The Art of Living: The Classical Mannual on Virtue, Happiness, and Effectiveness - by Sharon Lebell


Know What You Can Control and What You Can't

Within our control are our own opinions, aspirations, desires, and the things that repel us. Outside our control, however, are such things as what kind of body we have, whether we're born into wealth or strike it rich, how we are regarded by others, and our status in society. We must remember that those things are externals and are therefore not our concern.

Stick with Your Own Business

Keep your attention focused entirely on what is truly your own concern, and be clear that what belongs to others is their business and none of yours.

Recognize Appearances for What They Really Are

From now on, practice saying to everything that appears unpleasant: "You are just an appearance and by no means what you appear to be." And then thoroughly consider the matter according to the principles just discussed, primarily: Does this appearance concern the things that are within my own control or those that are not? If it concerns anything outside your control, train yourself not to worry about it.

Desire Demands Its Own Attainment

Do your best to rein in your desire. For if you desire something that isn't within your own control, disappointment will surely follow; meanwhile, you will be neglecting the very things that are within your control that are worthy of desire.

See Things for What They Are

When something happens, the only thing in your power is your attitude toward it; you can either accept it or resent it. What really frightens and dismays us is not external events themselves, but the way in which we think about them. It is not things that disturb us, but our interpretation of their significance. Stop scaring yourself with impetuous notions, with your reactive impressions of the way things are! Things and people are not what we wish them to be nor what they seem to be. They are what they are.

Harmonize Your Actions with the Way Life Is

Don't try to make your own rules. Conduct yourself in all matters, grand and public or small and domestic, in accordance with the laws of nature. Harmonizing your will with nature should be your utmost ideal.

Events Don't Hurt Us, But Our Views of Them Can

We cannot choose our external circumstances, but we can always choose how we respond to them.

No Shame, No Blame

Small-minded people habitually reproach others for their own misfortunes. Average people reproach themselves. Those who are dedicated to a life of wisdom understand that the impulse to blame something or someone is foolishness, that there is nothing to be gained in blaming, whether it be others or oneself.

Create Your Own Merit

Never depend on the admiration of others. There is no strength in it. Personal merit cannot be derived from an external source. It is not to be found in your personal associations, nor can it be found in the regard of other people. It is a fact of life that other people, even people who love you, will not necessarily agree with your ideas, understand you, or share your enthusiasms. Grow up! Who cares what other people think about you!

Focus on Your Main Duty

Accept Events As They Occur

Don't demand or expect that events happen as you would wish them to. Accept events as they actually happen. That way peace is possible.

Your Will Is Always Within Your Power

Your will needn't be affected by an incident unless you let it. Remember this with everything that happens to you.

Make Full Use of What Happens to You

Prudent people look beyond the incident itself and seek to form the habit of putting it to good use.

Care for What You Happen to Have

Inner peace begins when we stop saying of things, "I have lost it" and instead say, "It has been returned to where it came from." The important thing is to take great care with what you have while the world lets you have it, just as a traveler takes care of a room at an inn.

The Good Life Is the Life of Inner Serenity

Disregard What Doesn't Concern You

Refrain from trying to win other people's approval and admiration. You are taking a higher road. Don't long for others to see you as sophisticated, unique, or wise. In fact, be suspicious if you appear to others as someone special. Be on your guard against a false sense of self-importance.

Conform Your Wishes to Reality

Understand what freedom really is and how it is achieved. Freedom isn't the right or ability to do whatever you please. Freedom comes from understanding the limits of our own power and the natural limits set in place by divine providence. By accepting life's limits and inevitabilities and working with them rather than fighting them, we become free. If, on the other hand, we succumb to our passing desires for things that aren't in our control, freedom is lost.

Approach Life As a Banquet

Think of your life as if it were a banquet where you would behave graciously. When dishes are passed to you, extend your hand and help yourself to a moderate portion. If a dish should pass you by, enjoy what is already on your plate. Or if the dish hasn't been passed to you yet, patiently wait your turn. Carry over this same attitude of polite restraint and gratitude to your children, spouse, career, and finances. There is no need to yearn, envy, and grab. You will get your rightful portion when it is your time.

Avoid Adopting Other People's Negative Views

It is not a demonstration of kindness or friendship to the people we care about to join them in indulging in wrongheaded, negative feelings. We do a better service to ourselves and others by remaining detached and avoiding melodramatic reactions. Still, if you find yourself in conversation with someone who is depressed, hurt, or frustrated, show them kindness and give them a sympathetic ear; just don't allow yourself to be pulled down too.

