What is Stoicism?

Stoicism is essentially two things:

  1. A framework for how to view the world, other people, and our place within it.

  2. A set of ethics which guide our thoughts and actions towards strength of character.

Many people are attracted to the philosophy because of point one. The Stoic framework builds emotional resilience and peace of mind, which makes it attractive to many of us.

An effective framework for our wellbeing is also something that’s becoming more and more difficult to find as the world gets more and more complex.

However, after some study of the philosophy, many people get drawn deeper into it’s teaching and find another layer of value in it’s ethics.

Stoicism is a philosophy that began in ancient Greece around 300 BC, created by a man called Zeno of Citium.

Zeno and his followers gathered in Athens to discuss, debate, and find answers for how to live a good and happy life.

From these questions, they created a set of instructions for how to live.

The main ideas behind Stoicism are:

  1. We can’t control everything that happens to us, but we can control how we react to these events.

  2. When we act with virtue (wisdom, courage, justice, and temperance), we get closer to a good character and a happy life.

Think of it as being the captain of your ship in a stormy sea. You can’t control the weather, but you can steer your ship.

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Key Concepts of Stoicism

Control What You Can

One of the biggest ideas in Stoicism is focusing on what you can control and letting go of what you can’t.

For example, you can’t control what other people think of you, but you can control how hard you work in school or how kind you are to others.

This idea helps us accept things that happen around us and prevent them from causing us needless suffering.

This idea is called the dichotomy of control (you can read more about it here).

It’s Not What Happens, But How You React

Stoics believe that it’s not the events themselves that upset us, but our opinions about these events.

For example, if you miss the bus, you can choose to be upset, or you can see it as an opportunity to enjoy a walk.

If we’re stuck in a bad mood because of the bus, we’re worrying about something we cannot control. However, we can control our thoughts and actions, so we can choose to move on and look for a silver lining.

Living According to Nature

This doesn’t mean you have to go live in the woods!

When the Stoics say nature, they mean that you should live in harmony with your true nature as a rational and social human being.

This involves being honest, fair, and working for the good of everyone.

Virtue is the Highest Good

In Stoicism, acting with virtue is the highest good.

They believe virtues like wisdom, courage, justice, and self-discipline are the keys to living a good life.

You can learn more about virtue here.

How Can Stoicism Help You?

Stress Reduction

Stoicism teaches you not to worry about things outside your control. This can really help reduce stress and anxiety.

If we choose to accept the things that have already happened (and cannot change), we stop ourselves from getting stuck in negative emotions.

Similarly, if we choose to act with virtue, we are more likely to avoid the stress that comes from bad behaviour. This can be things like guilt, shame, regret, anger, frustration, or disgust.

Better Relationships

When you focus on being kind and fair, as Stoicism suggests, your relationships with friends and family can improve.

You can be more compassionate, more understanding, and less likely to put yourself before others.

All of these things can help us grow closer to other people and help us support the people around us when they need it.

Resilience

Stoicism builds mental toughness. It helps you deal with challenges and bounce back from tough times.

For example, when we find ourselves in a difficult situation, we can use the dichotomy of control to quickly decide what we can control and what we can’t. This means we can focus our energy more efficiently to solve the problem instead of worrying about what to do.

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Famous Stoics

Marcus Aurelius

He was a Roman Emperor and a Stoic philosopher. His book “Meditations” is full of wisdom about how to live a good life.

You can learn more about him here.

Seneca

Seneca was a Roman statesman and writer. He wrote a lot about how to deal with anger and hardship.

You can learn more about him here.

Epictetus

A former slave turned philosopher, Epictetus taught that our reactions to events are more important than the events themselves.

You can learn more about him here.

How to Start Practicing Stoicism

  1. Focus on What You Can Control: Try not to worry about things you can’t change.

  2. Practice Gratitude: Be thankful for what you have, rather than upset about what you don’t.

  3. Reflect on Your Day: Think about what went well and what you could improve.

FAQ

Q: Do Stoics have emotions? A: Yes, Stoics have emotions. They just focus on not letting these emotions control them.

Q: Is Stoicism a religion? A: No, Stoicism is a philosophy, not a religion. It’s more about how you think and act.

Q: Can kids practice Stoicism? A: Absolutely! Stoicism can be helpful for people of all ages.

Q: How do I learn more about Stoicism? A: Reading books like “Meditations” by Marcus Aurelius or “Letters from a Stoic” by Seneca is a great start. There are also many resources online.

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