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On Gratitude

Updated: Mar 20, 2022

In the Catholic Church, it’s the Lenten season. This period aims to rid oneself of traditional pleasures and is meant to symbolize Jesus’ departure into the desert for 40 days, where He did not eat or drink and was tempted by the Devil. Catholics are obligated to fast and abstain until Easter Sunday, when Jesus rose from the dead.

Though you may not be Catholic, the exercises of fasting and abstinence have a very real and powerful practical application. It reminds me of the Stoic principle of taking on voluntary burdens, such as exercising early in the morning, fasting for a day, sleeping on the floor, and taking cold showers.

Epictetus, a slave turned philosopher, said of voluntary burdens, “But neither a bull nor a noble-spirited man comes to be what he is all at once; he must undertake hard winter training, and prepare himself, and not propel himself rashly into what is not appropriate for him.” I assure you – you will grow accustomed to the weight of these voluntary burdens. Then, when it is time to carry the involuntary burden, you will not be crushed by its force.

This practice has two effects – it will make one appreciate what one has and dampen one's desire for more. As Seneca said, “It is not the man who has too little, but the man that craves more, that is poor.”


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