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You have to wonder what the ancient philosopher Epictetus would make out of the world as we know it. Well, actually, you don’t have to wonder much because some of that is made clear in Art of Living: The Classical Manual on Virtue, Happiness, and Effectiveness, a book by Sharon Lebell that reinterprets lectures recorded by one of the Stoic’s most diligent students.

In a world full of how-to books, it’s remarkable how ancient writers tackle things that have been going off the rails for humans since the dawn of time.

Here’s a snapshot of stoic wisdom on modern stuff.

Social media. The tendency to prattle on about nothing, to have an opinion on everything, to engage in discourse about people or to express every blasted thought that enters the mind—no matter how inconsequential… all these things would be anathema to Epictetus. Speech should always have a good purpose. Absent that, one should be quiet. When you do speak, choose a lofty subject that’s consistent with your higher purpose in life or one that enhances someone’s spiritual journey. Au revoir, Facebook and Twitter.

Popular entertainment. The Epictetus way: avoid it altogether. Life is too short and you have too many important things to do to indulge in anything that’s likely to disintegrate into vulgarity. There’s nothing wrong with a little fun, but never allow trivial things to outstrip your purpose.

Popularity and fame. Someone doesn’t like you? So? Only weak people care about being liked, according to Epictetus. There’s no quicker way to degrade your own character than seeking approval. Watch out for a false sense of importance and stay close to your original purpose in life. Whatever you do, do it well and don’t worry about whether anyone else admires it. A well-lived life is spent living on your terms, not groveling to please or impress others.

bronze cheeta meagen

Would Epictetus wear cheetah-print or do selfies for a fashion blog? Doubtful. This Megan dress was sponsored by Karina Dresses. I paired it with vintage sterling rosebud earrings that once belonged to my husband’s great aunt. They are so tarnished they almost look black, but I think it adds to their appeal.

tarnished silverrosebudsThe selfie. Not likely to get the Epictetus seal of approval. To him, the body was designed for careful use and service—not for adornment or show. People with nice clothes, fancy cameras, beautiful vacations, perfect children, new cars or regular blog updates are not necessarily happy or virtuous. Don’t be impressed by appearances and don’t try to create them yourself. You’ll only get more confused about what actually does bring happiness. Ouch. That one hurts.

Achievement. Epictetus says everything in life has a price. You can have anything you want if you are prepared to pay the price. Often, the real prize comes from not paying the price. Real achievement is responding to your highest calling with laser-like focus. And you can’t do that if you’re skipping around from one thing to the next, trying to find yourself or gather fulfilling experiences. Know your calling and heed it.

The news media. No one in her right mind allows a stranger access to her body, but she may freely let any old Joe influence her thoughts without a fight. This tendency made no sense to Epictetus. He would frown on surrendering his mind to commentators and op-ed columnists who explain how he should think to keep his world perspective in tact. Only undisciplined people search for signs that support their views. Epictetus thought polarized positions only concealed creative and beneficial solutions to problems. Double ouch.

In the light of stoicism, I find many things worth second-guessing. If you’re a person of few words, you can feel better about your silence under the lens of Epictetus. If you (like me) pivot from one interest to the next, you can probably see the need to control a Renaissance personality that sometimes runs wild. How does your life hold up to stoic standards?

Life is short. Wear the good stuff.