by Sarah Halfpenny
You’ve probably heard the word “stoic” used to describe someone who is calm in the face of adversity, but have you heard about Stoicism? I first learnt about it in my mid-40s and have found it really interesting to apply to my daily life. It’s an ancient philosophy founded by a man named Zeno of Citium (Cyprus), which he taught in Athens in the early 3rd century, BC.
Stoicism declined once Christianity became popular in the 4th century AD, but has since had revivals, including in today’s contemporary era, where people like American Ryan Holiday are spreading the philosophy via social media.
These days Stoicism is practiced by people from all walks of life, in every country on earth, in the pursuit of a peaceful life. Here’s an overview of some guiding principles of Stoicism. If you’d like to learn more, you can sign up to get a free daily email from Daily Stoic.
The four virtues of Stoicism
Courage. Difficult situations are opportunities – are you brave enough to face your problems instead of running away from them?
Justice. For Stoics, doing the right thing is the basis for life, and they will advocate for the people and ideas that are important to them.
Temperance. This is all about moderation – doing the right thing in the right amount at the right time. Nothing reckless or to excess.
Wisdom. To achieve the other three virtues, you need knowledge, experience and willingness to learn about the world. Zeno said we were given two ears and one mouth for a reason: to listen more than we talk.
The practicing Stoic doesn’t label things as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. They simply are. There is only perception, and YOU are the only one who can choose how you perceive a situation. You don’t control what happens to you in life, but you do control how you respond. “Choose not to be harmed and you won’t feel harmed. Don’t feel harmed and you haven’t been” said Stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius.
Take a macro view of life
Look at life from a distance to be reminded of how small you are in the grand scheme of things. In fact, nearly everyone and everything is inconsequential with the passing of time – we all become dust in the end! Achievements and possessions are ephemeral, and the worries and wants of our everyday lives don’t seem so important once you take a step back and look at the millions of other lives going on around you.
Developing “a love of fate” means accepting everything that happens to you. As my favourite Stoic philosopher, Seneca, said “It is impossible to win glory without peril.” Life is never going to be smooth sailing for anyone, so complaining about it or wishing it were otherwise is a waste of time. If you’ve been caught by surprise by something, or plans have changed, accept it and use the adversity to learn from it and make you better.
To “meditate on your death” sounds depressing, but for Stoics it’s actually positive and life-affirming. As Marcus Aurelius said, “You could leave life right now. Let that determine what you do and say and think.” Accept your own mortality and use this knowledge to help you get the most out of every day you are still alive.