Epictetus’ Top 7 Timeless Pearls of Wisdom

by Henrik Edberg

Epictetus’ Top 7 Timeless Pearls of WisdomNow, who is Epictetus you may ask?

He was a Greek philosopher that lived about 1900 years ago. When he was young he was a slave in Rome but was later released and started to teach philosophy first in Rome and later on in Greece.

Epictetus was somewhat of a lonesome minimalist.

He lived with few possessions and by himself for a long time. He also seems to never have written anything, but luckily his thoughts were recorded by his pupil Arrian.

Here are seven excellent pearls of wisdom from Epictetus.

If you are going your own way, prepare for reactions.

“If you want to improve, be content to be thought foolish and stupid.”

Besides being a funny quote I believe it is very relevant to self-improvement.

If you start changing then people may react in different ways. Some may be happy for you. Some may be indifferent. Some may be puzzled or react in negative and discouraging ways.

Much of these reactions are probably not so much about you but about the person who said it and his/her life. How they feel about themselves is shining through in the words they use and judgements they make.

And that’s OK. Most likely they won’t react as negatively as you may imagine. Or they will probably at least go back to focusing on their own challenges pretty soon.

Plus…

You choose to be insulted.

“It is not he who reviles or strikes you who insults you, but your opinion that these things are insulting.”

What you feel and how you react to something is always up to you. There may be a “normal” or a common to react to different things. But that mostly just all it is. You can choose your own thoughts, reactions and emotions to pretty much everything. You don’t have to freak out, overreact of even react in a negative way. Perhaps not every time or instantly. Sometimes a knee-jerk reaction just goes off. Or an old thought habit kicks in.

But as you realize that no-one outside of yourself can actually control how you feel you can start to incorporate this thinking into your daily life and develop it as a thought habit. A habit that you can grow stronger and stronger over time. Doing this makes life a whole lot easier and more pleasurable.

Forget about what you think you know.

“It is impossible to begin to learn that which one thinks one already knows.”

If you think that you already know something then your mind will not be open to actually learning it. Whatever someone is telling you your mind will sort through based on what you think you know. You’ll only hear and learn what you what you want to hear and learn.

So whenever you want to learn anything it may be a good tip to disregard as much as possible of what you think you know. In my experience this makes it easier to pick things up and not disregard important stuff.

Of course, the ego often wants to jump in to meddle and strengthen itself by making you think that you already know whatever you’re about to learn. Be careful in trusting that somewhat arrogant inner voice. :)

Listen.

“We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.”

This is a useful piece of advice in just about any interaction. It’s useful when learning something new. And it’s helpful just while in a regular conversation. It’s not always easy to stick to it though. Sometimes you get too excited about something to keep quiet. Sometimes you just want to brag or recount what happened. Having the attention of all the other people feels good. So how do you get around this habit of hogging the spotlight?

One useful way is to just forget about yourself. Focus your attention outward instead of inward in a conversation. Place the mental focus on the person you are talking and listening to instead of yourself. Placing the focus outside of yourself makes you less self-centred and your need to hog the spotlight decreases.

If you start to actually listen to what people are saying it also becomes easier to find potential paths in the conversation. By asking open-ended questions – the ones that will give you more than a yes or no answer – you can explore these paths and have better and more fun conversations.

Appreciate what you have.

“He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has.”

One good way to live a miserable life is to constantly focus on what you don’t have. If you appreciate what you have you’ll find everyday life more pleasurable. However, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t focus on what you want.

To me it’s more about focusing on what you want and not keeping your focus in a more popular place: on what you lack. This will make it easier to get what you want since you always seem to notice and receive more of whatever you focus you mind upon. You can read more about this under mistake # 6 in 9 Great Ways to Make Yourself Absolutely Miserable.

Notice what is reflected.

“When you are offended at any man’s fault, turn to yourself and study your own failings. Then you will forget your anger.”

I really like this one because I’ve become more and more interested in how we relate to each other. Like how what someone says about you may not be much of a reflection of you but of the person that said it. This is a good thing to remember whenever someone is saying something negative about you. It’s also useful to remember whenever you feel negatively about someone else. It can not only help you forget about your negative emotion. It can also help you to learn more about yourself, what you fear and how you may be fooling yourself.

Suffering is optional. And so is happiness.

“There is only one way to happiness and that is to cease worrying about things which are beyond the power of our will.”

“I must die. Must I then die lamenting? I must be put in chains. Must I then also lament? I must go into exile. Does any man then hinder me from going with smiles and cheerfulness and contentment?”

“It is not death or pain that is to be dreaded, but the fear of pain or death.”

Suffering is optional. And so is happiness. What you choose to think about determines how you feel. Now, again, it may be “normal” and common to go through a lot of mindmade suffering after the initial pain that ignited the suffering. And it’s easy to slip back into old thoroughly ingrained thought habits.

One tip that I have found helpful for this is to learn to reconnect as much as possible with the present moment. Suffering is to a large extent created when your mind is thinking thoughts about either the past or a possible future. You can learn a handful of good ways to connect with present in 8 Ways to Return with The Present Moment.

It is also very useful to realize that you are not your thoughts or emotions. They are just things that are flowing through you. But they are not you. You are the one observing them. This realization can gradually free you more and more from keeping negative thought and emotions going. Whenever they arise and you realize that you aren’t them, that you don’t have to identify with them their power over you fades and vanishes quicker than if you had identified with them completely.

