Aging in Place Good Life

Aging and The Good Life with Stoic Philosophy

The first step toward creating an improved
future is developing the ability to envision it.”
-Unknown

Aging in Place

On the topic of unlikely pairings, aging in place and ancient Greek/Roman Stoicism have to qualify on first glance: Who even thinks about this stuff? Well, I do so you can employ the concepts to help be part of the solution.

A Philosophy of Life

Let’s begin by asking the question: Do you have a philosophy of Life? Moderns (you and me) seldom take the time to develop one–let alone consider the topic. we’re distracted by too many shiny objects and preoccupied with keeping our heads above water in the fast-paced consumer culture. The Ancient Greek and Roman philosophers not only thought a philosophy of life was worth contemplating, but it was the highest calling to develop one. And why is it worth developing one? Because, without one there is a danger you will mislive–that despite all the pleasant (and not so pleasant) diversions you might enjoy while alive, you will end up living a bad life.

What do you want out of life? Most will answer; a high paying job, good health, loving partner, nice house, plenty of toys–but the Ancients weren’t interested in daily goals, they wanted you to think about your grand goal. In other words, of the things, you might pursue, which is the thing you believe to be MOST valuable? The fear is that on your deathbed you will look back and realize you wasted your one chance at living. Instead of pursuing something genuinely valuable–you squandered it by allowing yourself to be distracted.

The Ancient Art of Stoicism 

Let’s say you have given it some thought and developed a Grand Goal in Living, and you can articulate why this goal is worth attaining…Even then, there is a danger you will mislive. Specifically, if you lack an effective strategy for achieving your Grand Goal in Living it’s unlikely, you’ll attain it. So, the key to this idea of developing a philosophy of life is a strategy for attaining your Grand Goal in Living. And to help with the strategy the Greek and Roman philosophers touted that to maximize your chances of gaining the thing in life that you feel is ultimately valuable you will need a philosopher of life to guide you.

The ancient philosophers shared their wisdom (philosophy of life) through schools in an attempt to improve the human condition. For example, Epicurus (Epicurean School) stated: “Vain is the word of a philosopher which does not heal any suffering of man.” And the Stoic philosopher Seneca reported: “He who studies with a philosopher should take away with him someone good thing every day; he should daily return home a sounder man, or on the way to become sounder.”

They gave advice on how to live; of interest here is the Stoic school of philosophy of which perhaps most famous disciple was Marcus Aurelius, the greatest of Roman emperors. When he read the Stoic Philosophers, he became filled with admiration for them. He noted they were courageous, reasonable, self-disciplined, and temperate–all traits the great man wanted to possess.

Aging in Place and Negative Visualization

The Stoic Philosophers interested in how to live a happy life saw how unhappy humans are, in large part because of insatiability–after working hard to get the object of desire they/we quickly lose interest; Stoics called this phenomenon “Hedonic Adaption.”  Think of lottery winners and how they often end up unhappy after their fortunes are squandered. Human nature is such that we take for granted what we have and desire things yet to be possessed. Once we start living the life we’ve always dreamed of, thanks to Hedonic Adaptation, we start taking that life for granted. The Stoics desired tranquility (much as the Buddhist) so a way of fixing this was to employ a technique called “negative visualization.”

Negative Visualization (thought to be the most potent tool in the Stoic philosophy) is simply to contemplate the temporary nature of things; remember all that we have is “on loan” from Fortune–which can reclaim it without our permission. The idea is to visualize what it would be like to lose that high paying job, good health, loving partner, nice house, and plenty of toys. In doing so the Stoics believed it would make us value these things more than we might otherwise.

Epictetus provides the example to two fathers; one who in kissing his daughter good-night, silently reflects on the possibility she may die tomorrow–and the second father who refuses to entertain such gloomy thoughts. Father #1 is most attentive in his dealings with his daughter; father#2 will postpone interactions until tomorrow… The Stoics believed by contemplating the loss we will be less inclined to take for granted what we now have.

Marcus and Epictetus felt we would be much better off by contemplating the loss–how would we feel if we lost our material possessions, our pets, our bank balance, our ability to speak, walk, hear, or our freedom? Most of the time we spend idle moments thinking about the things we want and don’t have. We would be much better off, according to the Stoics, to spend this time thinking of all the things we have and reflecting on how much we would miss them if they were not ours.

Here’s where Aging in Place and Negative Visualization come into play; visualize losing your independence (the unthinkable) and reflect on how much you would miss it. Visualize the loss of the daily rituals and routines that make up your day–and are taken for granted. Imagine living where decisions on when you get up, what you eat, or setting the natural Rhythm of the day, are not in your control…Visualize what that might be like.

Know that the Ancient Stoic Philosophers saw their role as guides to the Good Life and Negative Visualization was the most powerful tool to the goal. Thinking about loss can lead to a better life now. Take the Steps necessary to secure your Aging in Place/ Home.

See

Ideas for this post from William B. Irvine (2009) A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy

Final Thought: Marcus observed in his Meditations that, “The art of living is more like wrestling than dancing.”

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