"Of things some are in our power, and others are not."--Epictetus
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the absurd is its capacity to grant one absolute power over one's emotions.
Think about that for a minute. Absolute power. Sounds fantastic. And indeed, we used to laugh off even the prospect of such a thing. For example, many years ago we read of a study that asked people to rate how satisfied they were with their life on a scale of 1 to 10, and were amazed that some people...answered "10"! What, we wondered, was their secret? Were they all married to supermodels? Lottery winners? Preternaturally-gifted athletes?
We were literally flummoxed as to how anyone could be completely satisfied with his life. Was there nothing these people regretted? No path they wished they had (or hadn't) taken? No loves that got away? How could everything have turned out exactly as they wanted?
The answer, of course, is to focus on what is. This was the genius of the Stoics, who made the critical distinction between things in one's control (a remarkably short list, mainly having to do with one's mental state), and everything else, including our bodies, possessions, and "success." Unfortunately, the vast majority of people worry far more about the latter group.
It sounds trite, but the truth is that anyone can be satisfied with his current lot in life. Anyone. (Yes, Occupiers, even you!) The great lie of humanity is that things (possessions, experiences, relationships) make one happy; in fact, it is quite the opposite. For once one cedes contentment to external forces, the game is lost.
By contrast, he who accepts his current condition...has already won.
The paradox of the I is that this illusion, which drives people to "great" things (Steve Jobs may have fashioned himself a Buddhist, but he was awfully concerned with his legacy), is also responsible for the unhappiness and emptiness felt by so many. It is the I that wants, that desires, that is never satisfied for more than a moment, no matter what the circumstance. By contrast, for one who can view himself objectively, as not only one human among seven billion, but one temporary arrangement of atoms among an infinite number...well, let's just say life's struggles are a bit easier to bear.
On a side note, we have been alternately amused and saddened by those who sling invective at us for our presumed "success," and how it, and it alone, must explain our relaxed view on the world. Our favorite was the recent commenter who exhorted us to "pass the caviar!"
To borrow a phrase...let us be perfectly clear. The true irony of the Occupy movement is that by demanding a more equal distribution of wealth, Occupiers tacitly accept the premise that more "stuff" is the key to happiness. Said a different way, those who presume to throw off the shackles of giant corporations and the culture of consumption...have unwittingly locked the chains!
Regardless of your current status in life, we guarantee you there are many miserable people with "more" (possessions, friends, or lovers), and fully contented people with less.
Until next time...