“Some things are in our control, while others are not. We control our opinion, choice, desire, aversion, and, in a word, everything of our own doing. We don’t control our body, property, reputation, position, and, in a word, everything not of our own doing. Even more, the things in our control are by nature free, unhindered, and unobstructed, while those not in our control are weak, slavish, can be hindered, and are not our own” — Epictetus, Enchiridion, 1.1–2
It is my birthday today and whether you are someone who gets super excited on their birthday or someone who simply thinks of it as just another day, you must agree that birthdays do make us think about something we usually avoid thinking about: life, death, and everything in between. Birthdays make us look in our past and reminisce about memories. They also make us look into our potential future and fill us with hope. And then we snap back into reality and look at where we are right now. Whether we like where we currently are or not, deep in our hearts we know that we are here because of our actions and our thoughts. And these are the only two things we can control, according to the Stoics. Everything else is out of our control and hence we must not focus our attention on them. While it is true that the world is filled with horrific and unfair tragedies, it is of little use to simply wallow in our self-pity. The wars, diseases, deaths, and countless other tragedies have always happened and will continue to happen. But at an individual level, we still do have control over what we think and what we do. Our perception and actions our unhindered by nature. Our ability to think and do what we want is what sets us free.
This article is a part of my Stoic Musings challenge, inspired by the book “The Daily Stoic” by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman, where I take a quote from the book and reflect on it, every day.