Living a life of virtue is the chief aim of the Stoics. To do so, we must understand what Virtue is. Here is my take on it. The four virtues in Stoicism are; Wisdom, Justice, Courage, and Temperance. To learn control and how to live in moderation, we must examine Temperance.
These times we live in are no different than any other. People have always indulged and lived in excess whenever they could. Wanting more than you need or than others have. Reaching for more and never being satisfied is nothing new. If we manage to control these desires and live a tempered life, we will be able to focus on what is important in life.
“If you seek tranquility, do less.”Democritus frg. B 3 – From Marcus aurelius, Meditations, 4:24
Why are you being a blockhead?
To understand temperance, it is important to look at the opposite. Living an intemperate life means that you want more than you need. It is not the having more that is bad, but the wanting or the desiring. That is what keeps you trapped and leads to an unfillable void. Anxiety, fear, jealousy, and other negative emotions dig an even deeper hole. Before we stand a chance of living a peaceful and content life, we must fence off that abyss.
These are not the only things we are talking about. Although it is easier to picture people wanting more money, cars, watches, clothes, and so on. The same goes for our emotions. We need to be happy all the time, loved by more and more people, and receive likes from strangers. The Stoics would laugh at this and ask you why you are being such a blockhead. These are all beyond our control. Even happiness is something that comes and goes.
Temperance can be practiced
To live a more tempered life, we should understand what is enough for us to have. If fate provides us with more than we need, then that’s what we get. What is important is that it doesn’t go and lead our lives. We must stay in control and must be ready to give it back when fate asks us for it. If your job is in accordance with your nature and its reward is earning a lot of money, then there is nothing wrong with that. As long as you are not chasing money by doing whatever is necessary. Selling yourself out, giving away your peace and honor.
As we have seen with the other virtues, knowing yourself and understanding your nature is where it all starts. We have to remain vigilant to see what drives us and why we want the things we are after. To go even further, in Stoicism we must eliminate that want. The things we want are beyond our control, we must learn to accept what we have and be content with that. However, these wants and desires are sometimes difficult to control. But if we can identify them, then we can train ourselves and be alert when they arise. Temperance can be practiced.
How much do you need to be happy?
One of the first-world problems is overindulgence when it comes to eating. We have a meal at the touch of a button brought to our homes, whenever we want to. There is no need to be hungry, it is right there. And the variety is overwhelming, almost like we’re at a banquet in a Roman palace. But we don’t need all this food, in fact, we shouldn’t be eating this much. Moreover, the quality has been decreasing to sub-par standards. What’s worse, there are so many of us without food. There is no sense of justice here as equality is nowhere to be found. If we tried eating less, would we be worse off? It would actually make us better and the world a more balanced place.
Food is one example. This applies to money as well. How much do you need to be happy? Look at the things you own. How often do you replace them with something new? Do you need to keep up with your neighbors or friends? What does status mean to you and how far are you willing to go to pursue it? Is this all worth staying in a job you might not like or even despise?
We focus on the wrong things
This brings us to time. How much do you value your time? Do you use it wisely or is most of it spent for you to try and reach that ever-moving goal post of desire? As Seneca said in his essay on the Shortness of Life:
“It is not that we have a brief length of time to live, but that we squander a great deal of that time.”Seneca – On the Shortness of life
We waste so much of it because we focus on the wrong things. We are not listening to ourselves but we are looking over at the grass on the other side of the fence. Yet we don’t know what price they are paying to keep it so green.
Find your Nature through Temperance
What can we do then? Temperance teaches us to control ourselves better and not chase every shiny object that flickers in our sight. To start with, it is important to understand our priorities. What do you value in life? Is that fancy watch more important to you than the time it so graciously ticks away? A cheaper watch would do the same, except now you wouldn’t have to chase all those minutes lost trying to pay for it. Search for your motivation and set a goal for yourself. Something that is as close to your core as possible. Keep asking yourself questions to find out what matters to you.
With the right motivation and direction, discipline comes easier. And that is what is required to live a more tempered life. Be disciplined in what you do and stay consistent in your actions. This is how we can grow as a person and try to become a better version of ourselves. Along the way, your goals and priorities will be better defined and you can find your true nature.
Picture yourself after you indulge
Temperance is a virtue we can address in a tangible way. We could look at all that we have and want and realize that they are only tying us down. We should apply this in a practical way and incorporate some rules if we need to. If you know there are certain areas that you can’t control, then it is best to stay away from them. I love food and when I drink alcohol it is difficult to control myself. That’s why I choose not to drink at all and only have food at home that is good for me. I am listening to myself and trying to pinpoint my weaknesses.
One way we can stop ourselves from an action we find difficult to control is by foreshadowing its results. If you are about to stick that spoon in the chocolate paste jar, try to picture yourself afterward. How would you feel about yourself? Maybe it will make you nauseous or feel bad about yourself. Why did I do that again? For me, when I go to a party where there is the temptation to drink, I picture myself the day after. I would feel miserable, both emotionally and physically. I know for a fact that I would have extreme headaches, but the effects of my lack of control would have a greater impact on my mind. This realization helps me feel good about not drinking.
Even the Emperor lived a life of moderation
In our current times, it feels like Temperance is the most difficult one of the virtues to live up to. The constant temptations we have around us are often difficult to resist. All that we need is at our fingertips. But in these moments, think of Marcus Aurelius. He was the emperor of the Roman Empire and could have everything he desired and more. Yet, he chose to live a life of moderation and fulfill his duty to his people. We also have our duty to fulfill. Find it and live your life accordingly.