There was an interesting piece in the Saturday Sydney Morning Herald a few weeks ago by University of London researcher Jules Evans about cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and the philosophy of the Stoics.
CBT, if you've not encountered it "is a form of treatment for emotional and psychological problems where a person talks with a mental health professional such as a psychiatrist, psychologist or counsellor ... to help change unhelpful or unhealthy thinking habits, feelings and behaviours," according to the Victorian government's Better Health website.
It's used to treat a variety of problems including anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, uncontrollable anger, substance abuse and eating disorders by observing and slowly trying to transform the way patients think about certain circumstances.
If I may be so bold, it's somewhat summarised by the famous quote from Shakespeare's Hamlet where the titular character says: "There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so."
In other words, you can be unfairly imprisoned for 27 years - like Nelson Mandela was - but it's entirely up to whether you see this as a negative or a positive and go on to change your country for the better when you get out of the hoosegow.
Jules Evans, who once suffered terrible social anxiety, says CBT worked so well for him he decided to research it.
"I went to New York to interview the psychologist who had invented it, Albert Ellis, and asked him where he had got the idea," writes Evans.
"He told me he had been directly inspired by ancient Greek philosophy, particularly by a line from the Stoic philosopher Epictetus: 'Men are disturbed not by events but by their opinion about events.'
"Ellis, like the Greeks, suggested our emotions always involve beliefs or interpretations of the world. Our interpretations may often be inaccurate, irrational or self-destructive, and this will make us emotionally sick.
"In my case, I had a value system that put a huge emphasis on popularity and social performance, and this flawed belief system had caused me to suffer," writes Evans.
Epictetus (55 CE - 135 CE) taught you could separate the world into two general parts - things you can control and those you cannot - which you might recognise popping up in the famous Serenity Prayer co-opted by Alcoholics Anonymous.
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.
The fascinating thing not mentioned in the SMH piece*, which strikes me as crucial to Epictetus's world view, is that he was born a slave - so he had no choice but to accept there were many things in his life he could not change.
As historian Will Durant wryly observed back in 1926: "Nothing in all literature is so depressing as the 'Dissertations' of the slave, unless it be the 'Meditations' of the emperor."
Says Epictetus in his Dissertations: "Seek not to have things happen as you choose them, but rather choose that they should happen as they do; and you shall live prosperously."
Durant then shares a famous tale that illustrates how strictly Epictetus lived by this maxim: "Story has it that Epictetus' master, who treated him with consistent cruelty, one day took to twisting Epictetus' leg to pass the time away.
"'If you go on,' said Epictetus calmly, 'you will break my leg'."
"The master went on and the leg was broken.
"'Did I not tell you,' Epictetus observed mildly, 'that you would break my leg?'"
Put in its' historical context, Stoicism (bought to Athens by the Phoenician merchant Zeno about 310 BCE) found fertile ground in a "despondent and decadent" Greece subjugated by Rome.
"The introduction of the Stoic philosophy was but one of a multitude of Oriental infiltrations. Both Stoicism and Epicureanism - the apathetic acceptance of defeat, and the effort to forget defeat in the arms of pleasure - were theories as to how one might yet be happy though subjugated or enslaved; precisely as the pessimistic Oriental stoicism of Schopenhauer and the despondent epicureanism of Renan were in the nineteenth century the symbols of a shattered Revolution and a broken France," writes Durant.
In other words, Stoicism is a great philosophy to observe when you have few choices.
The English philosopher and statesman, Francis Bacon, was neither enslaved or subjugated and had plenty of choices but he wrote around 1600 CE that: "How many things be there which we imagine are not? How many things do we esteem and value more than they are?
"These vain imaginations, these ill-proportioned estimations, these be the clouds of error that turn into the storms of perturbations."
Again: "There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so."
Or as the Buddhists say: "As it is".
So what does all this ancient navel-gazing offer for the contemporary reader?
Well, I would not be the first or 1001st writer to suggest the fate of the modern "wage slave" sometimes feels very much out of her or his hands - despite the proliferation of choice at the supermarket and on TV.
Many of us feel constantly buffeted and provoked by far flung causes and effects, our jobs under threat, our welfare at the mercy of "faceless men" in gargantuan bureaucracies; tiny, voiceless gears in the machinery of globalisation.
I'd suggest then, we can learn something from a Roman slave who lived 2000 years ago, by deciding what is important to us and not being suckered in by the dictates of culture and society that see us as consumers first and people second.
If you want what the rest of the world wants, you've got some stiff competition. However, if you do not and you're instead happy with what you've got, you're actually in a position most would find enviable.
It's all in how you look at it.
* The original article by Evans published in the UK's Daily Telegraph does mention that Epictetus was a slave but it seems to have been cut from the Aussie version for space.
Please don't take it personally if I do not reply to your email as they come in thick and fast depending on the topic. Please know, I appreciate you taking the time to write and comment and would offer mummy hugs to all.