It’s fair to say most of us exchange our tranquility for fame and/or fortune. We always seem to be preparing for what’s to come and never end up living in the here and the now. We want to achieve “success” or so we say, lest we forget there is nothing to achieve in life. When all is said and done, we are not going to get a prize in the end. Who we are is much greater than what we do. I believe there is no greater success in the world than rightful living.
I alluded to earlier how Stoics valued tranquility as a virtue above all else in life worth attaining. To them, tranquility wasn’t about being numb which may come from drinking, but about keeping negative emotions (anger, grief, envy, anxiety, fear) to a minimum and embracing positive emotions (joy, delight, etc) as much as possible.
It’s reasonable to assume most of us have to deal with negative emotions from time to time. It’s easy to be good when everything around us is generally going well. The real challenge comes when the going gets tough. That is the true strength of our character. How do we respond to the situations in our lives at that time?
Before we learn how to keep negative emotions to a minimum, let’s talk about why we have those emotions to begin with. The Stoics believed most of our suffering is self-inflicted. I wrote earlier:
The Stoics had a profound realization: Most of the negative emotions we experience are caused by other people. It’s ironic that most human suffering is self-inflicted. We concern ourselves with others. We make others’ problems our own. We get stressed/anxious about things that are not in our control. But why do we worry about things we have no control over? We forget that we can only be upset by the choices we make.
Here are some scenarios when we experience negative emotions. We hold onto negative thoughts about others. We criticize others or complain about them. When we criticize others, criticism becomes a part of our nature. At that point, it’s no longer about them, but about us. What we consume (our emotional diet) becomes part of our reality. We focus on problems rather than solutions. We constantly think about what we have no control over. We suffer more from indecision than inaction.
In order to figure out what disrupts our tranquility and think about what we can do to prevent it from happening, here are some ideas for achieving tranquility in our everyday lives:
We learn to be super mindful of negative thoughts. What we think is who we become. Our thoughts determine our words and actions. Spending some time in solitude can help. Daily meditation can bring awareness to what has our attention.
As a corollary to the above, we need to stop holding onto negative thoughts from our past (involving people and/or situations). It’s only by keeping ourselves light, can we be prepared to die any moment. It’s only then we are free to live every moment.
The other thing to note is the more we try to control others, the more we are beholden to them. But why should we act based on what others say/do? After all, our response should not be dependent on their response.
When we are focused on improving ourselves, we are not thinking about others’ actions, which keeps our ego at bay. It’s only when we keep thinking about what others should have said/done from the past, that’s our ego talking, but as soon as we become aware of our thinking, ego has no choice but to hide in the presence of awareness.
While we are at it, we try to avoid what I call 6 Cs — criticism, condemnation, comparison, competition, cynicism, complain.
In order to keep our sanity, let’s focus on what we can change. There are certain aspects of our lives we have full control over, then there are those in our life (such as friends, family, or colleagues) who we have some influence over, and lastly there are the everyday realities of our times over which we have no control. In any situation, we need to figure out the amount of control we have and act in accordance with it.
Let’s be tolerant with others and strict with ourselves; we tend to do the inverse. Accept others for who they are (without trying to change them). When we are unable to do that, we must question staying in the relationship.
If we can only ever be truly upset from the choices we make, we can learn to make better choices. While that may be true, the consequences of those choices are not in our hands.
For instance, our anger has more to do with ourselves than with others. Our anger is seldom about the situation at hand and more an emotional response to our deep-rooted fears. We are never more angrier than when we are angrier at ourselves.
One way to prevent anger is to understand that life is difficult. Only when we accept and internalize this truth does it become possible to prepare for the difficult moments. That’s when we stop being reactive and start being proactive.
There is never a time when I have not regretted from letting my emotions get the better of me. Every time I lose my center, I reflect on it afterwards in my journal and tag it as “negative”. Over a period of a month, I go through these entries and may find a pattern. This helps me deal with similar situations later. If we keep falling in the same ditch thrice, we are simply not learning. The truth is we will continue to experience challenges until we learn to overcome them. Daily/weekly reflection can help us be more aware of ourselves and help us make better choices in the future.
When we are engulfed with negative emotions, it’s best to remain with ourselves for a while, so we can distance from it before we spend time with others.
Let nothing disturb your peace. Always be in control of your emotions. Use positive affirmations to the effect of “I’m always in control of myself”. At the very least, it will raise awareness about the kind of person you want to be.
Choose your friends wisely. Seek those who are positive (not in denial) and keep you real. Who we spend time with has a tremendous influence on our beliefs and behavior. What we see in others is who we become.
Stop caring about others’ opinions. Stop trying to please everyone and live a life true to yourself. In any case, it’s not our business what other people think/do/say about us. That’s their problem, not ours.
Embrace positive emotions as much as possible. Find joy in the little things for someday you’ll realize they were the big things. Let’s always be grateful for what we have rather than complain about what we don’t. What we have is enough. Live in the moment and savor every experience as we may well be having it for the last time.
In closing, I’d like to leave you with this poem by Christian D. Larson, American New Thought leader and teacher. It sums up my feeling for tranquility.