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Stoicism and the Art of Happiness (Teach Yourself) Paperback – May 31, 2013
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About the Author
Donald Robertson is a UKCP registered psychotherapist, specialising in cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), clinical hypnosis, and other evidence-based approaches. He has been in practice as a therapist for over fifteen years and mainly treats clients with anxiety-related problems at his clinic in Harley Street, London. Donald is also an experienced trainer and workshop facilitator.
He is the author of dozens of articles in therapy journals and magazines and of the books The Philosophy of Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (2010) and The Practice of Cognitive-Behavioural Hypnotherapy (in press). He is also the editor of The Discovery of Hypnosis (2009), the complete writings of James Braid, the founder of hypnotherapy.
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I made such an effort, and my main conclusion is that we’re our own worst enemies when it comes to happiness, because we tend to naturally interpret our lives and circumstances in ways that lead to more negative emotions than necessary. The remedy is to become masters of our minds, using our abilities to reason and observe ourselves, so that we gradually train ourselves to habitually apply various psychological techniques which cause us to interpret things in ways that reduce negative emotions and foster positive emotions. We may never reach true mastery in this regard, but striving for it will still (hopefully) enable enough progress to make the effort worthwhile. And to help us make progress, we can use stoic sages as models for emulation (eg, ‘what would Epictetus do in this situation?’).
Here’s a summary of some key psychological techniques:
• Don’t be bothered by things over which you have little or no influence. That includes accepting that things sometimes won’t turn out as you intended or planned, so always be ready to adapt.
• Mentally prepare for tough circumstances, imagining handling them with calm composure. Such preparation will reduce fear of tough circumstances and lessen their effect when they happen. If necessary, also take a ‘time out’ to let emotions dampen. And taking it further, make tough circumstances a positive by treating them as learning opportunities.
• Be oriented largely towards the present, since the past is done and unchangeable, and the future is largely uncertain and out of our hands.
• Find a balance between being engaged in the world versus somewhat detached. Treat life as a festival or game, with the goal being to enjoy observing and participating for the short duration we’re here, but without being concerned too much about outcomes.
• Focus more on the inner development of your character rather than attaining or hanging on to external things which may be transient or beyond your control (material things, sensory pleasures, social status, health, even loved ones).
• Appreciate that things may happen according to a universal scheme which has underlying reason and meaning, but is beyond our finite understanding. Use this perspective to remind yourself that the things which trouble us are generally ‘small stuff’ in the overall scheme of things, which is mysterious but at least seems to entail an incomprehendably vast universe which has existed for billions of years.
Since most reviewers like this book, I don't want to deter people from reading it. But since the book didn't resonate with me, I think it's safe to say there will be others it won't resonate with either.