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{ 24 comments }

Jeff@MySuper-Charged Life February 22, 2008 at 7:30 pm

These are great pearls of wisdom! If we all lived life this way, the world would be a better place. It mostly seems to boil down to controlling and directing our thoughts in a positive manner. I am really into the power of thought right now. I believe that if we can get our attitude right, nothing is really impossible!

Steve Olson February 22, 2008 at 9:35 pm

These are gems. Thanks for sharing them. I just got out of a lunch meeting where the conversation centered around complaints about people who were not present. I used to partake in this negativity party, but today it made me strangely uncomfortable, and I realized, hey! I’m making progress! Being uncomfortable is a good thing in this situation.

John Ellison February 24, 2008 at 12:01 am

Great article, the best I have read in a long time.

Gustavo February 24, 2008 at 12:40 am

Thank you for sharing!!

Matt February 25, 2008 at 9:40 pm

Great pearls of wisdom! My personal favorite I’ve ever been given is, “Why wait to be happy?”

Jennifer February 26, 2008 at 1:18 am

Wow!!! I believe that about sums up everything I’ve been teaching. It’s personal growth in a nutshell.

The point about choosing to be insulted – I think that is so huge!! Just because someone says something about you doesn’t mean it’s true. It’s only true of you if you make it true of you. Once we realize that we set ourselves completely FREE. It feels so good!!!

And the point about gratitude…. We simply can not be happy without being truly thankful for everything we do have! What you focus on you get – if you focus on what you do not have you get more of nothing. If you focus on your blessings you get more of them.

These pearls were so profound!

Lorra February 26, 2008 at 11:26 am

Thank you for this – I read it at just the right time. I feel better from reading it, so kudos. I am looking at my current situation with more perspective now.

djatlantic February 28, 2008 at 8:09 am

Gems. I like all the things that were being written in this one.

By the way, could it be possible in sometimes in the future that you wrote something about Buddhism philosophy?

Cheers.

belle February 28, 2008 at 7:18 pm

I read and like such wisdom..if only that could be injected into me…haha..The way I would like to be and find it would be hard to be that way..learned habits are hard to put aside , maybe if bad memories could be erased or deleted . but all in all he had the key…

JEMi February 29, 2008 at 5:14 pm

timeless is right. I’m going to have to share this piece – there are too many excellent points that I personally try to keep in touch with.. and I think it’ll be beneficial to all that read this

excellent post

Brian March 1, 2008 at 9:23 pm

Hi ,
Thanks for the honestly and simplicity of simlpe reasons to Be,and exist honestly in the here and now.

; – )
brian

janvnielsen March 2, 2008 at 3:30 pm

Words of wisdom indeed. They are true and awe-inspiring in their clarity and simplicity. I wonder why it’s so hard to genuinely live them in practice. Thanks for the input.

Megan March 4, 2008 at 11:53 am

Great way to start the day. 7 wisdom tips are printed out and going to be used to remember how life should be practiced. Best I have read in a while.

Megan

godisunwillingtosaveme March 4, 2008 at 12:30 pm

bs. think for yourself. thats it. dont watch tv. dont vote. it doesnt matter. if you feel like you dont fit in because all the other f*cks you see everyday are worthless, then tell someone. express your discontent, tell people why you are skeptical. collective consciousness is the next step. no president is fitting. how can one person relate to millions? by lying. no president will satisfy anyone ever. when have you experienced a good pres? never. and you never will. make your own life great and the rest will follow.

Andy March 5, 2008 at 7:00 pm

I really love Epictet. I have read quite many quotes from him lately and what absolutely amazes me is that this guy has already figured 90% of the stuff out that now Tony Robbins and all the guys are talking about — and he did so a few thousand years ago. Thanks a lot for putting these on and explaining! Very inspiring!

arlene corwin March 6, 2008 at 12:36 am

THIS IS A GOOD ONE! I’LL SAVE IT TO GO BACK AND REREAD. IT NEEDS REFLECTING UPON

Inspiration for Change May 18, 2008 at 7:29 am

Timeless wisdom never goes out of style, fantastic post to reflect on.

http://www.inspirationforchange.com

bishop waledollar June 10, 2008 at 6:16 pm

Let me just say ” you can’t control what others say about you but you can control how you feel about what is said concerning you” i love this

mavis June 21, 2008 at 10:48 am

bravo!

Mehreen January 11, 2009 at 7:44 pm

well put :)
thumbs up on stumbleupon =)

Priyanka March 4, 2009 at 8:52 am

Thanks so much for such an enlightening post! If we resolve to practise these rules in our life, life would be so much better. It is a sureshot path for the pursuit of happyness in life!

I have firm belief in the fact that we have the power to shape our life…just by changing our thoughts…we can choose to be happy or choose to suffer.
If we can look at our own thoughts objectively, observe them like a third person, gradually we will have greater control over them, and finally can avoid negative thoughts and emotions to a great extent. Just by changing our thoughts we can achieve great health and happiness in life as thoughts cause a chemical reaction in our bodies.

Thanks! u made my day!:-)

Fedelynn M. Jemena (Philippines) April 16, 2009 at 10:35 am

Beautiful! I’m glad I stumbled upon it.

Chris June 1, 2009 at 5:56 pm

I love this kind of thing, great quotes, motivational speeches. I still get goose bumps when NASA ask Bruce Willis to save the world in Armageddon.

But seriously, taking a few moments to reflect on positive things each morning sets you up for a productive day and gives you the right frame of mind to approach life.
Great post

Anonymous December 5, 2009 at 7:51 pm

You are just so fantastic! Thank you for this.

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