Note: this is the eighth part of a weekly series, in which I translate and discuss the Enchiridion (Handbook) of Epictetus. New posts will be released every monday morning (GMT).
The eighth paragraph of the Enchiridion is short, but extremely powerful. In a way, this one sentence summarizes the entire stoic philosophy. It is as follows:
Do not seek that things happen as you want, but want things as they happen, and you will flow well.
I believe this is pretty self-explanatory and I can’t add much to it. Epictetus tells us that, in order to be happy, we must want things to happen as they naturally do. In that way, we will never be disappointed and will always see our desires fulfilled. Building on the second paragraph, in which he tells us not to desire anything for the moment, Epictetus now allows us to desire one thing: that everything happens as it happens. So we should desire a tree to grow if it grows and to fall if it falls. We should desire to use a pot as long as it can be used, and desire it to break if it breaks. In the same way, we should desire a man to live as he lives and to die as he dies. Because that is the way of nature.
It is interesting that on the end of the sentence, the phrase ‘you will flow well’ is used. The Greek word is euroèseis (εὐροήσεις). I believe Epictetus means with this, that we will be happy (eudaimonas) if we follow his advice. Essentially, he interpretes the state of eudaimonia as a good flow of life. This interpretation dates back to Zeno in the third century BC and continues to be used by Epictetus in the second century AD. This is the promise of stoicism: a good flow of life, in which we are content and flourishing. We achieve this by living in accordance with nature, and thus we must wish for the natural state of things. We must wish that things happen as they happen, even if that is sometimes difficult.