“Contentment” by Plutarch (46-120 AD)

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“Contentment” by Plutarch (46-120 AD)

  • How can money, reputation or power contribute to happiness & an untroubled life unless men find their presence agreeable & don’t always miss their absence
    • What other than reason can restrain the irrational from getting out of control?
    • Xenophon told us to be mindful of & honor the gods when we prosper & call them for help when in need
    • Sensible people should rehearse these argumentations to have them when they’re needed
    • Some say that you ought not to go into private or public business
      • Very expensive to do for contentment – inactivity
    • I don’t know if those not involved in business are any better-tempered
      • Seems that idleness leads to moping
    • Epicurus says ambitious people shouldn’t sit still but get active in what interests them
      • We should urge activity in those suited for it & inactivity for those suited it it
  • Contentment shouldn’t be measured by the volume of a man’s activity but the nobility or baseness of it
    • Changing careers probably won’t relieve the soul of what ails it
    • Because of this, men leave the forum & then complain of inactivity
    • They seek status in court & complain when they get it
    • Men who choke today one thing are gulping up another tomorrow
  • Alexander cried when he was told of infinite world because he failed to master just one
    • Crates laughed & frolicked in life
    • Agamemnon was troubled by ruler over others
    • Diogenes laughed at being ordered about
    • Socrates philosophized with friends on deathrow
  • Dispositions mold lives to their own fashion
    • It’s not habit that makes a good life but intelligence
    • We should become familiar with what’s external to us & take advantage of it
  • Plato likened life to a game of dice
    • We should take advantage of the positives of the first throw which is not us to us, but fate
    • It’s up to us to make the most good & limit the harm of what’s given to us
  • Most men are elated by prosperity & dejected by adversity
    • It’s possible to divert fortune from what’s unwelcome
      • Diogenes began to philosophize after being banished
      • Zeno became a stoic after his fleet of ships sank
    • Good things can come from failure
  • Business administration is best served not by upright & good men but by using men as tools
    • It’s not your job to straighten crooked tools but use them as best as you can with who they are
    • Calm down & realize that men are only fulfilling their nature
    • The concern of politics will make us think we’ve been deprived of things by men & we’ll hate them for it
      • Be accepting of that fact & you’ll be happier for it
  • We should desist in finding fault with & being provoked by circumstances if we see others accepting of it calmly & cheerfully
    • Brooding over it keeps us from comforting thoughts
    • Looking for bad when good is available is a bad thing to do
    • So many men run from the good to the bad
  • What do we possess?
    • Family, reputation, marriage, friends – all the good things that can befall a man
    • Don’t overlook ordinary things – take them into account
    • Be grateful to be alive & well
      • Presence of blessings will conduce contentment & remind us that the sick wish to be well, the men at war wish to be at peace, strangers wish for friends & reputation
      • We only miss them when they’re gone & depreciate them when we have them
    • People scrutinize others’ works but hardly ever look at their own lives
  • Look at yourself, your state & compare yourself to superiors
    • To do this is to be always wanting what’s beyond yourself & you’ll never be pleased with what you have
  • We scrape up excuses for ingratitude to fortune & penalize & torment ourselves
    • Happy men don’t feel humiliated by others who are more famous or richer but realize their lives are better than millions of others
    • If you admire a man carried on a sedan, remember the men carrying him look at your life as blessed
  • Nature has taught us to look at others & not ourselves
    • & that our advantages aren’t as great as others’
  • Often we don’t see all the troubles that rich & powerful men have to deal with
    • Our failure to temper our ambitions to the energy available blocks our happiness
    • We often blame fortune for our failure but really our expectations were too high
    • We crave primacy & victory in everything & have an irrepressible urge to win everything
      • Even gods only have one domain to control
  • Some pursuits are mutually exclusive
    • Mathematics requires leisure & no distraction
    • Public administration requires activity & other people
    • To be big in finance, you need to think about money all the time
    • You can’t think about it in Philosophy
  • Happy men won’t be disturbed by the achievements of others
    • You can’t have it all. Others will win sometimes
  • Men should choose a calling suited to them, concentrate on it & let others be
  • Men hold the cellars of contentment & discontent within themselves – in their souls
    • The foolish overlook & neglect the good in their lives because they’re always straining towards the future
    • The present is here for a moment then slips away leaving only a memory
  • The multitude are easily overtaken by ingratitude & forgetfulness that erases every pleasant moment in your memory
    • Growth is  continually transforming us into different men
      • Those who don’t cherish each moment allow it to fly away & make themselves impoverished everyday
  • It’s sad to see men go from what’s amiable to tangle themselves in the disagreeable
    • At birth we are given the seeds of positives & negatives
      • Wise men cultivate the positive & make some use of the negative
    • Epicurus said the least dependent on the morrow goes to meet the morrow most cheerfully
    • Wealth, reputation, power, etc. give the most satisfaction to those who aren’t afraid of their opposites
      • Wealth is transitory & impermanent. There are those who can take it away. Your wife is good but a woman. Your friend is good but a man – both naturally changeable creatures
  • There are occurrences that are full of grief & annoying but most things aren’t something to be pissed off about
    • When fortune screws us over, we have something within us no one can take – right opinions, knowledge & reasoning
      • Socrates said “Anytus & Meletus can kill me but they cannot harm me”
      • Fortune can make us sick, poor, etc. but it can’t make us bad men
  • Fear of death, not craving of life, makes a fool hang onto his body
    • It contributes to serenity to train oneself to look Fortune in the face & not crumble
    • Menander said: “No man alive can say this: ‘This shall not happen to me.'”
      • There’s nothing that fate can’t throw at us
      • It’s within our power to say: “I will not do this: lie, cheat, defraud, conspire”
    • Committing a wrong leaves a continuously bleeding wound on the soul
      • Reason is the thing that makes that wound hurt & fill us with regret – we know we should not have done something
  • No house, no amount of money, no amount of pride, no high office, no charm or force of eloquence can give our lives serenity like a soul purged of evil deeds & thoughts
    • Life is an initiation & consummation of mysteries & should be filled with contentment & joy

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