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This Is The Greatest Pleasure

Daily Stoic Emails

The Stoics did not reject worldly pleasures. They rejected the reckless ones. The dangerous, ephemeral ones.

The Stoics were not afraid of joy, but they found joy in a different place than most people. It wasn’t pleasure. It wasn’t accumulating money. “Just as one person delights in improving his farm, and another his horse,” Epictetus liked to say, “so I delight in attending to my own improvement day by day.”

Delight! Not a word you’d expect to see from Epictetus, but there it is. And to be found in such an unexpected way. Not in material things. Not in a hobby. But in oneself—in improving oneself. And when you think about it, isn’t that a wonderful feeling? When you get better? When you realize your full potential?

We can imagine Marcus Aurelius actually having fun while writing his Meditations, because he was attending to his own development. The same goes for Seneca as he did his crazy philosophical practices, whether it was diving into a freezing fountain at the beginning of the new year or living frugally to prepare himself for changes in fortune. Cato took real pleasure in challenging himself—to walk barefoot and bareheaded, to sleep on the ground with his soldiers, to dress simply and to work hard. They took pride in self-actualization, in knowing they were becoming what they were meant to be.

And so can you. We can become our own hobby. We can become our own source of satisfaction. The economy determines what we can do professionally, but no one can stop us from working on our inner selves. Nor can anyone or anything take away the pleasure we earn by getting better day by day.