The Art of Living | Epictetus

Summary of: The Art of Living: The Classical Mannual on Virtue, Happiness, and Effectiveness
By: Epictetus


In ‘The Art of Living: The Classical Mannual on Virtue, Happiness, and Effectiveness,’ Epictetus, a foundational figure in classical philosophy, delivers practical guidance on living a life filled with happiness, tranquility, and personal satisfaction. Born as a slave, Epictetus rose to become a leading Stoic philosopher. Following the principle that philosophy should be accessible and provide tools for navigating everyday life, he imparted his teachings through engaging lectures rather than dense texts. This summary will explore Epictetus’s philosophy, which teaches that happiness comes when we stop trying to control the outer world, cultivate inner tranquility, and live with a sense of duty and purpose.

Life Lessons from Epictetus

Epictetus, a Greek philosopher born in 55 AD, believed that philosophy was a way of life and provided practical advice for living a fulfilling life. His teachings emphasized the importance of taking responsibility for one’s own thoughts and actions, recognizing what is in our control and what is not, and accepting the world as it is. By focusing on our inner character rather than external circumstances, we can achieve peace and contentment. Epictetus believed that true freedom and happiness can only be found within ourselves, and we must strive to live according to our values and principles, regardless of external pressures or distractions.

The Life and Philosophy of Epictetus

Epictetus, a former slave, became a leading Stoic philosopher in Ancient Rome. He emphasized the practical application of philosophy to achieve happiness. Though he avoided writing, his teachings were transcribed into the Discourses and summarized in the Enchiridion, which provided accessible and entertaining insights. His philosophy was popular throughout the Roman Empire, influencing even the emperor Marcus Aurelius.

The Power of Stoicism

Stoicism emphasizes focusing on controlling oneself rather than the uncontrollable world.

Have you ever had a terrible day where everything seems to go wrong? According to Stoicism, all those external events have no bearing on your internal state of mind. Stoics make a clear distinction between the inner and outer world. While the outer world includes circumstances out of our control, the inner world focuses on our thoughts, feelings, and reactions. Happiness comes when we stop trying to control the outer world and focus on the internal instead. We tend to desire what we think is good and avoid what we consider bad. However, often these things are out of our hands. Stoicism encourages us to accept the world as it actually is and adjust our emotions accordingly to avoid despair. For instance, death is inevitable. Our perception of death is up to us. We can view it as a terrifying thing, which can lead to endless angst, or we can accept it as a neutral fact of life, which allows us to experience the world free of existential dread.

Stoicism teaches us to start small, shift our perception of events, and control our reactions. For instance, holding a fragile object that you cherish can be a small exercise in Stoicism. Suppose the object shatters. You could let this minor tragedy tear you up inside. Or, you could see it as a minor setback and be thankful you had the object for as long as you did. Stoicism emphasizes focusing on controlling oneself rather than the uncontrollable world.

Purposeful Living

Epictetus believed that finding purpose in daily tasks is essential to living a fulfilling life. Rather than seeking grandiose acts or higher callings, we should approach each moment with a sense of duty and appreciation. By noticing opportunities and resources and finding joy in everything we do, we can be the source of our own satisfaction. Live in harmony with the world as it presents itself and always act with a sense of purpose and duty.

The Freedom Within

The story of the Greek philosopher Diogenes teaches us that inner tranquility can be achieved by living free of outside influence. The key message is to cultivate inner peace by accepting the world around us and living a principled lifestyle that suits our unique needs. True freedom comes from discipline, will, and self-mastery, achieved by approaching the learning process with steady patience.

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