Philosopher Epictetus Thinks Being Clingy Is Not Worth It
Clinging to things out of our control only gives us pain, agony, and suffering but being content in controlling ourselves is the true mark of happiness. The outside world has no control over our happiness unless we allow the world to have it. This is what the famous Philosopher Epictetus believed.
Epictetus explains control through the idea in Stoicism called “Dichotomy of Control” which separates what’s in our control and what’s out of our control.
Here’s a breakdown:
Things in our control
This involves your own personal actions and what you’re capable of doing.
Things out of our control
- Our body
This concept involves anything that is not our actions but instead outside of them.
Epictetus notes that there are three things we should stop clinging to if we want to fulfill true happiness.
1) Stop clinging to objects, people, and power.
The world is full of different objects for all kinds of purposes. We’ve all visited stores and saw an item that instantly lured us in. It lured us in so much that we wanted to purchase the item, and then eventually, we loved it so much that we never wanted to get rid of it. I find it quite amusing that we label our favorite items with names as if they are people. I remember my grandpa having cars countless times and calling them his babies. I couldn’t help but chuckle.
A&E television network created a popular TV show called Hoarders. The show is based on a crew of helpers that visit other people’s homes cluttered with objects, and the people offer to remove them. The crazy thing is when you start to collect too many things it becomes junk. That’s what the hoarder’s homes looked like inside. Entrance and exit ways were blocked, objects were stacked to the ceiling, mold was building up, bugs were in every room, and homeowners became sick. As I watched multiple people get interviewed, they insisted that they had an addiction with saving items. The helpers offered their hand in decluttering the homes. Some individuals said yes, while most said no.
They loved their objects so much, and yet it was harming them in the process. The homeowners believed that without the items, they would be killing themselves. How ironic.
You can have as many or as few objects as you desire, but having materialistic possessions can trap you. In hoarders, the people could barely leave their homes due to the mess everywhere. The people who wanted to declutter their homes were sad and repeated the cycle because, without objects, life felt meaningless. They weren’t happy. A small number of people took the courage to fully transform their homes, untying themselves from materialistic items.
From this same example, you don’t have to be attached to your objects as a form of happiness. The rich people will tell you, money doesn’t make you happy. You can buy all the things in the world and be the most miserable person alive.
If you wake up one day and all your material possessions are gone, will you let this situation affect your emotions?
Here’s how Epictetus sees it:
While he gives it to you to possess, take care of it; but don't view it as your own, just as travelers view a hotel. - Epictetus
Now I know you're probably wondering why you should not cling to people because human beings are something we thrive towards for human connection, interaction, and love. We feed off of each other. Not only that, being attached to people can have a significant impact on us. Some people even make a difference in our lives for the better.
Epictetus explains that when we lose people we are in a depressed state of nature because of how much we’ve clanged onto a person. He does not want you to hate a person and detach from them all together but let’s be honest when most people are in relationships, you hear the phrase she is mine, and I am hers, or he is mine, and I am his. We misconstrue attachment, especially when we are in love with someone. In some ways, we are possessive, without realizing it, but most of the time, things like this, are considered to be love.
This concept left me thinking about the scenario with marriage because when there is a wedding, the wife and husband promise to be by each other's side no matter what, through thick and thin, but is this always true?
The truth is, nothing in life is ever yours to have forever. When we hold those expectations that someone is completely ours and they are never going anywhere, it is not a pleasant mindset to have because we will break into pieces the moment that person slips loose from our tight grip.
Epictetus believes that we should not see ownership or entitlement over people but instead, we should see them as borrowed. There was this quote I use to put together a lot and it was, people come and go like the seasons, while very few sticks around for a lifetime. You can not be mad at this. Even the ones who stick around for a lifetime are still not yours to have. They are in your life as a gift to appreciate, not to claim. I cannot tell you how many times I have received gifts each year for Christmas as a kid, thinking I would have them forever. Year after year those gifts slowly begin to disappear, in the process of receiving new ones. People can be like this too.
