The Philosophy Series: The Seneca addition

The Philosophy Series: The Seneca addition

This time of year is naturally all about resolutions.  Whether your aim is to lose weight, read more, laugh more, or even continue your life without any new goals, I believe that Seneca can give pause for thought.

Seneca was a Roman Philosopher in the 1st century, who identified anger as a serious problem in the Roman empire and aimed to try to remedy this issue. He had good reason, given he worked for the notoriously mental emperor Nero. That said, anger can be an issue for many people on different levels today too. Sometimes it may be as mild as a simple irritation or perhaps a resentment over something – either way, it’s rarely a positive feeling.  Seneca offered a rather simple solution to dealing with it…

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Seneca held that it was not necessary to become angry if one avoided irrational ideas. He believed that people were simply far too optimistic about the world around them. Taking the example of resolutions, I could say that I want to lose 15lbs by the end of the month – whilst technically do-able, I would inevitably become frustrated by the reality of what that would entail. I’d be hungry, unable to feed Thomas, lack energy… in short, it wouldn’t be achievable at all!  Much better to set a realistic aim.

This works on a smaller level throughout the day as well. I get upset about all manner of things in daily life – the fact that it’s raining again, that Katie wants to watch yet more Paw Patrol, the commencement of yet MORE road works in Edinburgh… the list could go on. Seneca would say that none of these things are surprising. While obviously there are things that we can control in life,  there’s a lot that can’t be changed – they are just part of living in Edinburgh with kids!  Seneca proposed that sometimes it’s preferable to follow along with something (which may not be ideal), recognising that it’s much better than going against the unchangeable.

Rather than trying to change the unchangeable we can actually focus on what can be changed: our attitude. Seneca gave us the very practical advice that we should prepare mentally for disappointment by meditating on all the things that could go wrong. At first glance, I totally accept that this sounds like an utterly depressing approach to life. However, imagine a day in which none of your gloomy expectations are met and there are actually no road works, or there’s a patch of sun in which you can get out of the house. There’s a difference between always expecting your day to go a certain way and being psychologically prepared for days going wrong.

Returning to the topic of resolutions, I have absolutely no problem with aiming high – they should be things that are challenging or even life changing. But equally, I think that people do give themselves a hard time when those goals are then not met. Perhaps all this can be avoided by taking Seneca’s advice to approach life with realistic aims – and by preparing mentally for what it would be like to fail, I would guess that one would be more inclined to avoid this outcome when possible.

My own resolutions for this year are pretty standard – I still have 20lbs to lose, I want to read more books, continue to build the blog… all of those things are realistic aims that are simply articulating things I am doing anyway. Those ideas didn’t suddenly appear on January 1st. I hope that they do fall into the realm of realistic…

But I shouldn’t discount that my day to day life could be happier by perhaps taking a second look. Could some of Katie’s temper tantrums be avoided? Could I find a bit more time to get to the gym? Could I leave a bit more time for journeys so that road works don’t matter? Probably.

Whilst I still think I personally fall into the Optimism camp, and definitely like to be a problem solver, there’s little doubt I would do well to relax a little more.  Perhaps I should resolve to have more grace to accept that there are some things that I cannot change.

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Why you should form realistic expectations - Edinburgh Life with Kids

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