“How much better to pursue a straight course and eventually reach that destination where the things that are pleasant and the things that are honourable finally become, for you, the same.” Seneca the Younger, in Letters from a Stoic
Have you ever learned to play a musical instrument?
If you’re learning to play the piano, say, you need to practice scales and chords over and over again. It doesn’t sound like you’re making music and it’s not fun, really. If you stay the course, though, playing the piano will cease to be tedious a lot of the time and becomes pleasant, even joyous, most of the time.
Similarly, how much pain do you have to go through, how many repetitive drills do you need to do to get good at any sport? A lot! Eventually, though, you get the hang of it and the sport becomes thrilling. There might be pain, but the rewards more than make up for it.
Much the same happens with what Seneca calls “the things that are honourable.”
Think back to when you were a child and your parents tried to instill good habits in you. Adopting them wasn’t pleasant. Delayed gratification comes to mind: no dessert until you eat the healthy food, no screen time until you’re done with your homework.
Though I didn’t choose the way I was raised, I for one am grateful for the good habits my upbringing forced upon me. They bring me rewards.
Call me masochistic, but the way I see it, the rewards are actually rendered pleasant by the fact that I worked for them.
Seneca’s words are motivating. At any time, we can set ourselves a straight course and focus on practicing an “honorable” behavior of our choosing. The fact that it’s not pleasant now doesn’t mean that it will stay that way always.
Next time you’re ready to give up on your “honourable” pursuit, think about this: Seneca doesn’t promise that the behavior will become thrilling. But it will become pleasant enough that you won’t want to go back to your old ways.
Day 13 of 30-day writing challenge on a single topic: Quotes from Seneca the Younger’s Letters from a Stoic.
Why this topic? Because I can’t get over how timely and brilliant Seneca’s words are -2,000 years after he wrote them.