Never say of anything, "I have lost it"; but, "I have returned it." Is your child dead? It is returned. Is your wife dead? She is returned. -Einzelganger
There are old stories of kings who wanted to obtain power, went after it, received it, didn’t know what to do with it, became greedy, and died alone.
The thing with power is, it’s an endless cycle to hunger after. To achieve the highest authority is nearly impossible, but the ones who have attempted to get there were stressed all the time. There were always expectations to meet to become the most powerful being. “Enough” was not in the vocabulary of people who wanted to achieve power. There was always a fight for more.
Power seems like a way of control and dictating things, but it’s out of our control. We can’t manage this even if we tried. It’s an extremely exhausting objective to go after because you’re chasing what you won’t be able to reach. Realistically, there’s nothing to get at with this one unless you want to obtain distress and hardship.
Power is not happiness. - William Godwin
2) Stop clinging to the opinions of others.
There is pleasure in being liked and accepted. We love the sound of compliments and appraisals. The kind things people say make us feel good about ourselves. There is nothing wrong with receiving compliments from people but, you do not need to attach yourself to what other people think of you.
Social media platforms are easy ways to seek approval from other people. You can easily fish for comments, likes, views, and shares. When we receive negative comments, we instantly shut down and say we don’t need their opinions. It hurts and it’s not fun but when you gain control over yourself, good and bad comments don’t matter. In the end, you are in charge of how you feel. When you detach yourself from the views of others and get in touch with yourself, it makes a big difference because you know who you are. An outside voice has no say on what is inside of you.
Epictetus's take on it is this, we should not be grieved when we don’t get invited to a party. We must be laughed at, ridiculed, and despised to pay for the price of freedom and real joy. He says, let people think you are stupid. Other opinions are out of your control but how you choose to be affected by them is up to you.
Just like power, seeking to be understood and admired is tiresome. In movies, you see kids in school a part of different groups labeled as the nerds, the rebels, the popular kids, etc. The popular people always had a role to fill, and that was to be liked 24/7. Most of the time, the popular kids were pretending to be something they were not. And there are still many of us who do this today, especially on social media.
Do not fake who you are to be liked. Represent yourself in your authentic form. If you want to post something wacky and unusual, do it. I dare you. This is you embrace it. What other people have to say does not matter unless you make it matter. If we always worry about what other people think, there is no peace.
When therefore, anyone, provokes you, be assured that it is your own opinion which provokes you. - Epictetus
3) Stop clinging to outcomes and ideas.
There’s nothing wrong with getting a little creative in the way you see the now and the future, but sometimes we are so occupied by those ideas. We worry about how we could have changed the past and done better. We worry about how to prep a perfect future for ourselves. And lastly, we think about what we can do now.
Here is the icing on the cake, no matter how much you dread the past or try to plan the future, it is out of your control. Life does not go as planned. When the stories of our lives are not written the way want, we get upset. Our expectations are not met and life is unfair. This is true. Life is not meant to go our way all the time, that's why we should not cling to expected outcomes. There is no point. These are simply ideas, potential suggestions, but not a guaranteed life plan.
When I was younger, I had so many ideas of what I wanted to be when I grew up. I thought I had it all figured out. Now when people ask me what I want to do with my future, I say, I don’t know, I’m just taking life as it comes, day by day, I am not living in the future therefore, I do not know what is present except for now.
This has been my motto because I use to cling to outcomes and ideas. This wasn’t a source of happiness. I was over-thinking my way into what was out of my control. When you see the road in your life making different twists and turns, you realize that your path can lead anywhere. There is no cheat code or underlying answer you can find. You can’t change your life but, how you choose to view it is what matters. We can control our attitudes.
"Don't demand that things happen as you wish, but wish that they happen as they do happen, and you will go on well. - Epictetus
Side Note: This article is inspired by one of my favorite YouTubers, Einzelganger, who explains further the Philosophy of Epictetus. All credit is rewarded to him. As he provides a full overview in the video.