Practical Stoicism: Live Simply

Submitted by c0c0c0 on Sun, 08/06/2017 - 13:26

Is it not madness and the wildest lunacy to desire so much when you can hold so little? … [it is folly] to think that it is the amount of money and not the state of mind that matters! (Seneca, Consolation To Helvia)

For my part, I would choose sickness rather than luxury, for sickness harms only the body, but luxury destroys both body and soul. Luxury induces weakness in the body, cowardice and lack of self-control in the soul; and further it begets injustice and covetousness in others, and in self the failure in one's duty to friends, city and the gods. ... So, then, as being the cause of injustice, luxury and extravagance must be shunned in every way. (Musonius Rufus, Lecture XVIIIb)

It can seem natural to want the finer things in life, possibly because practically everyone does. Who wouldn't want a bigger house, a faster car, or a more exotic vacation? Don't haute cuisine and fine wine simply taste better than pizza and cheap beer?

But the fact that something serves its purpose well doesn't mean that it serves yours. Your purpose in life is not to consume the best of all things. Yours is to achieve arete' - fulfillment through excellence of character.

The pursuit of luxury precludes the pursuit of virtue. You can't focus on both.  The possession of luxury creates a mental attachment to the ephemeral, to things outside ourselves and our control. The consumption of luxury becomes a dangerous step upon the hedonic treadmill and a never-ending need for more and more.

The "good life", then, is anything but. The material objects and powerful sensations that so many believe to be the epitome of success are, instead, self-inflicted obstacles that prevent it. The wise man would, instead, seek to purge from his life everything that does not contribute to his goals, because anything that isn't helping is at best a distraction.

Perfection is achieved not when there is nothing more to add, but rather when there is nothing more to take away. (Antoine de Saint-Exupry)

Everything of value you can ever hope to possess will exist within you. Your wisdom. Your courage. Your sense of justice. Your self-discipline. Anything else is just noise and baggage.