“You are so impressed by this rather silly notion of happiness [being] based on good fortune…nothing is miserable unless you think it so, nothing brings happiness unless you are content with it.”
Boethius, The Consolation of Philosophy
I recently heard on the radio that 55% of teens feel they are expected to be perfect. Can you guess one of the major culprits for this ridiculous statistic? That’s right, comparison.
Consider the carefully crafted ‘social media’ versions of our lives; a life in which we only eat the finest foods, and have the best workouts, and visit the most exotic locations. It is easy to see why people are left feeling not good enough.
We believe we must win a Pulitzer or make the NHL in order for life to be worth living. It is incredible how one photo, or news of one person’s achievements can send us reeling into contemplations about what the hell is wrong with us.
In ancient philosophy, they speak of this problem with respect to Fortune. As we see from the quote above, we believe that happiness is dependant on good fortune; being successful, having love, holding honors or office. When we fail to achieve these things, we suffer.
We suffer because we believe our good or poor fortune is about us.
As humans, we have this concept that our situation is entirely due to personal gifts or personal failings. We do not allow room for chance. Mark Zuckerberg is where he is because he is a ‘great man’, and if we only were worthy enough, we would be there too. We make no allowances for those random elements that have nothing to do with the man himself – the providence of Fortune. These are things like timing, like knowing the right people, like having the resources, like random luck.
The quote above is taken from a story in which philosophy (as a figure) is consoling a condemned man. He was formerly in a place of power, and is reduced to shame and death. Philosophy explains to him that he is sad only because he has fallen prey to the idea that his situation is equal to his value as a person.
Fortune gives and takes away. We suffer less when we come to realize that many aspects of this life are out of our control. Rather than chasing accolades and successes, Philosophy advises us to strive to do our best in those areas we can control- our actions, our thoughts, our beliefs. In the story, Boethius was an honorable man who tried to overturn corruption. As a result, the corrupt officials slandered his name and ordered him condemned. He was upright in all he did. He had every reason to be proud of himself, in spite of his terrible situation.
This is the perspective shift we need. When we find ourselves in comparison, we need to stop and consider- am I proud of who I am and what I am doing? If not, that is the work to be done. If so, we must remind ourselves that situation is not equal to value. Some things are simply in the fickle hands of Fortune.