I’ve recently been reading about stoicism. One concept that particularly piques my interest is that our virtues versus our vices. Virtues are good, and vices are bad. Virtues are in line with balance, and vices bring us unbalance. Simply put, it’s a good versus bad, but for stoics, there is more than good or bad. There’s a space in the middle where indifferents exist. You’ve heard of indifference. It’s what indifferent people display. In stoicism, an indifferent means something….well….different. Therein, an indifferent isn’t a person. It’s a thing. For that matter, it’s a lot of things….or all the things. Indifferents are the things we get, make, buy, have, etc. Wealth, good health, and comfortable living are indifferents. Ice cream, beer, and cereal are also indifferents. Like I said, indifferents are all the possible things that can exist in our life.
Here’s where it gets interesting to me. In theory, a life lived virtuously brings happiness, whereas a vice-filled life may bring moments of happiness but won’t really result in an overall happy life. The indifferents in our life don’t determine our happiness or lack thereof. They themself don’t positively or negatively affect our lives. They’re simply tools that can be used to enhance our virtuousness or embolden our vices.
An easy example is wealth. If we’re wealthy, we can spend $100,000 to take a last minute trip to the Super Bowl. Alternatively, we could give it to a hardworking yet struggling family who can use it toward a home. I’ll let you figure out which one shows better virtue. The point is that the wealth itself doesn’t directly affect your happiness. How you use it, though, can affect it. This is why it’s an indifferent.
As I said, indifferents piqued my interest. The concept caused me to start looking at little (and big) things differently. In my case, I thought about a hot tub. I’ve said for years that I want one but never seriously enough to crunch numbers and measure deck space. Still, I said I wanted it. Would getting it make my life any happier? Alternatively, could it actually detract from my happiness? I could argue for more relaxation as a tool to enhance my happiness. I could also see where hanging out in it too much would increase the household workload for others. The point is exactly that. The hot tub is an indifferent that I don’t really need. That is all for now.
(For a good introductory read on stoicism, I recommend Stoic Ethics, from the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.)