How to experience joy – Letter 23

In this series of blog posts I attempt to translate the Moral letters to Lucilius by Seneca into modern English. In letter 23 Seneca describes how to experience joy.

I guess I could write about all the trivial things people usually do, but I won’t. In this letter I want to emphasize that happiness doesn’t depend on external things. Happiness comes from within yourself, your own thoughts. In other words, happiness emanates from one of the only things you can control yourself. Once you realise this then no matter what you have or don’t have then you can still feel joy and happiness.

You’ll find this to be true no matter what difficulty you face. It could be something extreme such as death or poverty. It could also be delaying an activity that provides pleasure. An analogy I can use is to think of happiness like you would a mine. You can gain some rewards by looking on the surface, but for the real treasures you have to look a lot more deeply.


Efforts and courage are not enough without purpose and direction – John F. Kennedy

Once you’re thinking like this then life will be an unlimited source of joy. Remember to reject the usual material objects which are advertised as providing happiness, look inwards instead. I would also suggest that it’s wise to maintain a degree of self-control too. Your body is aging and we don’t always treat it in the healthiest of ways. Of course, this is a choice for us to make alone.

We need to strike a reasonable balance. This is about making the right choices at the right time and in the right circumstances. This all derives from having a clear sense of purpose in your life. If you don’t have a well defined purpose then you’ll just get swept along, like an object floating in a river. You’ll make choices which you’ll later decide are poor choices. You’ll be subject to chance, accident and the opinions and desires of others. Other people will be leading your life for you.

So decide on a purpose, then stick to it.

Once your activities align with your actions then you’ll feel better about yourself.

In signing off I’ll leave you with a thought. I’ll link this to the points I’m making above. If you haven’t worked out what makes your life a good life then thinking about death will cause fear and dread. Live according to your values and in line with your purpose. If you do this then even if you die tomorrow, you’ll have lived long enough. Some people unfortunately haven’t worked out what their purpose is until its too late.

Take care.

Photo credit:
BMcIvr via / CC BY-NC-ND

I recommend you read all of the most influential Letters in this new Penguin Classic book. It is the best translation, in my opinion, because it captures Seneca’s humour and style. It is also the easiest to read. My copy is full of highlighted lines, margin notes and tabs. A treasure chest of profound, practical advice which you can apply immediately.

Warning: this is not an academic text; it describes a hands-on philosophy of life. Discover powerful, instantly helpful wisdom. The complete guide to improving your day-to-day activities, thoughts and actions.

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