Jan 18

The Stoics Knew Travel Won’t Make You Happy

by in Travel as Mastery

Seneca in sculpture form

Seneca has a whole letter titled “Travel as a Cure for Discontent.” I’m posting a few passages here:

Do you suppose that you alone have had this experience? Are you surprised, as if it were a novelty, that after such long travel and so many changes of scene you have not been able to shake off the gloom and heaviness of your mind? You need a change of soul rather than a change of climate. Though you may cross vast spaces of sea, and though, as our Vergil remarks,

Lands and cities are left astern,   your faults will follow you whithersoever you travel.

I love this. I tried to escape my problems by fleeing to Egypt, to Portland, and to DC, but I’ve pretty much reverted to a baseline level of happiness every time.

The person you are matters more than the place to which you go; for that reason we should not make the mind a bondsman to any one place. Live in this belief: “I am not born for any one corner of the universe; this whole world is my country.”  If you saw this fact clearly, you would not be surprised at getting no benefit from the fresh scenes to which you roam each time through weariness of the old scenes. For the first would have pleased you in each case, had you believed it wholly yours. As it is, however, you are not journeying; you are drifting and being driven, only exchanging one place for another, although that which you seek, —to live well, —is found everywhere.

Learn to be content where you are.

What benefit has travel of itself ever been able to give anyone? No restraint upon pleasure, no bridling of desire, no checking of bad temper, no crushing of the wild assaults of passion, no opportunity to rid the soul of evil. Travelling cannot give us judgment, or shake off our errors; it merely holds our attention for a moment by a certain novelty, as children pause to wonder at something unfamiliar.

I disagree slightly here. While travel certainly won’t cure you, it exposes so your flaws that you can more readily work on them.

Do you wonder that it is of no use to run away from them? That from which you are running, is within you. Accordingly, reform your own self, get the burden off your own shoulders, and keep within safe limits the cravings which ought to be removed. Wipe out from your soul all trace of sin. If you would enjoy your travels, make healthy the companion of your travels.

Fix yourself before you travel. Or, if you insist on traveling before fixing yourself, realize that traveling and curing your discontent are separate activities. They can be mutually supportive, but they are not interchangeable.

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  • http://bootsnall.com SEKeener

    Interesting thoughts Dale and nice post. I’m thinking, that travel can help us see these faults within ourselves AND give us more confidence and courage to go after what we want. Sending you god vibes sir.

    • DaleDavidson149

      Thanks Sean. Good to hear from you. I agree travel exposes your faults, but I’m not sure it automatically gives you more confidence and courage. Those qualities comes from habitually doing difficult things, which is possible during your travels, but automatic. For example, people that save up money to travel for an extended period of time are forced to exercise discipline and frugality, to learn to live without. That does more than the travel itself.

      Seneca doesn’t discourage travel, he just doesn’t think it’s a cure-all.

      Best wishes!


      • http://bootsnall.com SEKeener

        Agreed. Notice I said “travel can help” – not “automatically gives you more confidence and courage”. :)

        I don’t think anything in the world is a cure-all! There are just lots of tools, ideas, and disciplines to help us get “there” – wherever “there” is for each person.

        OverAll, long-term travel, can be an awesome boots on the ground educational experience, as well as fun!

        Massive good vibes to you Dale.

        • DaleDavidson149

          Well put ;)