Act Well the Part That Is Given to You

We are like actors in a play. The divine will has assigned us our roles in life without consulting us. It must be our business to act our given role as best as we possibly can and to refrain from complaining about it. Wherever you find yourself and in whatever circumstances, give an impeccable performance.

Everything Happens for a Good Reason

All events contain an advantage for you--if you look for it!

Happiness Can Only Be Found Within

Your happiness depends on three things, all of which are within your power: your will, your ideas concerning the events in which you are involved, and the use you make of your ideas. Authentic happiness is always independent of external conditions.

No One Can Hurt You

When anyone seems to be provoking you, remember that it is only your judgment of the incident that provokes you. Don't let your emotions get ignited by mere appearances. Try not to merely react in the moment. Pull back from the situation. Take a wider view; compose yourself.

Spirtual Progress Is Made Through Confronting Death and Calamity

Implant in Yourself the Ideals You Ought to Cherish

Attach yourself to what is spiritually superior, regardless of what other people think or do. Hold to your true aspirations no matter what is going on around you.

The Pursuit of Wisdom Attracts Critics

Many people who have progressively lowered their personal standards in an attempt to win social acceptance and life's comforts bitterly resent those of philosophical bent who refuse to compromise their spiritual ideals and who seek to better themselves. Never live your life in reaction to these diminished souls. Be compassionate toward them, and at the same time hold to what you know is good.

Seeking to Please Is a Perilous Trap

In trying to please other people, we find ourselves misdirected toward what lies outside our sphere of influence. In doing so we lose our hold on our life's purpose.

Character Matters More Than Reputation

All Advantages Have Their Price

It is always our choice whether or not we wish to pay the price for life's rewards. And often it is best for us not to pay the price, for the price might be our integrity.

Make the Will of Nature Your Own

Learn to accept events, even death, with intelligence.

Self-Mastery Is Our True Aim

Treasure Your Mind, Cherish Your Reason, Hold to Your Purpose

Consider What Comes First, Then What Follows, and Then Act

Cultivate the habit of surveying and testing a prospective action before undertaking it. Before you proceed, step back and look at the big picture, lest you act rashly on raw impulse. By considering the big picture, you distinguish yourself from the mere dabbler, the person who plays at things as long as they feel comfortable or interesting. This is not noble. Think things through and fully commit!

Our Duties Are Revealed by Our Relations with-One Another

Our duties naturally emerge from such fundamental relations as our families, neighborhoods, workplaces, our state or nation. Make it your regular habit to consider your roles--parent, child, neighbor, citizen, leader--and the natural duties that arise from them. Once you know who you are and to whom you are linked, you will know what to do. When you are faithfully occupied with performing the acts of a wise and decent person, seeking to conform your intentions and acts to the divine will, you do not feel victimized by the words or deeds of others. At worst, those words and deeds will seem amusing or pitiable.

The Essence of Faithfulness

Fix your resolve on expecting justice and goodness and order, and they will increasingly reveal themselves to you in all your affairs. Trust that there is a divine intelligence whose intentions direct the universe. Make it your utmost goal to steer your life in accordance with the will of divine order. Faithfulness is the antidote to bitterness and confusion. It confers the conviction that we are ready for anything the divine will intends for us.

Events Are Impersonal and Indifferent

Instead of personalizing an event ("This is my triumph," "That was his blunder," or "This is my bitter misfortune") and drawing withering conclusions about yourself or human nature, watch for how you can put certain aspects of the event to good use. Is there some less-than-obvious benefit embedded in the event that a trained eye might discern? Pay attention; be a sleuth. Perhaps there is a lesson you can extract and apply to similar events in the future. What is a "good" event? What is a "bad" event? There is no such thing! What is a good person? The one who achieves tranquility by having formed the habit of asking on every occasion, "What is the right thing to do now?"

Never Suppress a Generous Impulse

Follow through on all your generous impulses. It is our duty to stand by our friends in their hour of need.

Clearly Define the Person You Want to Be

It's time to stop being vague. If you wish to be an extraordinary person, if you wish to be wise, then you should explicitly identify the kind of person you aspire to become. If you have a daybook, write down who you're trying to be, so that you can refer to this self-definition. Precisely describe the demeanor you want to adopt so that you may preserve it when you are by yourself or with other people.

