Enchiridion of Epictetus – Chapter 15

In Enchiridion of Epictetus, Essays, Philosophy, Stoicism

Remember that in life you ought to behave as at a banquet. Suppose that something is carried round and is opposite to you. Stretch out your hand and take a portion with decent. Suppose that is passes by you. Do not detain it. Suppose that it is not yet come to you. Do not send your desire forward to it, but wait till it is opposite to you. Do so with respect to children, so with respect to a wife, so with respect to magisterial offices, so with respect to wealth, and you will be some time a worthy partner of the banquets of the gods. But if you take none of the things which are set before you, and even despise them, then you will be not only a fellow-banqueter with the gods, but also a partner with them in power. For by acting thus Diogenes an Heracleitus and those like them were deservedly divine, and were so called.

Reading this chapter always reminds me of a great quote from the infamous book and movie Fight Club:

The things you own end up owning you. It’s only after you lose everything that you’re free to do anything

It’s most likely that during your life so far you have accumulated things. These could be physical material items, but also mental baggage and responsibilities.

It’s important that we study the relationships with material goods especially, as well as other things that we hold to be precious.

If you can imagine that this was a problem a few thousand years ago, imagine how big a problem it is now, when our entire society is completely geared towards consumption and materialism, and the default life philosophy of most people is purely to acquire more stuff, and once completed, to then form new desires to acquire even more stuff.

It doesn’t take a large amount of analysis to understand that this road is not one worth traveling on. In the last year I’ve personally dealt with extremely wealthy people due to my work, and I can tell you that not only are they not any happier than the average Joe, but that their vices are more pronounced because they don’t have the usual excuse of not being able to afford something.

Think of how terrible this is, to be a multimillionaire or a billionaire. Any desire you may want, you can have, right away, give or take a few things.

And because of the hedonic treadmill, this means that your desires multiply out of control, and so you end up requiring half a dozen cards and drivers instead of making do with a taxi, which is a completely useful and efficient way to get around.

You can no longer enjoy simple meals with good discussions, everything now has to be the best, in the best places. The things that satisfy you in life start to shrink ever rapidly.

This is the fate that Stoicisms tries to help us avoid, regardless of how wealthy we may or may not become. It’s important to note that two of main Stoics, Seneca and Marcus Aurelius, were among some of the richest people alive during their respective times.

So, this chapter is a guide on how to handle not just material possessions, but also other things in our lives, including our families.

Do not cling, do not grab, but simply take what is presented to you, and keep in mind that what you have right now is merely borrowed, and the world might take it away from you at any time.

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