How You Look At Things Matters

If you’ve ever been stuck in Los Angeles traffic at night, you know it’s miserable. But if you’ve ever seen a helicopter shot of Los Angeles at night, you’ve seen how this same miserable experience can suddenly be made to seem beautiful and serene. We call one a traffic jam, the other a light show.

The chaos of international politics can strike us with fear—wars break out, property is destroyed, and people are killed. Yet if you zoom out just slightly, all those terrifying CNN updates seem to blur together into an almost coordinated dance of nations lurching towards a balance of power. We call one journalism, the other history.

 Same thing, different perspective. 

Life is like that. We can look at it one way and be scared or angry or worried. We can look at it another and find an exciting challenge. We can choose to look at something as an obstacle or an opportunity. We can see chaos if we look up close, or order if we look from afar. 

Which is the right lens? What perspective does the Stoic bring to each experience? That’s a trick question. The Stoics alternate between lenses, choosing to see things in the way that allows them to move forward, to reduce anxiety, to find humility, or even humor. As Epictetus said, each situation has two handles—one that will bear weight and one that won’t. We have to choose carefully and properly. 

The world is dyed by our thoughts, colored by the glasses we decide to wear. So that’s what you have to think about today and always. How are you going to look at things? Which perspective will you choose? Will you choose to be miserable or awed? Terrified or reassured? It’s up to you. It’s up to us.

P.S. This was originally sent on January 29, 2020. Sign up today for the Daily Stoic’s email and get our popular free 7-day course on Stoicism.