Seneca, Sweden and the three bears
Hello fellow Protagonists,
One practice of stoicism that I have been working on, is to digest one main piece of information, be it a quote or a single letter by a philosopher and to spend moments of the day thinking about the meaning and personal relevance of it, before moving on to the next piece the following day. This is to help prevent me rushing through information without analysing it properly.
Today's quote has been brought to you by the name Seneca, the letter R and the number 8.
"It is not the man (or woman) who has too little who is poor but the one who hankers after more"
Seneca was the adviser to a young emperor Nero of Rome. Nero was a "bit of a tyrant" and ultimately lost all trust in those around him, killed his own mother and ordered Seneca to commit suicide. Classic ancient times.
Before his unfortunate end Seneca wrote letters to close friends providing some of the wisdom he built up throughout his life. In one of his letters, Seneca expresses how it does not matter how much a person has if all they are interested in is having more; that because a person is so focused on what they don't yet have, they are not focusing on and appreciating what they already do have. Sometimes all we need to do is to stop looking upwards and to starting looking downwards, where we are standing.
This way of thinking can be exacerbated by focusing solely on other people and what they have rather than stopping to show some self-gratitude for what we have been able to accomplish. This is a key aspect of the phrase "Keeping up with the Joneses" where we base our level of achievement on what other's in our perceived social class have and then want for those same things. Other people will always have more than us and they will also be trying to keep up with those with even more. This could hypothetically ricochet all the way to the top until you reach the worlds richest person. This would lead you to Jeff Bezos, the owner of Amazon, where on the Forbes real time rich list today is currently sitting at $145.6 Billion.
Put beautifully by Liam Neeson when he was once a Jedi,
"There is always a bigger fish"
This links directly to the Hedonic Treadmill, where personal happiness is then not reached as we continuously believe reaching something else is required to achieve the level of happiness we seek.
An important observation with this statement is not to say that this is the same meaning of poor as those who do not have enough to pay for basic needs. Once we get to a certain point, owning more does not improve happiness, it just prevents potential unhappiness. There is a point of diminishing gains, where an optimal level is reached and more does not provide additional happiness. It could in fact work the opposite way and lead us to being more unhappy.
Think about it for a minute, when we have owned more possessions we are required to either keep them maintained or just end up storing them. This can lead to an additional time and financial cost. There has to be a reason why it feels so good to bin a bag of unused gadgets and cables we no longer remember the purpose for. For those who have put a collection of clothes together in donation bins will understand how relieving this can feel. The benefits of a clutter free house and owning things that bring real joy are what has made Marie Kondo a household name.
By worrying less about what more others may have, it could leave our head-space available for other tasks, say, supporting those who are in need of the basics.
For me this sentence by Seneca brings my mind directly to the concept of Lagom. For those new to the concept, do not worry because there is not really an English translation for the word (does that say anything about us as a nation?). It is Swedish and roughly translates to "Not too little, not too much, just right".
Like Goldilocks and the three bears. Though I have just been sent on a tangent and am now informed that originally Goldilocks didn't have blonde hair, may have been a witch and in fact was caught and impaled on a church steeple by the bears! Snowflake nursery stories these days I tell you.
Lagom has a wide meaning that has definitely caught my attention and I want to continue to learn more. It is partly about understanding and knowing when we have enough and appreciating that. Once we have enough to live in comfort we need to think carefully about why we are aiming for more; is it because we are trying to Buff ourselves as people or just that we want to look more Buff in front of others.
I am yet to visit Sweden but this could be the clincher for me when international travel returns to normal.
The best way my nerdy brain processes this is that if you are required to reach level 12 for a quest on something, is there much of a purpose to grind to level 25, taking all that extra time and potentially taking away the challenge and the fun out of the task when you do come round to it?
I encourage you to decide to spend today focusing on what you have achieved to get to where you are and in what you have around you that you are already grateful for.
Has Seneca sparked your thoughts off as well? Have you heard about Lagom before? Have you ever visited Sweden and if so, how was it?