A Stoic Trick For Greater Happiness
The ancient Stoic philosophers used a very effective technique to attain a greater level of happiness. At first it might seem counter-intuitive, but over thousands of years it, it has been proven to work. They indulge in extreme negative thinking. They imagine the worst.
I know. Counter-intuitive right? We’ve been told all our lives to be more positive. Now it sounds like I’m telling you to be more negative. Yes, but there’s a right way and a wrong way.
In fact there is a right and a wrong way to be a positive or a negative thinker. It’s not about positive or negative thinking. It’s about right or wrong thinking. To be a Pollyanna thinker or see life “through rose colored glasses”, is wrong thinking for people trying to practice positive thinking. To practice negative visualization, as the Stoics did, may be right thinking.
The idea is to imagine what it would be like if things went very wrong.
So, for just a few moments let’s do just that.
Here It Comes
Imagine tomorrow you wake up to find that things had gone very badly for you financially. Through some kind of fraud, you have lost every penny you had, and all of your material possessions are gone. Everything except the clothes on your back.
To make matters worse, you find that you’ve been exiled. You now live on a rather barren island with no modern technology. No cell phones, TV’s, computers, washing machines, refrigerators, cars, nothing. And none of your friends or family are there, nor can you make contact with them. No; there is no way off the island.
Close your eyes and think about this for a few minutes. Try to really imagine this is your new reality. How does it feel?
Then think about the things you have now. Think about the freedom you enjoy, and the relationships you have.
The more effectively you immerse yourself in the practice of negative visualization, the greater the joy and happiness you will experience when you come back to your present reality.
But this doesn’t answer our original question, “If You Lost Everything Today, Could You Be Happy Tomorrow?”
A Stoic would be just as happy tomorrow with nothing as she/he would be today with everything. They recognize the ephemeral nature of life and everything in it. They accept that everything they have is temporary and can be snatched from them in an instant. This allows them to both fully appreciate what they have, as well as to minimize suffering through loss.
In our modern western society, we are able to quite easily attain everything we need to provide the basics of life; those things truly necessary to our survival. Beyond this, life happens in the mind. It is a matter of perception, and how you process external circumstances.
It is a fact that all of us will experience loss in many forms during our lifetimes. For most of us this will bring suffering, but for those who practice techniques like negative visualization and others I will explore in future posts, this suffering will be greatly minimized or eliminated.
Recommended reading: A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy