“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”

You are mentally obese if you need to eat 2 waffles covered in butter and maple syrup every day to feel at peace.

I’ve started reading The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking by Oliver Burkeman and I can already tell that  this book is going to provide several posts’ worth of excellent blogging material. But before I get into what I’ve read so far, here’s a challenge for you:

For the next minute, do not think of a polar bear. You can write or speak out loud everything you’re thinking, you can do this with a friend, etc. However you prefer to do this challenge, just don’t think of a polar bear.

Polar Bear(Thank you ucumari)

So, how long did you last? I made it to 15 seconds. The point of this exercise is that when we actively try to not think about something, our own internal workings make it so that it is the only thing we think about.  The first chapter of Burkeman’s book explains how Stoics approach happiness. They value a tranquil state of mind where the individual is not trying to control his/her surroundings. As Seneca observes:

We habitually act as if our control over the world were much greater than it really is. Even such personal matters as our health, our finances, and our reputations are ultimately beyond our control; we can try to influence them, of course, but frequently things won’t go our way. And the behaviour of other people is even further beyond control.

And what’s more is that our fears about a potentially negative situation are almost always exaggerated. Burkeman embarrasses himself by shouting out several stops on London tube’s Central Line. He believed he would be mortified  and experience a paralyzing fear but when it came time, much to his surprise, he was fine. Actually, he overcame his fear and felt more empowered. The Stoics advocate constantly reminding yourself of what you have so that you are always grateful and mindful that it could be lost so easily.

They also advocate considering all possible scenarios and mentally arming yourself. Now anyone who knows me will know that this comes very naturally to me, not because I have a tranquil mind, but rather because I have an anxious mind. I like to go over all possible scenarios so that nothing unexpected crops up. I’m sure the Stoics would frown at me and say that I am trying to control the situation, and they would be right. They would also say that even if my worst scenario came true, it’s not as bad as it might seem.

As Shakespeare’s Hamlet says, “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” I do agree. Nothing really has value in and of itself, we give things means. However, I can’t say I can be a Stoic. It’s not a philosophy that I think would work for me. I think that there is a lot to be said for knowing how little you can actually control and that to feel less anxious, you do need to let go of this need to control. However, my problem is thinking about a situation too much so considering all possible solutions would just make me feel worse. The next chapter is Buddhism so let’s see how they can help me. Something to do with not being attached I’m sure!


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