“The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts”. These are the words of Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius who lived from 121AD to 180AD. It’s such a simple statement with immense impact for those who challenge themselves to consider it further.
Following a recent theme we have been discussing here on POM regarding the need for adversity in the world as a prerequisite for personal growth and development, the conscious effort to enhance the quality of our thoughts should be structured as a tool which can be used to manage adversity and maximize our growth potential.
This existence is full of things and matters which cause much stress, confusing thoughts, and mixed emotions. Most of us stumble around looking for answers and someone to make sense of it all for us. This is the base human need which governments and religions evolve from. It’s almost as if we are genetically hardwired to force someone else, or something else, to be responsible and accountable for our lives.
With that projection and externalization comes the inevitable shift-blaming:
“I’m unhappy because so and so did something mean to me.”
“My job is horrible because the company has no clue how to run a successful operation.”
“I’m not passing because my teacher sucks.”
“I’m poor because rich people are greedy.”
“I’m dying because corporations are putting poison in the food.”
We can come up with an endless list of such statements, and though some statements may be partially true based on evidence, each statement also suggests that the speaker is helpless to do anything about it, and as such, has accepted a state of victimhood.
There is a well-known phrase which says that if we don’t live our life based on our own plan than we will be living it based on someone else’s plan. Another way of saying that is “plan your life or someone else will plan it for you.”
What we are experiencing in this existence and within this world is an overabundance of people who are allowing others to plan their life for them. This is the baseline for the master and slave dynamic. We are either a master or a slave to varying degrees. We can be our own master or a master to others. Equally so we can be our own slave or a slave to others. We can even be all of those things at the same time depending on environment and situation.
As an example, a rich person could serve as a type of master over a thousand men but could be a slave to his own weakness to greed and avarice. Likewise, a man could be master over his own inner thoughts and feelings but still be subjected to a master-type influence by things in his environment which are outside of his control.
The difference which Marcus Aurelius is drawing our attention to is that we have full control over our own thoughts and how we want to perceive that which we have control over and that which we don’t. We have full control over our own thoughts which when managed consistently can begin to alter and adjust those things which we originally perceived as being outside of our control.
The suggestion is that if we accept a state of victimhood the quality of our thoughts will always be negative and detrimental to our overall well-being. If we do not accept a state of victimhood, no matter the situation, and focus the quality of our thoughts on what we can control we will soon begin to realize that the area which we do control will grow larger and larger.
This is called re-framing our thoughts. We can even re-frame the thoughts of others. This takes us back to the master and slave dynamic and how someone else will plan our lives for us if we don’t plan it ourselves.
You need to focus the quality of your thoughts on your own frames and how to re-frame those frames which put you in a victimhood type mentality.
We are bombarded every waking minute of our lives with messages that are attempting to force outside frames upon us. We are never told this because than we would not accept the frames that are detrimental to us and beneficial to others.
The world is the way it is today because there are more people who are allowing “masters” to formulate plans and frames for them as opposed to being their own masters. It should also be considered that we are both our own master and slave while simultaneously being master and slave to others as well.
The statement about quality of thoughts by Marcus Aurelius is a great place to start this series on the Wisdom of the Ancients, as it provides us a common frame to begin the discussion. This series will be primarily focused on self-discovery and self-improvement. We explain and trend the things in the world which we feel matter but let’s also begin the process of understanding what we can do to promote and encourage change in the world. – JC
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JC Collins can be contacted at email@example.com