisonous to the soul. Epictetus said, “He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has.” Comparing yourself to others creates suffering. Celebrate your virtues and blessings rather than coveting others’.
7. Master yourself
Ultimately, happiness comes from self-mastery. Epictetus said, “If you always remember that your aim in life is to be a good person, then in everything you do, you will be making progress.” Conquer your harmful impulses. Cultivate wisdom, courage, justice, and self-discipline. Train yourself to be unshakable.
Case Study: How Sam Embraced Reality
Sam was going through a difficult period in his life. He had recently lost his job due to company downsizing. His relationship with his girlfriend Emily had also just ended. Sam was distraught about these external events and spent his days contemplating things he couldn’t control. He constantly thought, “If I had done things differently at work, I’d still be employed. And if only Emily loved me more, we’d still be together.”
Sam’s perceptions about his misfortunes led him to sink into a depression. He envied his friends who still had jobs and relationships. Sam started drinking excessively to cope with his distress.
Eventually, Sam realized he needed to apply Stoic principles to gain inner peace. He began practicing the teachings of Epictetus:
- Sam controlled his perceptions by acknowledging he couldn’t dictate external events. He focused on his present power to remain calm.
- Sam directed energy into job-searching – something within his control. He detached from pining over Emily.
- Sam accepted his breakup and unemployment as facts he couldn’t change. He embraced his reality.
- Remembering life’s brevity, Sam quit wasting time on resentments. He lived each day mindfully.
- Sam understood Emily had flaws like anyone. He forgave her imperfections and moved forward.
- He celebrated his virtues and stopped envying others’ lives.
- By mastering himself, Sam conquered his urges to drink or dwell on the past. He gained self-control.
Through stoically accepting events beyond his power while working on himself, Sam transcended his afflictions. By following Epictetus’ wisdom, he discovered the path to resilience.
- Master your perspective, not outside events – remain level-headed despite circumstances.
- Direct your energy solely into what’s controllable – detach from the rest
- Allow life to unfold as it does – don’t resist the present moment
- Keep the brevity of life in mind – avoid wasting time on pointless worries
- Understand people are flawed – refrain from unrealistic expectations
- Don’t covet what others have – appreciate your virtues
- Subdue destructive impulses – cultivate wisdom, courage, and self-control
In summary, by following Epictetus’ seven Stoic principles, we can attain resilience, tranquility, and self-possession. We focus inwardly on our attitudes and perceptions rather than fixating on uncontrollable external events. Calmness is achieved by accepting the present moment, understanding human imperfection, and celebrating our blessings without envy. Employing this mindset allows us to remain calm, rational, and morally strong regardless of circumstances. Putting these teachings into consistent practice leads to mastery over the self.