Stoic philosophy has seen a bit of a comeback over the last few decades. It’s a school of Hellenistic philosophy originating in ancient Greece around 300 BC.

Founded by a sea-fearing merchant called Zeno of Citium, Stoicism teaches us that a good and happy life can be found when we develop virtue, align ourselves with nature, and try to use reason and logic to guide our actions rather than our emotion, desire, or fear.

Stoicism also teaches us to recognize that we cannot control the world around us, but we can control our reactions to it (see The Dichotomy of Control).

When we get better at making this distinction between what we can and can’t control, we are better able to avoid the stresses that come from resisting the things that cannot change, while also allowing us to become more effective as we accept responsibility for our own thoughts and actions.

To the Stoic, virtue is the highest good, and with the principles of wisdom, courage, justice, and temperance, we can build ourselves a reliable moral compass that can help us decide how to act in any given set of circumstances.

Through wisdom, we learn to discern the essential from the trivial, cultivating an understanding of life’s true priorities. Courage empowers us to face adversity with grace and resilience, while justice guides our interactions with others, fostering a sense of fairness and compassion.

Finally, temperance teaches us the art of moderation, enabling us to find that balance between desire and self-discipline.

Key Insights on Stoicism:

So, what can we take away from this ancient school of philosophy?

  • Focus on Personal Responsibility: The Stoics advocate for focusing on our own actions and attitudes, acknowledging that while we can’t control external events, we can control our responses to them. This can be very freeing.

  • Resilience: The Stoics teach resilience, encouraging us to face hardship and adversity with a calm and composed mindset, using logic and reason as much as possible.

  • Living According to Nature: Stoicism suggests that living in harmony with nature and understanding our place in the larger cosmos helps us find a happier way of life.

  • Importance of Virtue: Virtue, in Stoic philosophy, is the highest good and is synonymous with wisdom, courage, justice, and temperance. Through virtue, our behaviours help us build contentment and inner peace.

Below are some of my favourite Stoic quotes.

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Epictetus Quotes:

Epictetus (my personal favourite Stoic) was a Greek Stoic philosopher who lived during the 1st and 2nd centuries AD.

Having been born into slavery in Hierapolis (present-day Turkey), he gained his freedom and even became an influential teacher in Rome before being banished. It seems that every Emperor loved a good banishment back in the day.

Epictetus’s philosophy, as recorded by his pupil Arrian, can be found in the “Discourses” and the “Enchiridion” (or “Manual”).

Epictetus’s teachings emphasize the Stoic belief that the path to happiness is found in accepting the moment as it presents itself and not being controlled by our desire for pleasure or our fear of pain.

He taught that we can achieve a state of tranquility and freedom by focusing on what is within our control — our beliefs, opinions, and attitudes — and letting go of what is beyond our control, such as external events and the actions of others.

“If anyone tells you that a certain person speaks ill of you, do not make excuses about what is said of you but answer, “He was ignorant of my other faults, else he would not have mentioned these alone.”

“Wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants.”

“Don’t explain your philosophy. Embody it.”

“There is only one way to happiness and that is to cease worrying about things which are beyond the power or our will.”

“Men are disturbed not by things, but by the views which they take of things. Thus death is nothing terrible, else it would have appeared so to Socrates. But the terror consists in our notion of death, that it is terrible. When, therefore, we are hindered, or disturbed, or grieved let us never impute it to others, but to ourselves; that is, to our own views. It is the action of an uninstructed person to reproach others for his own misfortunes; of one entering upon instruction, to reproach himself; and of one perfectly instructed, to reproach neither others or himself.”

“First say to yourself what you would be; and then do what you have to do.”

“Any person capable of angering you becomes your master; he can anger you only when you permit yourself to be disturbed by him.”

“Circumstances don’t make the man, they only reveal him to himself.”

“He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has. ”

“Don’t seek to have events happen as you wish, but wish them to happen as they do happen, and all will be well with you.”

“God has entrusted me with myself. No man is free who is not master of himself. A man should so live that his happiness shall depend as little as possible on external things.”

“Know you not that a good man does nothing for appearance sake, but for the sake of having done right?”

