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Inspiration from Epictetus, Rhiannon Giddens, Jerome Segal, and More!
Once a month (or so), I share a dozen things that have inspired me to greater personal, professional, and financial success in my life. I hope they bring similar success to your life.
1. Epictetus on anger
“Any person capable of angering you becomes your master. He can anger you only when you permit yourself to be disturbed by him.” – Epictetus
Whenever you allow someone to change your mood, you give them control over you. The truth is that your moods and feelings are completely under your own control, and when you let someone else change those moods or feelings, you give them power to alter your internal life.
Don’t do that. One of the best things you can do for yourself is work on emotional control, not letting other people bother you or influence your emotions in a negative way. Don’t let people get you angry. Don’t let people get you sad.
It takes work to get there. It takes practice. Whenever you feel an emotion swelling up inside of you, you have to learn to take a step back for a moment and observe that emotion and then let it subside without taking action. The more you do this, the easier it gets, and the less you’ll be driven to action by anger or spite or sadness.
This is a long series of daily videos covering an enormous volcanic eruption in Hawaii. Below are two of my favorite examples, starting with a truly stunning eruption of a fissure:
From the description:
We finally accessed Fissure Eight today, and OMG… what a sight! The volume of lava is at least as much as it has been… and quite possibly more… her activity is truly phenomenal! The Volcano Goddess, Pele is continually erupting hot liquid rock into the channelized rivers leading to the Pacific Ocean. Most of the fountaining activity is still confined within the nearly 200-foot high spatter cone she has built around that eruptive vent. Her fiery fountains send 6-9 million cubic meters of lava downslope every day… a volume difficult to even wrap your mind around! A small overflow from the perched pond at the Northeast corner of the beleaguered subdivision was approaching several houses nearby… we’ll soon know if she destroyed them, stopped short, or skirted by. The ocean entry has gotten even bigger… her flow front now about a half mile across. The entries have become established near where the beach community of Vacationland stood just two weeks ago. Tons of hot liquid rock are entering the water there, some from a lava river… and more in many smaller fingers of lava that slowly drip into the water. Pilot Sean Regehr got us to the best vantage points to capture Pele’s magnificence… Leilani, Rainy Day Ducky. Special Return Guest Jill Briggs, Bruce Omori and I had another amazing charter! Mahalo plenty, Sean and Paradise Helicopters!
Some of the images of the flowing lava in this video are just breathtaking, as they remind you of the beauty and force that our world can produce.
This one, from July 2, is entirely different:
From the description for this second video:
Pele continues to threaten homes in Kapoho Ag Lots and north of the Kapoho Beach Lots. We had no reports of houses burned by lava overnight, but many rivulets of lava were threatening the Ag Lots this morning. Hawaii News Now claimed yesterday that 671 homes have been consumed by fire/lava. The USGS says 6,100 acres have now been covered by the eruption, which began on May 3 of this year. The survey also reports that the eruption has added at least 405 acres to the Big Island. She is still advancing toward the Ahalanui Hot Pond and Kua O Ka La Charter School…. only a quarter mile away, flowing over the 1955 lava flow there… but the flow was barely moving as of this morning. The enormous ocean entry between Kapoho Bay and the former Vacationland subdivision still dominates the flow front… and a new flow has rounded Kapoho Crater and is flowing over lava that covered Kapoho Bay two weeks ago. The new flow is apparently the result of a surge of lava overnight that caused any number of overflows near the “braided channel” portion of the lava river between PGV and Kapoho Crater. A good deal of lava exited the channel, but very little flowed outside the apron of lava previously erupted on the river banks.
The giant river of liquid fire, burning everything in its path, then flowing into the ocean and producing giant billows of steam… there’s something majestic and yet also frightening to it.
The world really is an amazing, breathtaking place.
3. Jonathan Safran Foer on thinking yourself out of happiness
“I think and think and think, I’ve thought myself out of happiness one million times, but never once into it.” – Jonathan Safran Foer
I know this feeling. Whenever I think deeply about an issue, it usually ends up lowering my mood. I’m less happy because I see the negative consequences of things.
What I’ve found, however, is if those thoughts really become ingrained in myself, I find that it’s easier to find happiness when I just let go. I don’t feel as uncertain about the world around me. I don’t feel as uncertain about me.
Thinking might make me less happy, but when I come to conclusions from that thinking and know I can rely on them, I actually feel more at peace in the world.
One of my most difficult personal challenges at times is putting away my smartphone to focus on the moment. Whenever my mind wanders for a bit in a given situation, even if I want to really stay present, my smartphone becomes a tempting distraction.
I’ve started using Forest to counterbalance this, and it really works.
Forest is an app in which you gradually plant a forest of virtual trees. To plant a tree in this forest, you have to start a timer, which counts down – that’s all it does. However, if you exit the app at any point during the countdown, the tree dies. Over time, if you’re successful enough at keeping off of your phone during those moments, you gradually build a really beautiful virtual forest on your phone.
This has actually worked really well for me, at least over the past few weeks. I’ve really enjoyed building up my “virtual forest” over that time and simply knowing that the way to get a new tree is to simply ignore my phone entirely for a while is motivation for me to not pick it up during a moment where I want to be focused and present.
I try not to use it during times when I know I’ll be focused away from my phone anyway, like when I’m working; rather, I try to use it at times when I know I can easily be distracted by my phone. Thus far, it’s working extremely well for me.