Speak Only with Good Purpose

First and foremost, think before you speak to make sure you are speaking with good purpose. Glib talk disrespects others. Breezy self-disclosure disrespects yourself. Try whenever possible, if you notice the conversation around you decaying into palaver, to see if you can subtly lead the conversation back to more constructive subjects. If, however, you find yourself among indifferent strangers, you can simply remain silent.

Avoid Most Popular Entertainment

Be Careful About the Company You Keep

If true wisdom is your object and you are sincere, you will have work to do on yourself. You will have to overcome many unhealthy cravings and knee-jerk reactions. You will have to reconsider whom you associate with. Are your friends and associates worthy people? Does their influence--their habits, values, and behavior--elevate you or reinforce the slovenly habits from which you seek escape? Regularly ask yourself, "How are my thoughts, words, and deeds affecting my friends, my spouse, my neighbor, my child, my employer, my subordinates, my fellow citizens? Am I doing my part to contribute to the spiritual progress of all with whom I come in contact?" Make it your business to draw out the best in others by being an exemplar yourself.

Don't Defend Your Reputation or Intentions

Only the morally weak feel compelled to defend or explain themselves to others. Let the quality of your deeds speak on your behalf. We can't control the impressions others form about us, and the effort to do so only debases our character.

Conduct Yourself with Dignity

Emulate Worthy Role Models

Invoke the characteristics of the people you admire most and adopt their manners, speech, and behavior as your own. There is nothing false in this. We all carry the seeds of greatness within us, but we need an image as a point of focus in order that they may sprout.

Exercise Discretion When Conversing

Prefer Enduring Satisfaction to Immediate Gratification

Take a Stand

Once you have deliberated and determined that a course of action is wise, never discredit your judgment. Stand squarely behind your decision.

Courtesy and Logic Each Have Their Place

The proposition "Either it is day or it is night" works well in a disjunctive argument, but not as well in a friendly conversation.

Self-Mastery Depends on Self-Honesty

It is right to accept challenges. This is how we progress to the next level of intellectual, physical, or moral development. Still, don't kid yourself: If you try to be something or someone you are not, you belittle your true self and end up not developing in those areas that you would have excelled at quite naturally.

Observe Proper Proportion and Moderation

Through vigilance, we can forestall the tendency to excess. Your possessions should be proportionate to the needs of your body, just as the shoe should fit the foot. Once we fall, however slightly, into immoderation, momentum gathers and we can be lost to whim.

Mistreatment Comes from False Impressions

When someone interprets a true proposition as a false one, the proposition itself isn't hurt; only the person who holds the wrong view is deceived, and thus damaged. Once you clearly understand this, you will be less likely to feel affronted by others, even if they revile you. You can say to yourself, "It seemed so to that person, but that is only his impression."

Everything Has Two Handles

Everything has two handles: one by which it may be carried, the other by which it can't. If, for example, your brother or sister treats you poorly, don't grasp the situation by the handle of hurt or injustice, or you won't be able to bear it and you will become bitter. Do the opposite. Grasp the situation by the handle of familial ties. In other words, focus on the fact that this is your brother or sister, that you were brought up together, and thus have an enduring, unbreakable bond. Viewing the situation that way, you understand it correctly and preserve your equilibrium.

Call Things by Their Right Names

When we name things correctly, we comprehend them correctly, without adding information or judgments that aren't there. Do not risk being beguiled by appearances and constructing theories and interpretations based on distortions through misnaming. Give your assent only to what is actually true.

Wisdom Is Revealed Through Action, Not Talk

Live Simply for Your Own Sake

If you want to develop your ability to live simply, do it for yourself, do it quietly, and don't do it to impress others.

Wisdom Depends on Vigilance

If wise people experience challenges, they look to themselves; if they are commended by others, they quietly smile to themselves, unmoved; if they are slandered, they don't feel the need to defend their name. But they go about their actions with vigilance, assuming that all is well, yet not perfectly secure. They harmonize their desires with life as it is, and seek to avoid only the things that would prevent their ability to exercise their will properly. They exercise moderation in all their affairs.

Living Wisdom Is More Important Than Knowing About It

There is a big difference between saying valuable things and doing valuable things. Don't give too much weight to erudition alone. Look to the example of people whose actions are consistent with their professed principles.

