Practical Stoicism: Seek Your Own Approval

Submitted by c0c0c0 on Sat, 09/30/2017 - 10:33

Often I marvel at how men love themselves more than others while at the same time caring more about what others think of them than what they think of themselves. (Marcus Aurelius, Meditations Book XII)

If you ever happen to turn your attention to externals, so as to wish to please anyone, be assured that you have ruined your scheme of life. Be contented, then, in everything with being a philosopher; and, if you wish to be thought so likewise by anyone, appear so to yourself, and it will suffice you. (Epictetus, Enchiridion 23)

It is amazing how willing people generally are to put their happiness, their sense of worth, and their peace of mind in the hands of others. They tell themselves that they cannot be happy unless that one loves them, or the other approves. They strive, in futility, to get the validation they crave from other people. They spend their whole lives wondering why others refuse to give them the acceptance they so desperately need to reach contentment.

They have chosen a path that simply does not lead where they want to go.

Eudomonia, that sense of fulfillment, of flourishing, that we all seek, is not something that someone else can give to us. It comes only from our own actions and judgments. It is the natural reward for virtuous acts - for living up to our standards and acting according to the values we hold dear. It is ours to have, at will, if we so choose to. We need only live our lives with as much wisdom as we can muster.

No one else can know what you have overcome to get where you are. They can't know if the efforts that lead to your outcomes were a triumph over adversity or a cake walk. Did you fight against temptation or phone it in? Did you stick to your values or do what was popular? Did you sweat and struggle to reach the finish line, or did it come naturally? Did you accomplish something meaningful to you, given your values and weaknesses, or did you just do something that looks good from the outside?

If you want happiness, you must stop looking for it in other people. Set your own standards for excellence and strive to meet them. There is nothing anyone else on the planet can do to help you reach that goal. And it's the only one that matters.