This new guide to finding a happier way of life draws on the ancient wisdom of the stoics to reveal lasting truths and proven strategies for enhanced well-being. Stoicism and the Art of Happiness gives us ancient tips for modern challenges.
What is the Discipline of Desire?
Why should we ‘accept’ whatever befalls us in life and what did the Stoics mean by this? What’s the difference between this and just ‘giving up’ and resigning ourselves passively to bad things?
According to Epictetus, the goal of this discipline is not to be frustrated in our desires nor to fall into what we would avoid our aversions, and this is achieved by learning to embrace our fate with equanimity.
This philosophical attitude towards events is encapsulated in one of the Stoic Handbook’s most striking and important maxims:
Seek not for events to happen as you wish but rather wish for events to happen as they do and your life will go smoothly. (Enchiridion, 8)
The discipline of desire is therefore particularly associated with the achievement of serenity, which means overcoming emotional suffering.
How does this apply to our lives?
According to Hadot, the discipline of “desire” (orexis) is the application to daily living of the Stoic theoretical topic of “physics”, which includes the Stoic study of natural philosophy, cosmology, and theology.
The discipline of desire, according to this view, is the virtue of living in harmony with the Nature of the universe as a whole, or in the language of Stoic theology, with Zeus or God. This entails having a “philosophical attitude” toward a life and acceptance of our Fate as necessary and inevitable.
It’s tempting to see this discipline as particularly associated with the cardinal virtues associated with self-control over the passions: “courage”, or endurance in the face of fear and suffering, and “self-discipline” (temperance), or the ability to renounce desire and abstain from false or unhealthy pleasures. Hadot calls the goal of this discipline “amor fati” or the loving acceptance of one’s fate. I’ve described this simply as “Stoic Acceptance”, meaning amor fati.
Epictetus famous slogan ‘Endure and Renounce’
The discipline of desire might also be described as the discipline or therapy of the ‘passions’ because it involves the prevention or remedy of unhealthy desires and irrational fears.
- To endure what they irrationally fear, or find aversive, with courage and perseverance.
- To renounce, or abstain from, what they irrationally crave, through discretion and self-discipline.