Start Living Your Ideals

Put your principles into practice--now. Stop the excuses and the procrastination. This is your life! You aren't a child anymore. The sooner you set yourself to your spiritual program, the happier you will be. The longer you wait, the more you will be vulnerable to mediocrity and feel filled with shame and regret, because you know you are capable of better. From this instant on, vow to stop disappointing yourself. Separate yourself from the mob. Decide to be extraordinary and do what you need to do--now.


The Real Purpose of Philosophy

Philosophy's purpose is to illuminate the ways our soul has been infected by unsound beliefs, untrained tumultuous desires, and dubious life choices and preferences that are unworthy of us. Self-scrutiny applied with kindness is the main antidote. Besides rooting out the soul's corruptions, the life of wisdom is also meant to stir us from our lassitude and move us in the direction of an energetic, cheerful life.

The First Step

The first step to living wisely is to relinquish self-conceit. See the delusional folly in being a nervous know-it-all whose giddy mind is always prattling on about its knee-jerk impressions of events and other people, forcing current experiences into previously formed categories: "Oh yes, this thing here is just like such and such." Behold the world fresh--as it is, on its own terms--through the eyes of a beginner. To know that you do not know and to be willing to admit that you do now know without sheepishly apologizing is real strength and sets the stage for learning and progress in any endeavor.

Be Suspicious of Convention

Take charge of your own thinking. Rouse yourself from the daze of unexamined habit.

Be a Citizen of the World

One cannot pursue one's own highest good without at the same time necessarily promoting the good of others. A life based on narrow self-interest cannot be esteemed by any honorable measurement. Seeking the very best in ourselves means actively caring for the welfare of other human beings.

The Right Use of Books

Don't just say you have read books. Show that through them you have learned to think better, to be a more discriminating and reflective person.

Forgive Over and Over and Over

We are not privy to the stories behind people's actions, so we should be patient with others and suspend our judgment of them, recognizing the limits of our understanding. Forgive others for their misdeeds over and over again. This gesture fosters inner ease. Forgive yourself over and over and over again. Then try to do better next time.

The Virtuous Are Consistent

When your thoughts, word, and deeds form a seamless fabric, you streamline your efforts and thus eliminate worry and dread. In this way, it is easier to seek goodness than to conduct yourself in a haphazard fashion or according to the feelings of the moment. It's so simple really: If you say you're going to do something, do it. If you start something, finish it.

The Only Prosperous Life Is the Virtuous Life

Why should we bother being good? To be good is to be happy, to be tranquil and worry-free. When you actively engage in gradually refining yourself, you retreat from your lazy ways of covering yourself or making excuses. Instead of feeling a persistent current of low-level shame, you move forward by using the creative possibilities of this moment, your current situation. You begin to fully inhabit this moment, instead of seeking escape or wishing that what is going on were otherwise. You move through your life by being thoroughly in it.

What Is Important and What Isn't

We need to regularly stop and take stock; to sit down and determine within ourselves which things are worth valuing and which things are not; which risks are worth the cost and which are not.

Reason Is Supreme

Reason can distinguish error from truth and a deep truth from a petty one. The marks of good reasoning are clarity, consistency, rigor, precision of definitions, and avoidance of ambiguity. Hasten to your training in clear thinking so you can confidently enter a complex argument and not be thrown by it.

Learn to Heal Yourself

Your relentless pursuit of wisdom postpones your actually possessing it. Quit chasing after tonics and new teachers. The latest fashionable sage or book or diet or belief doesn't move you in the direction of a flourishing life. You do. Renounce externals once and for all. Practice self-sufficiency. Don't remain a dependent, malleable patient: Become your own soul's doctor.

Never Casually Discuss Important Matters

Take care not to casually discuss matters that are of great importance to you with people who are not important to you. Your affairs will become drained of preciousness. You undercut your own purposes when you do this. This is especially dangerous when you are in the early stages of an undertaking. Other people feast like vultures on our ideas. They take it upon themselves to blithely interpret, judge, and twist what matters most to you, and your heart sinks. Let your ideas and plans incubate before you parade them in front of the naysayers and trivializers.

Caretake This Moment

Caretake this moment. Immerse yourself in its particulars. Respond to this person, this challenge, this deed. It is time to really live; to fully inhabit the situation you happen to be in now. You are not some disinterested bystander. Participate. Exert yourself.