In his Book of Meditations, the Ancient Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius wrote that the art of living is more like “wrestling” than dancing. No matter how smoothly and gracefully we glide through certain periods, suddenly something changes and now we must stand ready to wrestle down the unexpected and the unforeseen challenges that pose a threat to our happiness. It takes resilience, which can be acquired.
We know that the landscape of life is never flat, nor would we appreciate our time on earth as much if it were uneventful. That is why after a trauma or loss, we often come to appreciate the good times even more than before, with an understanding that nothing ever stays the same, neither the lows nor the highs. We are not a still life painting.
Aurelius believed, however, that if we commit to the following three guidelines — we can build resilience and live happier lives.
- Accept the reality of Nature, and neither fear it nor expect it to be what it isn’t. If you think back to your biggest fears and disappointments, they usually either pertain to the trepidation you feel over uncertain events in the future or regrets over what did or didn’t happen in the past. Remember this: the only moment that is real is the one you are in now. You don’t know what will happen in the future and you can’t change what is already behind you. Make the most of the situation you are in right now, in this very moment—and let worry and negativity fade away.
- Always speak your truth. When people complain that they don’t feel understood or in general don’t want to share their perspectives so as not to make others dislike them, the issue here is really a lack of confidence in their ability to authentically express themselves without coming across as combative. There are many resources on assertiveness, which is not the same as being argumentative. Assertiveness elicits respect from others, as it shows one has the courage to stand up for their beliefs.
- Be satisfied with whatever is your “present activity” or situation. This third point is very much related to the first. It’s about living as much as possible in the very moment you are in now. Become so totally immersed in what you are doing that you enter the sweet rhythm of what researcher Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi “flow”, where you are so involved in your passionate pursuits that you experience the joy of just being alive.
Aurelius, M. Meditations.
Csikszentmihalyi, M (2002) Flow. Ebury Press
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