Control – Do We Have Any, Really?

By mid- morning on Friday, I realized I did not want to write, at least not on my new book. I had shoveled out the walk and the area in front of the garage so that we could get the cars out on pavement rather than ice. Then I spent too much time fooling around on Facebook, Twitter and reviewing the updated pages on my website for like the twentieth time. Finally, I realized that I would not get my planned daily minimum of one thousand words written today.

Deciding not to write has been a hard one lesson for me. Writing is now my work and work is essential to me well- being. There are numerous reasons for this but none of them matters a whole lot, the fact is that I have difficulty with leisure, that is, hours and hours of it. Close friends through the years have quoted the trope about ‘no one on his death bed ever wished he had worked harder.’

I wonder.

Certainly, that would be true of someone who hated what she did for work. And there is no shortage of people who fit in that category. But for those of us who love what they do, I suspect there may well be people who wish they had worked more as they become aware that this life is ending.

All of which leads me to control: Is it an illusion or do we control our lives?

Back when I was living and working in Houston and working on my textbook, a good friend observed that I had a “high locus of control.” Beth had asked me a few questions, none of which I remember now but I do recall her observation, declared with the certainty of a diagnosis. Most likely, one of my replies to a question had something to do with whether I thought happiness was internal or external. Does happiness depend on others or is it driven by internal factors? No question: Internal.

While looking through articles on the subject of happiness, of which there are hundreds, I discovered an article in Barking Up the Wrong Tree about the Stoics. As I read, and agreed heartily with four of the maxims Stoics taught themselves, I thought of that long ago conversation about locus of control and understood a bit more clearly what my friend was saying.

When it looks as if something bad is about to happen, I visualize it and try to take it to worst case scenario. Like “what if I die”? Or “what if he leaves me”? And ponder what that would be like. The stoics called it ‘negative visualization,’ I’ve called it screwing my brain around for as long as I can remember.

I learned many years ago, that happiness is a matter of acting. In some ways it is like faith. Act as if you are happy, act as if you believe in God-like Pascal’s wager. And soon, the feeling of happiness or the belief, shows up.

Is it faking?


Does it work?

Absolutely. Now I know it has a philosophy backing it up.

One last point. The Stoics were expert about making the ordinary extraordinary. I do that too: Most days I don’t eat until noon or two in the afternoon which means that I’m hungry much of the day. I like the feeling. When I do decide to eat, it feels like a treat, even if it’s just beef stew.

Deciding not to work today feels like a gift… a treat for those with a high locus of control. Or maybe it is merely fakery.