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Tate’s Takeaways: Mastering temperance for a better life

Discover how mastering temperance and self-discipline can lead to a happier, more fulfilled life. Tate shares insights and practical tips based on Stoic philosophy.
World History Encyclopedia
Zeno of Citium: Ancient Greek philosopher, founder of Stoicism.

Last week, I wrote about how the four stoic virtues are helping me grow to be a better person and live a happier life. I thoroughly enjoyed writing that article but it did not do justice to the four virtues.

In “Meditations,” Marcus Aurelius, the Roman Emperor and philosopher reminds us that the four virtues are the apex of the rational, calm and effective mind. He writes, “If, at some point in your life, you should come across anything better than justice, prudence, self-control, courage…if you find anything better than that, embrace it without reservations—it must be an extraordinary thing indeed—and enjoy it to the full.”

Aurelius sarcastically tells us that if we are ever to come across anything more fruitful than these virtues, we should welcome it with wide-open arms. But, most likely, we will not. In this context, I know I have yet to encounter something more advantageous than the application of these virtues to my life.

If someone were to ask me what the most important virtue is, I would say all of them. It is the interaction between these virtues that allows one to reap the full breadth of their benefits. Nevertheless, if I were asked which virtue is the most impactful, my answer is clear: temperance.

Temperance is first and foremost self-discipline in the form of moderation. Temperance is realizing that we need so little to be truly happy and enjoy life. Aurelius explains that “Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself, in your way of thinking.”

I found that temperance is a cure to impulse purchases on Amazon or, on the rare occasion, when I am actually at a store. I stop and ask myself: do you really need this? What is the value of this purchase beyond the price? Can you be happy without it? Such questions guide me to realize that, in a world that has become materialistic, we have the power to choose to be happier with less.

Temperance is understanding one’s mind. We are in control of our minds, not the other way around. Aurelius writes that you must “Stop allowing your mind to be a slave, to be jerked about by selfish impulses, to kick against fate and the present, and to mistrust the future.”

Seneca, a Stoic philosopher of Ancient Rome, a statesman and dramatist, writes that “Most powerful is he who has himself in his own power.” Zeno of Citium, one the founders of the Stoic philosophy, similarly writes “Man conquers the world by conquering himself.”

Sometimes it is hard. Anxiety, depression or other issues with one’s mental health can make control of the mind and thoughts seem out of reach. My experience is my own and perhaps it will not work for most, but I share it with the hope that it reaches someone who will gain the clarity that I found to learn hope to better live with anxiety. Reminding myself that I am in control allows me to reject the worries about a future that has yet to rear its ugly head at me. I tell myself that I will suffer when I have something to suffer from. That event has yet to come.

Seneca writes “There are more things … likely to frighten us than there are to crush us; we suffer more often in imagination than in reality.”

Temperance allows us to overcome a lack of motivation. The most successful people, the happiest ones, keep making progress because they are disciplined with their actions. Motivation will leave all of us at times–as our energy does–but discipline is as concrete and constant as breathing.

Temperance is a thought exercise. Constantly ask yourself if you should be worrying about what you are worrying about. Ryan Holiday, the most notable contemporary stoic philosopher, recommends that when we face distraction or distress, ask ourselves: do you have a problem in your life? If not, then don’t worry. If the answer is yes, ask yourself can you do something about it? If the answer to that question is yes, then don’t worry; it is in your control to fix it. If not, then don’t worry as it is completely out of your control.

Evidently, temperance is more than getting out of bed at five a.m., taking a cold shower and running in the rain. It’s checking your thoughts, teaching your mind to be at ease and worry less. Discipline does manifest physically in the aforementioned ways, but it is more often than not a product of internal dialogue and self-control.

Being temperamental is difficult, but start small. First, identify your goals and understand how being more disciplined will allow you to achieve them. Start with changing how you think. Your thoughts become your actions. Keep the quality of your thoughts high. For example, it can be as simple as doing your homework before you go out on the weekend. Or, as a college student, showing up to all your classes.

However, nowhere have any of these great minds said that to achieve greatness or mastery of the self, you must simply want it. Rather, they emphasize that temperance, along with the three other virtues, is the path to your goals. Remember that motivation is fleeting and often absent. Discipline–a major aspect of temperance–exists outside motivation. Temperance is not a question of whether you want to do x, it means you are going to do x unless you physically cannot do so.

Do not expect perfection. I have lapses in my judgments that are not disciplined at all. But temperance means that even when we fail–and we will do so frequently–we get right back on the path and keep walking forward. Sometimes you tread water for a bit, at times you float, and perhaps you swim fast, but regardless your head is still above water. Temperance is keeping your head above water.

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Comments (6)

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  • L

    LucindaNov 3, 2023 at 4:36 pm

    All things are as they should be
    Our beliefs make such so.
    Temperance is critical in our moment to moment pursuits. Within is our university in life. Higher knowledge is critical. We are in our universal nature and in that of it self is all sufficient

  • P

    PeterOct 26, 2023 at 8:33 am

    At this moment at this time thank you it’s a direction at I need to understand you made it simple to grasp

    • T

      Tate FarinacciOct 27, 2023 at 3:49 pm

      I’m glad you enjoyed it!

  • A

    AbsalomOct 24, 2023 at 10:51 pm

    Powerful and Dynamite

  • D

    Duncan MugambiOct 24, 2023 at 9:43 am

    Thanks for this extraordinary article on temperance, existential difficulties solved by this shared thought.I really appreciate this well structured ideology to calm my mind.
    God bless.

    • T

      Tate FarinacciOct 30, 2023 at 1:35 pm

      I am happy to hear it helped!