Many Stoic philosophers pondered on the nature of happiness and our purpose, which led some to the concept of euthymia. Euthymia is the Greek word for a balanced and tranquil mind (literally: good spiritedness).
The Stoic philosopher Seneca tried to find the answer to the question: How can we keep the mind in balance? Not too emotional or excited, but not depressed either. To answer this challenge, Seneca devised a list of behaviors and feelings we should develop in order to achieve a peaceful and balanced mind. He developed this list into a work called “On the Tranquility of the Mind”.
This work was originally inspired by Serenus, one of Seneca’s friends, who wrote him a letter asking for help. He was struggling to be a good man according to the Stoic ideal, as he noticed envious, jealous and vain desires in himself, which he didn’t want but did not know how to overcome.
He told Seneca that being exposed to life makes one love what is good as much as what is bad. As an example, Serenus mentions the fact that we are supposed to write our thoughts simply and concisely, for they might serve someone else one day, but he felt seduced by the need to use a sophisticated vocabulary that made him sound presumptuous. He also acknowledged that we can easily reach wisdom, but we think of ourselves as already wise, which blocks us from achieving true enlightenment.
The Source of Wisdom
There is a Buddhist story about when the gods (Brahma, Shiva and Vishnu) created man – they decided it would be prudent to hide wisdom in a place that man would struggle to find. One of them suggested the deep of the oceans, but the others opposed, saying man would be able to search the oceans easily. The other suggested inside the earth. Once again, the others opposed for the same reasons. The last one suggested that man will not look for it inside himself, and there they hid it.
Seneca explained that our difficulties do not stem from our environment, or our family, or the country you live in; it is all inside of you. If you believe in these problems, they will haunt you wherever you go. It is better to face it and fix that part of ourselves. We believe in the idea of fight or flight, but fleeing is not a solution when you are fleeing from something within you.
Seneca teaches that our purpose in life should be to serve ourselves and others, and to be careful with the most precious resource we have – time. We should not waste time and energy trying to get to places or things that are out of our reach. So, what should we focus on? As covered earlier, Seneca devised a list of things we should develop or avoid in order to achieve euthymia, which we will delve into now.
Choosing your Company Well
The people around us can impact our behavior and way of thinking, either for the worse or the better. We can only resist this influence to a limit, after that our values become more flexible to the ideas of others. This impact is either good or bad; there is no half-good relationship.
Seneca tells us to specifically avoid the sad ones, because they can pull us down to their low without us even noticing. Although it is our duty to help others, you should keep yourself from a grievance that doesn’t belong to you. If the other person only wishes to pull you into their suffering, they should be avoided where possible.
According to Seneca, excess is the main source for vices. He mentions allowing ourselves the pleasure of a cup of wine, but after one it is time to stop. Our consumption only becomes a bad thing when we cross that line. It is very much the same for other potential sources of excess.
“You ask what is the proper limit to a person’s wealth? First, having what is essential, and second, having what is enough.”Seneca
Fear of Death
The other topic Seneca reinforces is the need to not fear death. Men spend their lives fearing death, and because of that fear they simply don’t live. At the same time, we yearn for so much that is out of our grasp.
“You act like mortals in all that you fear and like immortals in all that you desire”.Seneca
All of these ideas from Seneca about keeping our inner balance are based on the philosophy of Stoicism. Keeping a tranquil mind has been one of the greatest desires for humans, but one that seemingly few achieve. There are many miracle formulas, and magnificent gurus and coaches, but the truth is that there are no shortcuts.
As Seneca teaches in his work “On the Tranquility of the Mind”, it requires balance, compromise and effort. A tranquil mind is the result of a controlled inner being. A balanced mindset means living without excesses, but also not lacking what is necessary. Overall, it is about conquering our fears and letting go of our regrets.