When you first hear the word stoicism, what are your initial thoughts?
I used to think that meant stoicism philosophy was about learning how to become emotionless. Mostly because when I looked up the definition, Oxford Languages defined stoicism as the endurance of pain or hardship without the display of feelings and without complaint. A deeper reading into the works of the stoic philosophers made me realize that I was mostly mistaken.
Currently, I think Stoicism is about being emotionally intelligent rather than emotionally detached. It’s about recognizing what we have control over and what we do not. To focus on what we have control over in a constructive manner so that we can become our own self-creator of happiness.
I want to share with you a few quotes from famous Stoic Philosophers that helped me change from someone who used to blame other people, events, and circumstances outside of my control, to someone who now depends on myself to create my own happiness.
This quote was extremely helpful to me when my late father’s cerebellar ataxia was progressing rapidly. His disease was extremely rare, had no cure, and no medication that could even alleviate the symptoms. The only thing my father had a choice over was to face it cheerfully or complain about it.
After his initial depression after being diagnosed, my father decided to face his cerebellar ataxia cheerfully. Through the nearly 4 years of losing first the ability to walk, to wearing diapers 24/7, to not being able to hold a spoon, to losing the power of speech while being fully cognizant and understanding everything that’s happened to him, he chose to smile every day. Because I convinced him that it was likely the best option.
At the time, I repeatedly explained to my parents that while there was nothing we can do about my father’s incurable illness, we can change our attitude. My father, after a lifetime of being quick to get angry, decided that age 67 was not too late to change. I’m so grateful that he did so which lead to me remembering him with fondness.
My mom alternated between facing my father’s condition cheerfully and complaining about it. I stuck firmly to facing it cheerfully. It was only a year after my father’s passing that my mom confided in me that she’d wished she’d complained less. The thing is, when do we ever wish that we complained more?
Before 2017, I rarely appreciated the beauty of life. I remember seeing glaciers up close and thinking there’s a lot of dirt on them. Why was I focused on the negative when I could have been marveling at the fact that I was looking at a glacier?!
After my late father’s cerebellar ataxia diagnosis in 2016, my outlook on life started to change. Every morning, I woke up thinking what a privilege it was that I had full body autonomy. That I didn’t need help to sit upright or to be fed my meals. That I was able to enjoy and indulge in all my favorite foods without finding it difficult to chew and swallow without fear of choking. Small things that I used to take for granted without giving thanks or taking the time to appreciate them.
By giving thanks daily, I was able to become happier. Because I was happier, I started being hopeful about the future and I worked up the courage to begin planning a future for myself.
I’m not currently ready to share why I identify so strongly with this statement. However, I will say that this quote is one of the reasons I try my best to no longer judge people’s actions. Each one of us has our own unique hardships and I try to be as non-negative as possible while still expressing my opinion when asked.
I’m currently working on realizing this quote for 2021. Going forward I want to put an effort to be a more active listener for the next few years.
For most of my life, my relatives regularly told me that I’m foolish and stupid. They are quick to give me unsolicited advice and put down pretty much all my ideas. Until one day it occurred to me that I did not want to live their lives, so why did their opinions matter?
The reason that caused me to stop listening to my relatives was over my personal choice to speak Mandarin instead of Shanghainese for the next few years. I’d explained to them that when speaking Shanghainese, I was quick to get angry, prone to yelling, and highly argumentative.
My relatives said that I was throwing away my Shanghainese heritage. That I was never going to speak non-Shanghainese accented Mandarin, so why speak Mandarin when I’m obviously more fluent in Shanghainese. It was a foolish and stupid decision they said.
My father-in-law was the most vocal. In the next few years, he would continually deride my efforts and called me weird to want to speak Mandarin to people I’ve always spoken Shanghainese to.
His constant criticizing caused me mental distress and I’d likely given up if my desire to become a calmer person wasn’t so strong. What also helped was that I discovered a passion for emulating professional Mandarin voice actors.
The defining moment that caused me to stop listening to my father-in-law completely was when I was mistaken for a professional Chinese translator by one in the presence of my father-in-law in early 2020 when I accompanied him to MSK Cancer Center for support.
I was happily shocked because it was the first time in my life, I was repeatedly complimented on the quality of my speaking voice and Mandarin by someone who worked professionally as a translator for 14 years.
However, my father-in-law, who was present when the translator was complimenting my Mandarin and voice quality, later told me that he found nothing special with my Mandarin and speaking voice.
In a few sentences, he belittled my 3 years of continually practicing Mandarin. I realized then that he didn’t care about my feelings, the hundreds of hours I spent working towards a goal I defined for myself, and most importantly he thought his own opinions and views were more valid on a subject he didn’t know much about over a professional.
These days I’m mostly okay with being thought foolish and stupid by my relatives because it rarely affects me. A large of that is thanks to stoicism philosophy as it inspired me to become my own creator of happiness.
Dear readers, what are your thoughts on Stoicism and being your own creator of happiness?