Place Happiness in the Will

Let us see what happens when we consider worldly things as the highest good. Is it possible when a man sustains damage and does not obtain good things, that he can be happy? "It is not possible." And can he maintain toward society a proper behavior? "He cannot." I am formed naturally to look after my own interest. If it is my interest to have an estate in land, it is my interest also to take it from my neighbor. If it is my interest to have a garment, it is my interest also to steal it from the bath. This is the origin of wars, civil commotions, tyrannies, and conspiracies. If I do these things, how shall I be still able to maintain my duty toward Zues? If I sustain damage and am unlucky, and he takes no care of me, then what is he to me? I now begin to hate him. Why, then, do we build temples, why set up statues to Zeus, as well as to evil demons, such as to Fever; and how is Zeus the savior, and how is he the Giver of Rain, and the Giver of Fruits? In truth, if we place the nature of "good" in any such things other than the will, bad things follow.

We do have interests in both things and people. But if we place our happiness with these things, we are doomed to disappointment. God has given free will to all people, therefore we cannot control other people. Objects are ultimately out of our control also. Certainly, we may build a house and protect ourselves from the elements in it. We take care of the yard and the structure itself because to do so preserves the house. However, the house could be destroyed in mere moments by storm or flood or fire. If we make a property our whole life then what will we do when calamity strikes? Will we hate God for taking away what he so generously gave us? Or will we understand that these things are only tools we use to make our lives more comfortable.

Epictetus wants us to place our happiness in our will. For us, this means our soul. It is not a selfish act, rather it is a giving up of covetousness for earthly things and an emphasis on the mind and the spirit. For if our emphasis is on worldly things and we perceive that God fails us, all we can do is rail at God. We must be like Job in the face of calamity and remain faithful to God.

Chapter 22:

  1. General Principles
  2. Education Is Adapting General Principles (22a)
  3. Place Happiness in the Will (22b)
  4. What if They Laugh at You? (22c)
Stoicism and Christianity Index

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This is a translation and explanation of the first book of the Discourses of Epictetus. His words are in regular text, comments are in bold.

Biographical Information on Epictetus

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