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February 2016

January 2016

Seneca on Treating Every Morning as a Bonus

Life is short. We know this intellectually, but we rarely act on it. We fill our lives with bullshit, and assume there'll be plenty of time tomorrow to do all the things we don't get done today.

In one of his Letters From A Stoic, Roman philosopher and statesman Lucius Annaeus Seneca urges us to be more grateful for the time that is given to us, by living as if each day was our last and treating every morning as a bonus:

"Let us go to our sleep with joy and gladness; let us say: I have lived; the course which Fortune set for me is finished. And if God is pleased to add another day, we should welcome it with glad hearts. That man is happiest, and is secure in his own possession of himself, who can await the morrow without apprehension.

When a man has said: "I have lived!", every morning he arises he receives a bonus."


Lightness and Weight

UnbearableWhat’s better: a life of lightness or one of weight? So asks Milan Kundera in his novel The Unbearable Lightness of Being.

Our culture is schizophrenic. On one hand we are told to value selflessness, self-sacrifice and duty. We are urged to marry, to raise children, to contribute to our communities. Those who avoid commitment are criticised as immature and selfish.

“Necessity, weight and value are three concepts inextricably bound: only necessity is heavy and only what is heavy has value.”

On the other hand, our culture of individualism encourages us to do what makes us happy, to follow our bliss, to put ourselves first. If we’re dissatisfied with our marriage, we don’t need to work on it, we can just get a divorce.

Knowing whether to pursue lightness or weight isn’t easy. We cannot look to others for guidance. One person’s lightness is another’s weight. To Franz, the secrecy surrounding his affair with Sabina was heavy. To Sabina, that secrecy was light: it kept their relationship free from the judgement of others. When Franz leaves his wife, and the gaze of the world falls on them, their relationship becomes joyfully light to Franz and unbearably heavy to Sabina.

Moreover, many of our most important decisions – whether to marry, for example, or have children – are transformative experiences. We cannot know whether we should pursue them until we are already committed, because the experience itself changes us in a fundamental way.

 “The goals we pursue are always veiled. A girl who longs for marriage longs for something she knows nothing about. The boy who hankers after fame has no idea what fame is.”

Faced with such difficulties, we shouldn’t be too hard on ourselves if we find we don’t know what we want:

“[Tomas] remained annoyed with himself until he realized that not knowing what he wanted was actually quite natural. We can never know what to want, because, living only one life, we can neither compare it with our previous lives, not perfect it in our lives to come. Was it better to be with Tereza or to remain alone?...

Any schoolboy can do experiments in the physics laboratory to test various scientific hypotheses. But man, because he has only one life to live, cannot conduct experiments to test whether to follow his passion or not.”