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6 bits of ancient wisdom to help with 2020 (and beyond)

It’s been a tough year. And while things are looking up, it’s not like everything will be completely fine on January 1st 2021. We could all do with a bit of ancient wisdom to guide us through.

So here’s some timeless advice to help with 2020 (and beyond)—sage lessons that will hold true this month and next month, as it has for thousands of years.

“Praise and blame, gain and loss, pleasure and sorrow come and go like the wind”Buddha 

Or as Rilke put it, ‘No feeling is final.’ It’s worth remembering that. The same law that prevents us from being able to feel joy forever also releases us from suffering.

Change is inevitable, and accepting it brings both peace and reassurance.

“Do not indulge in dreams of having what you have not, but reckon up the chief of the blessings you do possess, and then thankfully remember how you would crave for them if they were not yours.Marcus Aurelius

Sometimes you’ve had a good thing for so long, you don’t know it’s there any more. What is the beautiful fortune in your life that you take for granted? It’s often the thing closest to you: love, a child, autonomy, honesty, your health, your humour.

If you can’t see it, it can help to look at yourself from the outside, from the point of view of someone who lacks one of those things, to feel profoundly grateful for what you have. Rather than dismiss it as obvious, dwell on it. You’re allowed to draw strength from the good in your life.

“It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare, it is because we do not dare that they are difficult.” —Seneca

Just like running harder makes you fitter, or stretching makes you flexible, discomfort can make us more resilient. By dragging us out of our comfort zones, 2020 has given us all the opportunity to be strengthened by difficult things.

Shakespeare said that ‘our doubts are traitors’. They stop us from doing those daring things that bring us real gains. So let’s dare to do what’s difficult, and reap the rewards.

“Act well the given part.” —Epictetus

The pandemic has forced us to take on roles we might not have imagined a year ago. Home-school tutor, counsellor, food courier—you name it. We’ve all had to adapt to some degree. And rather than feeling like you’re not up to the job, embrace it. You’ll get more out of it if you do, and you’ll improve the lives of those around you, too.

“There are certain things you can control and certain things you can’t control, and you must know the difference.” —Epictetus

We’ve probably all experienced some sleepless nights as a result of the pandemic. But as you lie awake worrying about something, ask yourself whether you can actually do anything about it.

If you can, then make a list of steps you need to take to overcome the problem. Otherwise, don’t worry about it—put that mental energy into something more productive.

“The secret of happiness, you see, is not found in seeking more, but in developing the capacity to enjoy less.” —Socrates

Socrates wasn’t suggesting a life with less joy. He was suggesting we would be happier if we savoured the little things or the things we have, rather than constantly chased what we didn’t. The mindfulness to appreciate a glass of water; the presence to notice the love of someone dear.

So while we’ve all made sacrifices in our personal and professional lives, this has forced us to seek joy in a simpler way of life, considering and enjoying what really matters to us. The real trick will be to keep sight of these little joys once life gets back to normal.

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2020-12-09

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