Happiness and freedom begin with a clear understanding of one principle: Some things are within our control, and some things are not. It is only after you have faced up to this fundamental rule and learned to distinguish between what you can and can't control that inner tranquility and outer effectiveness become possible.
If you think that you have free rein over things that are naturally beyond your control, or if you attempt to adopt the affairs of others as your own, your pursuits will be thwarted and you will become a frustrated, anxious, and fault-finding person. If anything concerns what is outside your control, train yourself not to worry about it.
Restrain the habit of being repelled by all those things that aren't within your control, and focus instead on combating things within your power that are not good for you.
Things and people are not what we wish them to be. They are what they are. Those who are dedicated to a life of wisdom understand that the impulse to blame something or someone is foolishness, that there is nothing to be gained in blaming.
One of the signs of the dawning of moral progress is the gradual extinguishing of blame. We see the futility of finger-pointing. The more we examine our attitudes and work on ourselves, the less we are apt to be swept away by stormy emotional reactions in which we seek easy explanations for unbidden events.
Things simply are what they are. Let other people think what they think; it is of no concern to us.
Understand what freedom really is and how it is achieved. Freedom isn't the right or ability to do whatever you please. Freedom comes from understanding the limits of your own power and the natural limits set in place by the world. By accepting life's limits and inevitabilities and working within them rather than fighting them, we become free. If, on the other hand, we succumb to our passing desires for things that aren't in our control, freedom is lost.
Don't be concerned with other people's impressions of you. They are dazzled and deluded by appearances. Stick with your purpose. This alone will strengthen your will and give your life coherence.
For good or ill, life and nature are governed by laws that we can't change. The quicker we accept this, the more tranquil we can be. You would be foolish to wish that your children or your spouse would live forever. They are mortal, just as you are, and the law of mortality is completely out of your hands.
Similarly, it is foolish to wish that an employee, relative, or friend be without fault. This is wishing to control things that you can't truly control.
If a neighbor's child breaks a bowl, or some similar thing, we readily say, "These things happen." When your own bowl breaks, you should respond in the same way as when another person's bowl breaks.
Carry this understanding over to matters of greater emotional import and worldly consequence. Has the child or spouse of another person died? Under such circumstances, there is no one who would not say, "Such is the cycle of life. Death happens. Some things are inevitable."
But if our own child or dearly beloved dies, we tend to cry out, "Woe is me! How miserable I am!" Remember how you felt when you heard the same thing concerning other people. Transfer that feeling to your own current circumstances.
Distinguish yourself from the mere dabbler, the person who plays at things as long as they feel comfortable or interesting. This is not noble. Think things through and fully commit. Otherwise, you will be like a child who sometimes pretends he is a wrestler, sometimes a soldier, sometimes a musician, sometimes an actor in a tragedy.
Unless we fully give ourselves over to our endeavors, we are hollow, superficial people and we never develop our natural gifts. We've all known people who, like monkeys, mimic whatever seems novel and flashy at the moment. But then their enthusiasm and efforts wane; they drop their projects as soon as they become too familiar or demanding.
Take care not to casually discuss matters that are of great importance to you with people who are not important to you. Your affairs will become drained of preciousness. You undercut your own purposes when you do this. This is especially dangerous when you are in the early stages of an undertaking.
Most of what passes for legitimate entertainment is inferior or foolish and only caters to or exploits people's weaknesses. Avoid being one of the mob who indulges in such pastimes. Your life is too short and you have important things to do.
It is the easiest thing in the world to slide imperceptibly into vulgarity. But there's no need for that to happen if you determine not to waste your time and attention on mindless pap.
Don't be afraid of verbal abuse or criticism. Only the morally weak feel compelled to defend or explain themselves to others. Let the quality of your deeds speak on your behalf. We can't control the impressions others form about us, and the effort to do so only debases our character.
So, if anyone should tell you that a particular person has spoken critically of you, don't bother with excuses or defenses. Just smile and reply, "I guess that person doesn't know about all my other faults. Otherwise, he wouldn't have mentioned only these."
When someone speaks to you curtly, disregards what you say, performs what seems to be a thoughtless gesture or even an outright evil act, think to yourself, "If I were that person and had endured the same trials, borne the same difficulties, had the same parents, and so on, I probably would have done or said the same thing." We are not privy to the stories behind people's actions, so we should be patient with others and suspend our judgment of them, recognizing the limits of our understanding. This does not mean we condone evil deeds or endorse the idea that different actions are morally equivalent.
When people do not act as you would wish them to, exercise your good nature by shrugging your shoulders and saying to yourself, "Oh well." Then let the incident go.
When considering the future, remember that all situations unfold as they do regardless of how we feel about them. Our hopes and fears sway us, not events themselves.
Undisciplined people, driven by their personal antipathies and sympathies, are forever on the lookout for signs that build up or reinforce their unexamined views and opinions. Events themselves are impersonal, though judicious people certainly can and should respond to them in beneficial ways.
Instead of personalizing an event ("This is my triumph," "That was his blunder," or "This is my bitter misfortune") and drawing withering conclusions about yourself, watch for how you can put certain aspects of the event to good use. Is there some less-than-obvious benefit embedded in the event that a trained eye might discern? Pay attention. Perhaps there is a lesson you can extract and apply to similar events in the future.
In any events, however seemingly dire, there is nothing to prevent us from searching for its hidden opportunity. It is a failure of the imagination not to do so. But to seek out the opportunity in situations requires a great deal of courage, for most people around you will persist in interpreting events in the grossest terms: success or failure, good or bad, right or wrong.
Many people declare with all sincerity that they are committed to their own integrity, while engaging in thoughtless or intemperate actions. They proceed carelessly, undercutting their otherwise well-intentioned efforts by failing to face themselves and to articulate a coherent personal moral code to which their future actions would conform. Don't listen to what people say. Watch what they do and evaluate the attendant consequences.
Be suspicious of convention. Take charge of your own thinking. Rouse yourself from the daze of unexamined habit. Popular perceptions, values, and ways of doing things are rarely the wisest. Many pervasive beliefs would not pass appropriate tests of rationality. Conventional thinking -- its means and ends -- is often essentially uncreative and uninteresting.
On the other hand, there is no inherent virtue in new ideas. Examine things as they appear to your own mind; objectively consider what is said by others, and then establish your own convictions.
Socially taught beliefs are frequently unreliable. So many of our beliefs have been acquired through accident and irresponsible or ignorant teaching. Many of these beliefs are so deeply ingrained that they are hidden from our own view. The commonplace sluggishness of the lives lived by the undisciplined is dangerously contagious, for we are often exposed to no alternative healthful way of living. Awaken and be vigilant. Take stock of your habits to preserve your higher standards.
Just as we must clean, order, and maintain our homes to move forward with anything; we need to do the same with our minds. For not only do we risk inefficiency by failing to do so, we invite our soul's very corruption. A disorganized, foggy soul is dangerous, for it is vulnerable to the influence of persuasive but misguided philosophies.