5. Frederick Douglass on parenting
“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” – Frederick Douglass
As my children enter their teen years, I’ve come to view their remaining years at home less as continued adolescence and more as a runway to adulthood as I gradually remove the training wheels.
Even at this point, I’m already making it abundantly clear that the more they act like an independent adult, the more I will treat them like an independent adult. The more they act like a dependent child, the more I will treat them like a dependent child. I also tell them that asking for advice when they’re uncertain is a sign of an independent adult; making rash decisions without considering the consequences is a sign of a dependent child. I tell them this at times of calm, not in times of conflict.
So, how is it working? They’re genuinely starting to follow this advice, especially my oldest child. They’re taking on natural responsibilities around the house. They’re considering others in their decisions, including their future selves. They’re learning how to handle difficulties on their own and asking for help when they need it. Best of all, they’re often doing these things without my input or direction.
I am building strong children now because I don’t want to have to repair a broken adult later.
I deeply enjoy videos that show people from all over the world, from different countries and different cultures and different religious backgrounds, doing a common thing that everyone does. It is an amazing way to open your eyes and realize that we’re all pretty similar in the end.
We all wake up in the morning and stretch and wonder what the day is going to hold for us. We all count our money. We all eat food we find tasty. We all sometimes feel joyous. We all sometimes feel overwhelmed.
The human experience that we all go through has so much in common amongst us. We would be far better off as a world if we looked at the 99 things that are the same about all of us instead of the 1 thing that’s different.
7. Martin Luther on the future
“Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.” – Martin Luther
The future is unwritten. No matter how bad things going forward might seem, they’re not written in stone yet and there is likely at least one path forward that you do not see.
Thus, it makes sense to prepare your life as though it will be long and full of opportunity. What can you do today that will make your life in the future better than it is now, or at least better for the younger people in your life that you care about?
Don’t worry about what might happen. Don’t worry about the risks. Don’t stay up late at night worrying about the end of the world. Just spend today in a way that maximizes the enjoyment of the day while also building the best life tomorrow, and let go of the predictions of doom.
There is something incredibly soothing and relaxing about this video from BBC Earth, which is basically made up of outtakes from their Blue Earth series. (It’s actually just twenty minutes of video, looped, but the loop is so long that you don’t really notice it.)
This has been my background audio while working for the last week or two, and I’ve found myself putting it on the television in the basement when I have a task to work on. It’s calming and sometimes mesmerizing, but it doesn’t really distract me from the task at hand.
It seems to be really effective at helping to get me into a flow state if it’s playing in the background or on a television that I’m not really paying attention to, much like this icebreaker video.
9. Dale Carnegie in wanting what you get
“Success is getting what you want. Happiness is wanting what you get.” – Dale Carnegie
If you always want what you haven’t got, you’ll never be happy. If, instead, you want things that you already have in your life, like the touch of your spouse or an afternoon with a great book on your shelf, then happiness will find you.
How do you do that? For starters, stop spending any time looking at things you don’t have that you might want. Don’t browse websites looking at stuff to buy. Don’t go to stores just to browse. Cut down on your media consumption – social media, television, news, websites.
Doesn’t that kill a desire for success? Not really. My definition of success is just a continued refinement and security of what I already have or personal achievements won through effort, not through spending money.
10. Graceful Simplicity: The Philosophy and Politics of the Alternative American Dream by Jerome Segal
If you’ve been enjoying the ongoing series covering the book The Wisdom of Frugality by Emrys Westacott, I highly recommend Graceful Simplicity: The Philosophy and Politics of the Alternative American Dream as a follow-up.
This is a book almost entirely focused on the non-financial reasons for frugality and simple living, which really carries it away from what I might write about directly on the site. Having said that, this book is an incredible discussion of the multitudes of non-financial benefits of frugality and why people might adopt frugality and simple living.
If that type of thinking appeals to you and you want to dive deeper into some of the thinking on the non-financial benefits of frugality and how simple living builds a fulfilling life, this is a book for you. It’s just a little bit too far outside the usual range of Simple Dollar topics for a “book club,” but I may write up a single article review on it in the future.
11. Ian Maclaren on kindness
“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” – Ian Maclaren
Every single person you meet today will have some kind of worry on their mind. They’re worried about someone they love or some pressure in their life. They’re worried about work or keeping their lover happy or living up to the expectations of a parent.
Sometimes, that worry will poke through with an emotional outburst or some other kind of imperfection. Sometimes, they’ll mask it and still appear to be happy, but their inner garden isn’t perfect.
When you go through life today, reflect on that. Every single person you interact with is dealing with a burden, some of them quite heavy. For some, it’s about all they can do to even be out there in public; for others, they’re just adept at masking it, or they channel those feelings elsewhere.
Remember that, and be a little kinder.
12. Rhiannon Giddens – At the Purchaser’s Option
This song was inspired by an old advertisement that Giddens saw in a historical archive, one that’s duplicated at the start of the video.
This song manages to be powerful and hauntingly beautiful at the same time, and her voice is just incredible. The grave nature of the lyrics contrasted with her voice makes this song stick in my head and heart.
Rhiannon Giddens is one of my favorite musicians of the 21st century. I keep five CDs in my vehicle to listen to while driving, and two of them are by her. Her music is haunting and beautiful and subtle and her voice is just jaw-dropping. You should really, really give her music a listen; check out her version of Wayfaring Stranger, a North American folk song.