Stoic advice

Conquering Fears, Stoic advice, Uncategorized

Miserably happy


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“The greatest discovery of any generation is that a human can alter his life by altering his attitude.” 
― William James

William James, the “Father of American psychology”, was indeed a superb man. He is especially great because of his story, early beginnings in life and how he transformed his circumstances in spite of having everything against him.

The early life of James was harsh, born into a wealthy family, great things were expected from him. When he was young he was temporarily blinded and because of it, became tone deaf. He also suffered from a terrible stomach condition that caused uncontrollable vomiting and adding to these, he had crippling back problems that made him had to stay at home for months on end. While crippled, he developed a love for painting, and during his hard childhood and adolescence, painting was the only thing he could and liked to do, unfortunately, nobody appreciated his art enough to buy it.

All the while, his brother Henry James was already a world-renowned novelist, following Henry’s success, William’s sister became a famous diarist. His father, disappointed,  used his connections to send him to Harvard medical school, but the medical school didn’t really appeal to William. He said while visiting a mental hospital: “I feel I have more in common with the patients than with the doctors”. 

After failing in medical school he decided to get away from everything and travel to Brazil in seek of adventure on an anthropological expedition.

Miraculously he managed to get to Brazil without dying in spite of his weak health. However, when he arrived he contracted smallpox and the team members left him there to continue with the expedition. James managed to return home to an ever more disappointing father and was on the verge of suicide for months. Before he made the final jump out of this world while reading Charles Pierce, he made a decision that would change his life forever. He decided he would hold himself responsible for absolutely everything that happened in his life for one whole year and that he would do anything necessary to improve his circumstances, he would hold himself accountable for everything,  only after this he would leave the world for good. Good news, it worked. 

William James little experiment made him the Father of American psychology and his book: Principles of Psychology shook the foundations of psychology and still does to this day. 

Attitude, according to William James, is the single greatest definer of a successful and happy life. 

“We don’t laugh because we’re happy, we’re happy because we laugh.” 
― William James

Personally, I’ve had the opportunity to test this by myself, in the mountains. 

The mountains 

Climbing a mountain is hard. 

It requires previous training, proper nutrition and physical as well as mental stamina, lots of it.

If you want to climb a 19,000 feet mountain, be prepared to wake up 1 AM in the morning from the stinky refuge full of other alpinists that smell just like a man should smell after not showering for a week, get out of the cozy and warm sleeping back and change yourself into your climbing gear which includes: An underarmour shirt, a regular T-shirt (everything has to be dry-fit to avoid hypothermia), a sweatshirt, one big jacket, underarmour pants, hiking pants, snow boots, headlamp, wind-proof jacket, and gloves. Then get your backpack, which you already prepared the day before with crampons, trekking poles, ice ax, glacier glasses, peanuts, granola bars, avocados, lots of water and Gatorade, warmers for your hands and feet so you don’t get frostbite and a couple of beers to have in the summit (if you get there). Then it’s time to have a light breakfast of fruit, oatmeal, frozen Nutella sandwiches, and some cereal, then start the trek at 14 Fahrenheit in the middle of the quite and starry night, the chilly wind blowing into your covered face. 

The trek starts at 13,000 so that means that you have to ascend 6,000 feet to get to the summit. Everything is colder and harder because of the altitude. When you ascend above 13,000 feet your body starts behaving funny, there is not enough concentration of oxygen and so your lungs have to work harder to process the oxygen which means that everything is more tiring.

The more you go up, the harder it gets.

Hydration and food intake is supremely important as well, you are always losing water in altitude because it evaporates from your body faster than in lower altitudes. The physical effort your heart and body are in is four times harder because of the lack of oxygen, cold and altitude, and so you are constantly losing massive quantities of energy. You have to be constantly eating, even though you don’t really want to. 

Most people don’t make it to the summit, they are either underprepared or back down because they get altitude sickness and they start vomiting and having headaches or are simply too tired to continue. Sounds gruesome? I’m not going to lie, it really is a massive grind.  

Despite all of these, the happiest people I know, are mountaineers. No doubt about it.

Why?

Well, I have my theories. In the mountain, there comes a point where there is no “backing down”. When you are high enough, you have to go through it or you can literally die, you are too high and the terrain is too hard for people to carry you without putting their lives as well in danger.

You also have all the reasons to be angry, sad, desperate and complaining but up there, a strong realization comes and enlightens you. Every single complain and every bad attitude you indulge in will only hinder you and make you even more miserable. Opportunity cost.

The way in which you choose to face the mountain is everything. No matter how tired, how fed up you are about it all, you can always choose to smile and this tiny realization makes all the difference. 

“You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.” 
― Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

You can see people laughing about the gruesome circumstances and their cramps and altitude sickness. Seeing it happen is so twisted and perverted and cool and so deeply stoic that you cannot help to laugh as well. I’ve seen a 67-year-old woman up there with the blizzard blowing in her face singing frosty the snowman to keep the attitude on good levels. 

Mountaineers are, unknowingly, self-taught stoics. They just have no other choice but to practice it, and hell, they are good at it. They are indeed, miserably happy people. 

The mountains have their own special way of teaching lessons. They are hard and indifferent, they don’t care if you die, in fact, they often kill people, and for this grim reason, they are such great teachers.

In the mountains, there is no room for error, laziness or whining. Either you take responsibility for your life or you die, or worse, kill yourself with others as well. 

Responsibility and attitude, these are the lessons the mountains teach you.

The summit 

Then you get to the summit.

