WORK-LIFE BALANCE

A 2300-Year-Old Antidote to Stress

An ancient philosopher revealed the secret of being healthy and happy at work.
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Workplace stress can literally kill you. According to the Mayo Clinic, "stress that's left unchecked can contribute to health problems, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity and diabetes."

Fortunately, there's a time-tested, four-part recipe for stress that's called the Tetrapharmakos, attributed to the philosopher Epicurus. Here it is, with my observations of how it applies to the workplace.

1. Don't fear the gods. Epicurus was referring to people who were terrified that the gods will punish mankind unless constantly placated by sacrifice and prayer.  Living in terror of the supernatural is, of course, foolish, but this concept has an additional meaning in the workplace.

Regardless of what you do for a living, there are things you can't control, like the economy and customers. Rather than being afraid of what might happen ("the gods"), be confident that you'll do your best, regardless of what happens.

2. Don't worry about death.  Okay, I know that this seems weird to be writing about death in a business article.  However, I can't help but point out that if you're reading this, you're still alive.  And that's really good news!  Congratulations!

It's an undeniable fact that you will someday die.  However, what's real is your experience, right now, in the current moment.  Rather than pondering your demise, squeeze the happiness and joy from every moment that you are alive.

Yes, work can be a hassle, but as one of my favorite authors once wrote: "Never neglect to appreciate the wonder of conscious existence."  Enjoy each day, because it's never going to come again.

3. What's good is easy to get. Never has this been truer. While poverty and homelessness are common enough, if you're reading this, you're probably all set when it comes to food and shelter. And you're probably on a path to improve your life.

So you've already got all kinds of goodness in your life because what you really need (food, shelter and a purpose), you already have!

Look, it's the huge difficult-to-achieve goals that can stress you out...if you let them.  Work towards those goal, by all means, but remember that you're already living better than 99% of all the humans who've ever lived on the earth.

4. What's painful is easy to endure. Awful stuff happens to good people, true. However, intense pain is temporary by nature and it's relatively easy to turn chronic pain into "background noise" simply by focusing on something else.

And that's physical pain, which is worse than anything that your workplace can dole out.  The pain of losing a big customer, losing money, or even losing your business... in a year you'll barely remember how it felt.

So why stress about it now?

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IMAGE: Getty
Last updated: Dec 3, 2013

GEOFFREY JAMES | Columnist

Geoffrey James is an author, speaker, and award-winning blogger. Originally a system architect, brand manager, and industry analyst inside two Fortune 100 companies, he's interviewed over a thousand successful executives, managers, entrepreneurs, and gurus to discover how business really works. His most recent book is Business Without the Bullsh*t: 49 Secrets and Shortcuts You Need to Know.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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