If you’ve been following the events of the past couple of weeks, you, like me, may now have a constant, low-level dread pervading your every waking moment. The world as we know seems to be slowly but surely unraveling. I’ve sought comfort in trying to understand the reasons why these things have come to pass, but an appeal to reason isn’t enough to assuage this kind of pervasive, insidious anxiety. To deal with it, I think, calls for a cultivating a new mental skill set, and, lucky for us, someone from 2000 years ago had already figured it out: Lucius Annaeus Seneca, otherwise simply known as Seneca — a Roman Stoic philosopher who is oft-quoted and recommended by Tim Ferriss.
With all the nightmare scenarios forming and endlessly replaying in our minds, Seneca’s exhortation to Lucilius could not be more timely (emphasis mine):
“There are more things, Lucilius, likely to frighten us than there are to crush us; we suffer more often in imagination than in reality….
What I advise you to do is, not to be unhappy before the crisis comes; since it may be that the dangers before which you paled as if they were threatening you, will never come upon you; they certainly have not yet come. Accordingly, some things torment us more than they ought; some torment us before they ought; and some torment us when they ought not to torment us at all. We in the habit of exaggerating, or imagining, or anticipating, sorrow.
It is likely that some troubles will befall us; but it is not a present fact. How often has he unexpected happened! How often has the expected never come to pass! And even though it is ordained to be, what does it avail to run out to meet your suffering? You will suffer soon enough, when it arrives; so look forward meanwhile to better things….
Men have been let down softly by a catastrophe. Sometimes the sword has been checked even at the victim’s throat. Men have survived their own executioners. Even bad fortune is fickle. Perhaps it will come, perhaps not; in the meantime it is not. So look forward to better things….
There is nothing so certain among these objects of fear that it is not more certain still that things we dread sink into nothing and that things we hope for mock us.
Accordingly, weigh carefully your hopes as well as your fears, and whenever all the elements are in doubt, decide in your own favour; believe what you prefer. And if fear wins a majority of the votes, incline in the other direction anyhow, and cease to harass your soul…. We let ourselves drift with every breeze; we are frightened at uncertainties, just as if they were certain. We observe no moderation. The slightest thing turns the scales and throws us forthwith into a panic.”