The summit, getting it is truly marvelous, indescribable feeling. It is and will be one of the core experiences of your life, the hard work, the suffering and everything else is worth it once you get there, it is not only a mountain in the physical world but also on the mind.

This is the reason mountaineers get back to the mountains and to the grind and never get tired of them, they come to the mountains to find strength, to discover that the true power is always inside, never outside. They go back to connect with that inner and endless fire, a fire that permeates every other area of their lives and that lightens up everyone around them.  

“In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer. And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger – something better, pushing right back.  ― Albert Camus

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Stoic advice

The more you give the more you get


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But the fact is, the same thing is advantageous to me which is advantageous to you; for I am not your friend unless whatever is at issue concerning you is my concern also. Friendship produces between us a partnership in all our interests. There is no such thing as good or bad fortune for the individual; we live in common. And no one can live happily who has regard to himself alone and transforms everything into a question of his own utility; you must live for your neighbour, if you would live for yourself.   Seneca

Solution selling

There is a term in the business world called: Solution selling.

Solution selling basically consists of concentrating your efforts and your capacities on the problems that the enterprise is going through and solve them. It can be slow sales to give or a new and more efficient management. By doing this you are not selling yourself and your amazing smile but an actual solution to an actual problem, needless to say, this strategy is highly valuable and will land you a job or a promotion more often than not.

Why do they need you in the job in the first place?

They need you to solve their problems, they need you to be a solution, not a problem.

Let me tell you a little secret.

This strategy not only works in business, but this is also true for every social relationship you have.

And no one can live happily who has regard to himself alone and transforms everything into a question of his own utility; you must live for your neighbour, if you would live for yourself.  Seneca 

What really matters in the end, genuine value

If you’ve been following the blog, you are probably by now really acquainted with Memento Mori. Death sets things in perspective, her cold silence speaks to you quite loudly about what you truly found meaningful and important at the end of all things.

When I look upon the tombs of the great, every emotion of envy dies in me; when I read the epitaphs of the beautiful, every inordinate desire goes out; when I meet with the grief of parents upon a tombstone, my heart melts with compassion; when I see the tomb of the parents themselves, I consider the vanity of grieving for those whom we must quickly follow: when I see kings lying by those who deposed them, I consider rival wits placed side by side, or the holy men that divided the world with their contests and disputes, I reflect with sorrow and astonishment on the little competitions, factions, and debates of mankind. When I read the several dates of the tombs, of some that died yesterday, and some six hundred years ago, I consider that great Day when we shall all of us be Contemporaries, and make our appearance together. Joseph Addison

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One common trait I believe we all share when thinking about dead is a spontaneous feeling of love and yearning to share more.

And what did he leave? He asked. 

He left it all, she answered.

Independence

You cannot give anything unless you are well taken care of yourself first.

You may think you are a grown adult, but, admit it, sometimes you act like a child, I certainly act like a child sometimes. One example is when you are mad at something not going your way or a person not acting as you wish. You become mad and angry about things not going precisely as you want in life.

If your self-worth and emotional stability change every time something outside yourself affects you, you are being emotional dependant.

Your emotional well-being dependant on things outside your control? Terrible sin.

We may think that we cannot be happy unless everything is going fine, but that way of thinking is a terribly wrong approach. Every time you think the problem is outside yourself, that thought right there is the problem.

The things in our control are by nature free, unrestrained, unhindered; but those not in our control are weak, slavish, restrained, belonging to others. Remember, then, that if you suppose that things which are slavish by nature are also free, and that what belongs to others is your own, then you will be hindered. You will lament, you will be disturbed, and you will find fault both with gods and men. But if you suppose that only to be your own which is your own, and what belongs to others such as it really is, then no one will ever compel you or restrain you. Further, you will find fault with no one or accuse no one. You will do nothing against your will. No one will hurt you, you will have no enemies, and you not be harmed. Epictetus

Independence is free. Independence is a choice.

He who knows that power
is inborn, that he is weak because he has looked for good out of him and
elsewhere, and so perceiving, throws himself unhesitatingly on his thought,
instantly rights himself, stands in the erect position, commands his limbs,
works miracles; just as a man who stands on his feet is stronger than a man
who stands on his head. Ralph Waldo Emerson 

Once you know this basic truth, you are prepared to go to the next big thinking shift.

Gratitude

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Gratefulness is one of the most powerful values.

Gratitude makes you feel good.

It changes your focus from what you don’t have to what you do have. When you are grateful you open yourself up to share, whereas when you are ungrateful you close up by concentrating on what you lack.

When you are just thinking in your own utility, only on what you can get, you become blind to the needs of the others and less able to help them in their lives and thus less valuable.

The hungry don’t get fed

Open your eyes. 

When you are grateful, the world opens, your view changes radically. When your needs are met, you can prepare yourself to give, it is only from this genuine place that you can truly give.

Now you become able to actually understand other people and to think not in “me” terms but in the subjective experience of the other person.

By doing this you become able to offer and share solutions to their problems and become the most valuable person to them.

Win-win

Finally, think win-win. If you provide value, you will get value back, it’s how life works. People will open up to you and you to them, the paradigm will change into sharing, and this is in your power.

Know this truth. When you help other people, you are actually helping yourself. The more you give the more you get.

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Support Stoic Answers

Stoic answers is committed to the spread of knowledge and a cosmopolitan worldview. Our mission is to create a sanctuary online for serious stoic contemporary thinking. No ads, no paywall, no clickbait – just thought-provoking ideas from the great ancient Stoics and contemporary knowledge, free to all. But we can’t do it without you.

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