Epictetus part 19: Status is unimportant

This article is part of the weekly Epictetus series. New articles will be published every Monday.

In paragraph 19 of the Enchiridion, Epictetus talks about men of great status. In our modern time, these can be presidents, kings, senators, athletes, business leaders or anyone else that people look up to. We often believe these people are happy because they are in a unique position of wealth, strenght or power. However, Epictetus reminds us, these things do not make us happy. What makes us happy is a free and independent mind, capable of reason. Our happiness is not controlled by fame or fortune, but by ourselves.

You can be invincible if you enter in no contest in which you don’t control whether you win. Beware that you don’t suppose that someone is happy when you see that he is honoured, or has great strenght or is otherwise highly esteemed, for you are carried away by the appearance. Because if what is good is in our power, then neither envy nor jealousy has a place. You will not want to be a leader, senator or president yourself, but a free man. And the only way for this is to despise what is not in our power.

Because we control our own happiness, and fame and fortune do not necessarily determine it, there is never a reason to be jealous or envious. If someone is doing well, be happy for them. For his happiness does not diminish yours. The only person responsible for your own happiness and flourishing is you.

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