Stoicism got its start in Athens, Greece around the year 300 BCE. This philosophy migrated to mighty Rome where it flourished as a very popular and highly practical way of living. But like so many once-popular philosophies, it began to wane in its public influence. But throughout the centuries, and especially in times of turbulence and turmoil, it seems that people have rediscovered this ancient body of wisdom, one that’s perfect for periods of disruptive change and uncertainty.
What is stoicism all about?
You’ve probably heard about Stoicism in social media, but what does it really mean to be a Stoic? Here are some Stoic claims to get you started:
- There are two kinds of things in the world: the things we can control and the things we can’t. Nothing can upset you unless you let it. The wise path is to focus on what you can control and not worry about the rest.
- Very little is needed for a happy life. Try being good. Moral excellence alone can do the trick.
- It’s not stuff in the world that bothers us but how we think about stuff in the world.
- The only true good is virtue (the Greek word arete, translated as virtue, means “inner strength”). The only essentially bad thing is vice (a sort of moral failing or weakness).
- A good person does not have to fear harm from anything or anyone. The only thing that can really harm us is our own freely chosen wrongful choices.
- The two most distinctive things about human beings are our reason and our relationality. We can think in powerful, intricate ways and form amazing, complex communities.
- We all have circles of influence and belonging in the world. When we use them well, starting with what’s near, we can improve even what’s far.
- Death is not to be feared.
Common problems that stoicism can help you deal with
It’s a floor cleaner and a dessert topping! It’s a philosophy and a mood stabilizer! But seriously, a Stoic approach can help anyone in this crazy world deal with all kinds of issues, including these:
- Worry and fear
- Social anxieties
- Difficult people
- Ridiculous people
- Social media (sorry, we’re repeating ourselves)
- Disruptive change and uncertainty
- Sadness and depression
- Unhealthy self-talk and self-images
- Loss and grief
- Negative thinking
- Unhealthy desires and emotions
- Being judgmental
How can Stoicism help with all of the preceding problem? By enabling you to improve in the following areas:
- Developing self-discipline and self-mastery
- Finding clarity and focus
- Finding calmness
- Being a more ethical person
- Nurturing better relationships
- Building better teams and stronger communities
Helpful stoic practices
Before you take a deep dive into Stoicism For Dummies, try some of the following practices to get yourself into the Stoic mindset:
- Begin each day by reminding yourself that life is difficult, people are difficult, and that’s okay. You can deal with it.
- End each day by asking these questions: What did I do well today, what badly, and what else could I have done?
- Be grateful to those who have helped you. Remind yourself of all the good in your life.
- When something you don’t like happens, put it into perspective. Zoom out from it. Imagine it in the infinity of space and time and see it as tiny, even minuscule, in the grand scheme of things. Don’t sweat the small stuff. And feel better.
- When something you really do like happens, don’t lose your head over it. Calm down. Enjoy your good fortune without going off the deep end.
- When you feel yourself getting irritated or angry, pause, breathe, give yourself a minute. Remember that life is hard, everybody has their struggles and bad days, and kindness is always the better option.
Learn to roll with the punches and make lemonade out of lemons. Treat obstacles as opportunities and fuel for greater success.
Common misconceptions about stoics
There’s a fair bit of misunderstanding about Stoicism floating around out there. Believe it or not, none of the following claims about Stoics are true:
- False: Stoics never show feelings.
- False: Stoics are “cold fish” and have no feelings.
- False: Stoics are uncaring and oblivious to bad things.
- False: Stoics are “stiff” and emotionally unavailable.
- False: Stoics make poor friends or romantic partners.
- False: Stoics think mostly about themselves, not others.
- False: Stoics are easy to recognize because they wear togas or robes and have beards.
- False: Stoics all believe exactly the same things about the world and how to live in it well.
- False: Stoics are required by their philosophy to buy lots of books and listen to podcasts on Stoicism (bit of an inside joke).