Seneca on not letting others tell us how we feel

“Do me a favour, when men surround you and try to talk you into believing that you are unhappy, to consider not what you hear but what you yourself feel, and to take counsel with your feelings and question yourself independently, because you know your own affairs better than anyone else does.”

Seneca (2014-10-23). Letters From A Stoic: Epistulae Morales AD Lucilium (Illustrated. Newly revised text. Includes Image Gallery + Audio): All Three Volumes (Kindle Locations 634-636). Enhanced Media. Kindle Edition.


Appropriate then – even more so now.

There are those in our society who are highly skilled at making us believe we are more unhappy than we truly are. And so many of us just go along with what they say, “Why yes, I suppose I am unhappy… I never thought about it before. Maybe I was too distracted by all that arbitrary happiness and contentment I felt with my life to have actually stopped to realize just how unhappy I really am.” Thank you, Mr. Politician. Thank you, Mr. Therapist. Thank you, Mr. Professor. Thank you, Mr. Pastor. My list of misters could go on forever. But thank you all for convincing us that we are inept and impotent, so much so that we should forever question the legitimacy of our own feelings.

Are all those misters I’ve listed self-serving narcissists? Of course not. There are many individuals in those fields doing many wonderful things for their constituents. I exaggerate to make a point about what I call the phenomenon of unnecessary surrender. Often, when we come into contact with those we deem somehow more wise or more “credentialed” than ourselves, we will surrender our agency – we will essentially allow them to decide for us who we should be and how we should feel. Maybe we should take some responsibility in regards to this phenomenon and do as Seneca asks: “… consider not what you hear but what you yourself feel, and [to] take counsel with your feelings and question yourself independently, because you know your own affairs better than anyone else does.”

Again (I say this all the time, to myself mostly), it takes a movement inward, not only outward, to identify our own truths.

John

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