There is only one way to happiness and that is to cease worrying about things which are beyond the power of our will.
—Epictetus 135-55 B.C.
“We are not disturbed by events,” the Greek Stoic philosopher Epictetus is purported to have said. He taught that it is by our perception of the circumstances we face in life rather than the circumstances themselves that we ultimately determine the quality of our days.
Epictetus likened life to a game where each player is given a random roll of the dice that is completely arbitrary and open to interpretation as to its positive or negative effect. He stated we do not have complete control over what life gives us. However, we do have total power over our response to it. We can consciously choose to be imperturbable no matter the circumstances, even when we come face to face with the specter of death.
We all know there is an inevitable end to everyone’s life on this earth. We can do nothing to change that fact. We reconcile ourselves to the concept of death quite easily until it involves someone close and dear to us. Then it becomes personal and very difficult to understand and accept.
When my mother passed away, 16 years ago, I wondered how I could go on. My mother was a sweet and gentle spirit. She had been a constant source of encouragement, strength and happiness for me all the days of my life. She was my best friend, my mentor, my confidante, my ideal.
Mom was so much a part of me that the sudden, gripping finality of her passing left me feeling as if I had died, too. I didn’t see how I could ever enjoy anything again without her here. In spite of the presence of other family members, the black void she left was enormous, and I felt frightened, completely alone, and lost.
It was through quiet meditation and the loving support and consolation of family and friends that I ultimately found my way again. My rock was my wise and incredibly patient kindred spirit Frank. He put the sun back in the sky for me, as his love, encouragement, and support eclipsed that terrifying and overwhelming blackness. What would I have done without Frank?
Also helpful to me was recognizing and appreciating the never-ending beauty of the world around me. I came to realize my life did not end with my mother’s but rather continues, with all kinds of possibilities ahead. I learned that I could give up and give in to discouragement and sadness, or I could look out and up and be happy. The choice was mine to make.
Mom lived a long and wonderful life. She could not ask for more, nor could any of us who loved her. Now is my time to carry on and strive to make my life count for something just as wonderful. My mother would have wanted me to do that.
We can’t deny that every one of us ultimately faces problems, heartaches, illnesses, and death. But the good news is, even in the worst of situations, we have a continuing source of love, healing strength, and renewal. This power is right within our grasp. Indeed, we are surrounded with unlimited, comforting signs of God’s presence with us — all causes for happiness, from the simple treasures of nature to the small moments of our everyday lives.
To quote wisdom from the Scriptures, “Stand and consider the wondrous works of God.” (Job 37:14)
Open fields of wildflowers bathed in sunshine
And dainty butterflies flittering among the blossoms.
Welcome rain showers
And the parting of the clouds afterward,
With clear blue sky beyond.
Starlight and moonglow,
Country lanes and falling leaves,
Wide open spaces.
Towering, snow-capped mountains
With lush valleys below.
The placid surface of a lake,
Grandeur of the oceanside,
Ineffable feeling of peace achieved through silence,
Beautiful melodies which touch our heartstrings.
The patter of little feet,
The toothless grin of a baby,
The spontaneous hug from a child,
The loyal companionship of a beloved pet,
The comforting words of a trusted friend.
A tasty meal upon the table,
A handwritten note from someone far-away,
A sincere compliment from a person we admire,
A sudden smile from a passerby,
The sound of a familiar voice from long ago.
Free time and a good book,
Leisurely walks out in the open,
Cheerful delights of a flower garden,
The constancy of the changing seasons.
People who need us and those we can help,
A warm and cozy fireplace on a snowy evening,
Having a job to go to every morning,
And the knowledge of having done your best at the end of the day…
In a recent interview, world famous singer and gifted painter Tony Bennett said, “I try to show through my paintings and music that, even though moments in life can be tragic, very hurtful, very terrible, what my singing and painting have taught me is that if you stay in a meditative state, you finally realize from studying nature, that life is absolutely beautiful.”
The takeaway is: it’s up to us to choose our outlook. Let’s choose to be happy!