Welcome back to Mid-Week Meditations, Lifehacker‘s weekly dip into the pool of stoic wisdom, and a guide to using its waters to reflect on and improve your life.
This week’s selection comes from Seneca. I was very sick yesterday, so I decided to find some stoic wisdom on enduring illness. Here are Seneca’s thoughts:
Moral letters to Lucilius, number 67
What It Means
Being ill is like being tortured. Nobody wants to get sick, but when you’re ill, Seneca believes you should show restraint, courage, and above all else, virtue. But what does he mean by “virtue”? He explains further on in the letter:
For it is not mere endurance of torture, but brave endurance, that is desirable. I therefore desire that “brave” endurance; and this is virtue.
So virtue in this situation is bravery. You see, the stoics saw health as indifferent, or something out of one’s control. It wasn’t good to be healthy or bad to be sick, it just was. When illness struck, all that mattered was how you handled yourself.
What to Take From It
What would showing bravery while you’re sick look like? First, you need to watch what you say. As in, you shouldn’t talk about how sick you are all the time. Don’t complain to everyone you see about your current state, for it will pass and those words are meaningless. Uphold your responsibility to others and avoid burdening them with your sickness. They know what it’s like. Nobody wants to hear about it, especially in great, gruesome detail. Epicurus once said, “In my sickness, my conversation was not about my bodily sufferings, nor did I talk on such subjects to those who visited me.”
Second, stop dwelling on your illness. If you do nothing but lie in bed and moan about how terrible you feel, you’ll only make yourself feel worse. Occupy your mind with other tasks and place your focus elsewhere. Read a book, watch a movie, play a game, do some work, and so on. Again, you can do nothing to improve your state, save for getting plenty of rest and fluids, so now’s the time to practice mind over matter.
Lastly, change as little of your routine as possible. If you’re gravely ill, sure, lie in bed and rest. But if you only have a small cold, try to go about your day per usual as best you can (except take precautions to not get other people sick). You don’t want to convince yourself that you feel far worse than you actually do, which in turn may actually make you really sick. And more importantly, you don’t want to use your case of the sniffles as an excuse to do nothing all day. Don’t take the easy way out. Get better, but show some bravery. It won’t cure your illness, but it will help with the symptoms. Remember, you may not choose to be sick, but you can choose how you handle yourself.