Complaining is easy, it's as natural as breathing. Complaining means thinking little and acting even less. That's why we don't stop complaining about the government, the authority, those toxic people who make life impossible for us, the infernal traffic, the slow connection, the exhausting work, the destiny, the whole humanity ...
There is no doubt that complaints allow us to let off steam, shake off frustrations and vent anger and this frees us, at least momentarily. But what's the point of complaining all the time? Have complaints made your life better, solved your problems, or made you happier? Probably not.
Complaining is comforting precisely because it relieves us from taking responsibility for our thoughts and actions. Complaining keeps us busy, but it gets us nowhere. This is why the Stoics proposed to eliminate grievances from our lives.
The art of forgetting what we cannot control and focusing on what we can change
The Stoics were convinced that we can use philosophy and reason to achieve a state of serenity, joy and mental strength. That's why they believed that complaining and worrying about things that can't be changed is unhealthy.
Epictetus summed it up masterfully: "There is only one path to happiness: stop worrying about things that are beyond the power of our will." This Stoic philosopher thought that worrying, complaining, and wasting emotional energy on things we cannot change or control are the quickest and most direct path to depression and nervous breakdown.
Instead, it encouraged you to focus on what you are in control of, such as your actions, habits, responses, words, thought patterns and emotions. Marcus Aurelius shared this idea: “it is ridiculous not to try to avoid your own wickedness, which is possible, and instead try to avoid that of others, which is impossible […] You always have the possibility of not having an opinion. You don't have to be nervous or harass your soul for things you can't control. These things don't ask you to judge them. Leave them alone. "
It is simply a change of approach: to stop focusing on what we cannot control to direct our efforts and energies on what we can change.
Behind the radical acceptance promulgated by the Stoics there is no conformist, defeatist or passive position, rather the opposite. Focusing on what we can change strengthens us, gives us that power that comes from the full awareness of our strengths, from the maturity given by recognizing its scope and limitations.
“Remember that everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. All we see is a perspective, it is not the truth [...] If something external afflicts you, that pain is not due to the event itself, but to the meaning you give it, and you have the power to eliminate it at any moment [... ] You have power over your mind, not over events. Realize this and you will find strength ”, wrote Marcus Aurelius.
How did the Stoics deal with adversity without complaining?
Epictetus spent his childhood as a slave in Rome and lived much of his life with an unusable leg, however he celebrated his fate and became a great philosopher whose teachings crossed the barrier of time and space.
Seneca, another great exponent of Stoicism, took his death sentence seriously for political reasons and is said to have even reproached his disciples for mourning his fate by asking them to resort to Stoic teachings to deal with the loss.
1. Negative display
The Stoics were convinced that we must control our expectations and desires because they are the main source of frustration, disappointment and grievance. If we have unrealistic expectations and these are not met, we will feel dejected and tend to look for a culprit.
To avoid this, the Stoics proposed a kind of negative visualization that helps us prepare for life's setbacks. “We should love all our loved ones, but always bearing in mind that we have no guarantee that we will keep them forever with us; besides, we don't even have a guarantee that we will keep them with us for long, ”Seneca said.
Marcus Aurelius recommended a daily exercise of negative visualization: "Begin each day by saying to yourself: today I will encounter obstacles, ingratitude, insolence, disloyalty, ill will and selfishness".
Perhaps in the hegemony of "positive thinking," the words of the Stoics have a bitter taste, but in reality this exercise can take us away from discouragement and depression to encourage us to celebrate all that we have, here and now.
Negative visualization can help us prepare for the worst in the best way, so nothing will surprise us and we won't feel overwhelmed or downcast when adversity knocks on our door - something that will happen sooner or later.
The secret? Apply this technique to the right extent, avoiding using it to fuel catastrophic thinking. We must keep in mind that the main goal is to reduce our expectations to avoid disappointment and to learn not to take anything for granted.
A constructive way to apply the negative view of the Stoics is to write down three precious things we have every day, imagining how sad or disappointed we would feel without them, we can reevaluate them even more, feel gratitude and take care of them in the best possible way.
As if by magic, when we start focusing on what we have rather than what we don't have, the complaints disappear. "A wise man is one who does not cry for the things he does not have, but rejoices in the things he has," said Epictetus.
2. Love Fati
Amor fati is a Latin phrase which means "love of fate". It is a stoic idea that involves accepting everything that happens to us in life, including suffering and loss, as something positive or to be taught by because it has allowed us to become the person we are today. According to the Stoics, that was the way to live in a calmer and happier way, away from banal complaints.
Epictetus summed up the idea thus: “don't try to make things happen the way you want; rather, he wants what happens to happen as it does: then you will be happy. "
Amor fati means feeling that everything that happens is part of a process, of a learning path that we must follow to grow as people. But that destiny should not be understood as inevitable, assuming a passive role, but becoming aware that we have the possibility to build, within the limits imposed by chance - understood as society, culture, family ...
Chance plays an important role, but we have the possibility to react in two ways: deny it and live as if life itself were a heavy burden, complaining about everything that happens; or accept it and assume that in life you sometimes win and sometimes you lose. That is, if we accept the triumphs, we must also accept the defeats and if we accept the joy, we must also accept the sadness, because one would not exist without the other.
Love fati does not simply imply accepting reality, but embracing it. The goal is to move from “I don't agree with what happened to me” to “I assume what happened and I will benefit from it”.
There are many ways to apply amor fati. A simple exercise is to look at the past, at the adverse situations we have faced and try to understand how they strengthened us or what teachings they passed on to us.
In this regard, Nietzsche, who in some respects could be considered a Stoic philosopher, wrote: "my formula for the greatness of man is amor fati: not wanting anything other than what it is, not in the past, not in the future. , not for all eternity. Not only to endure what is necessary, and even less to hide it - every idealism is falsehood in the face of what is necessary - but to love it. "
We must remember that only when we embrace life, with its lights and shadows, joys and misfortunes, will we develop the appropriate attitude to take full advantage of it, right down to the last drop.