The Enchiridion of Epictetus – Chapter 13

In Enchiridion of Epictetus, Essays, Stoicism

Seek not that the thing which happen should happen as you wish; but wish the things which happen to be as they are, and you will have a tranquil flow of life.

This is another of those short chapters that capture the essence of Stoicism. It’s also of those key pieces of wisdom that everyone can relate to, but at the same time can be incredibly difficult to put into place.

At some stage in our lives, all of us have worried about both what might happen, and what has happened. Both types of worrying are essentially quite silly if you come to think about it.

If you worry about what has already happened, there is actually nothing you can do to change the past (except changing other’s perception of the past, but then we are digressing into another path…). So there is little point in worrying about what has happened, except to take note of any lessons that can be learned from the experience.
If you worry about what might happen, then this is somewhat more forgivable, as one may assume that some terrible and uncomfortable things may await us in the future, and in some cases, we may actually be right.

The Stoic approach is somewhat nonsensical at first reading, how does one go about wishing that things happen as they happen? Is it one of these things that sounds good when written down, but practically speaking they are just mental gymnastics that don’t help us to cope with our lives?

My bet, is that the Stoics actually used logic to deduce this reasoning.

If we try to define a tranquil life, having everything happen as you wish it to, would probably rank up there as a requirement.

However, the issue is that having everything happen as you wish it to is simply not a reality. Life has a way to put off course even the best laid out plans, and there simply is no way to plan for every contingency.

This is the same reason that commercial airlines still occasionally fall out of the sky even after more than sixty years of safety efforts.

So, if we accept the fact that having everything happen as we wish it to by trying to control our environment is impossible, then the only practical solution is to control ourselves.

Now, this is just marginally easier than trying to control “life”, however, it is indeed possible.

So the defining feature here is *acceptance* of how things turn out, and not wishing that they had gone any different.

The best advice I have heard for trying to implement this is to dig deeper into your own situation, and take the time to objectively review where you are at, and you will often be able to find the proverbial silver lining in the cloud.