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Marcus Aurelius Quotes:

Marcus Aurelius was Roman emperor from 161 to 180 AD, and is now known as one of the last “Five Good Emperors” and an important name in the philosophy of Stoicism.

During his time, he showed a remarkable dedication to duty and his people, despite a reign under challenging circumstances, including military conflicts and the Antonine Plague.

In the context of Stoic philosophy, he is best known for his work “Meditations,” composed of a series of personal writings and reflections.

“If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.”

“You always own the option of having no opinion. There is never any need to get worked up or to trouble your soul about things you can’t control. These things are not asking to be judged by you. Leave them alone.”

“You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realise this, and you will find strength.”

“Waste no more time arguing about what a good man should be. Be one.”

“Accept the things to which fate binds you, and love the people with whom fate brings you together,but do so with all your heart.”

“Never let the future disturb you. You will meet it, if you have to, with the same weapons of reason which today arm you against the present.”

“The soul becomes dyed with the colour of its thoughts.”

“Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones.”

“How much time he gains who does not look to see what his neighbour says or does or thinks, but only at what he does himself, to make it just and holy.”

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Seneca Quotes:

Seneca the Younger, born Lucius Annaeus Seneca around 4 BC and living until AD 65, was a Roman Stoic philosopher, statesman, and playwright.

He is one of the most prominent figures in the Stoic school of philosophy, known for his teachings and writings on ethics and morality.

His Letters, written to his friend Lucilius, provide some of the most useful and grounded Stoic philosophy from the ancient world.

“If you live in harmony with nature you will never be poor; if you live according to what others think, you will never be rich.”

“True happiness is to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence upon the future, not to amuse ourselves with either hopes or fears but to rest satisfied with what we have, which is sufficient, for he that is so wants nothing. The greatest blessings of mankind are within us and within our reach. A wise man is content with his lot, whatever it may be, without wishing for what he has not.”

“All cruelty springs from weakness.”

The greatest obstacle to living is expectancy, which hangs upon tomorrow, and loses today. You are arranging what lies in Fortune’s control, and abandoning what lies in yours. What are you looking at? To what goal are you straining? The whole future lies in uncertainty: live immediately.”

“Nothing, to my way of thinking, is a better proof of a well ordered mind than a man’s ability to stop just where he is and pass some time in his own company.”

“A gift consists not in what is done or given, but in the intention of the giver or doer.”

“You act like mortals in all that you fear, and like immortals in all that you desire”

“If a man knows not to which port he sails, no wind is favourable.”

“If you really want to escape the things that harass you, what you’re needing is not to be in a different place but to be a different person.”

“They lose the day in expectation of the night, and the night in fear of the dawn.”

“You live as if you were destined to live forever, no thought of your frailty ever enters your head, of how much time has already gone by you take no heed. You squander time as if you drew from a full and abundant supply, though all the while that day which you bestow on some person or thing is perhaps your last.”

“Until we have begun to go without them, we fail to realise how unnecessary many things are. We’ve been using them not because we needed them but because we had them.”

How Can We Use Stoic Philosophy?

Stoic philosophy offers it’s students a clear and practical path out of suffering.

Whether we’re having trouble with work, our social lives, accepting the state of the world around us, or having difficulty knowing how to act, Stoic philosophy gives us a compass of almost all situations we could want for.

One of its most impactful practices is the wisdom to take responsibility for what we can control and accept what we cannot. This principle encourages us to focus our energy and attention on our own actions and attitudes rather than worrying about external events beyond our control.

Another core principle of Stoicism is the need to develop virtue, which is seen as the highest form of good and the only thing needed for true and lasting happiness.

Virtue in this context means qualities like wisdom, courage, justice, and self-discipline.

Stoicism teaches us that by striving to embody these virtues in our daily lives, we can lead more fulfilling and meaningful lives.

This focus on personal ethics and integrity offers a solid foundation for making decisions and navigating ethical dilemmas.

Generally speaking, the Stoics have left us with a pretty robust framework for personal development, offering practical strategies for living a balanced and virtuous life.

Its teachings on resilience, virtue, harmony with nature, and tranquillity are as relevant today as they were in ancient times, offering valuable guidance for anyone seeking to navigate the ups and downs of modern life with grace and wisdom.

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