Stoicism is a philosophy founded in ancient Greece around 300 BC. This philosophy teaches how to focus on what you can control to live your best possible life.
Stoic philosophy allows you to enjoy things without being anxious about losing them. This is because a core tenant of Stoics is that suffering comes from your happiness being dependent on things you cannot control.
Stoicism defines this type dependence as self-imposed slavery. This results in a common misconception that people who practice Stoicism are unemotional or do not feel joy.
Actually, Stoicism is about being able to find calmness and joy even when things you cannot control do not go your way.
1. Zeno of Citium
Stoicism was founded in ancient Greece by Zeno, the first Stoic philosopher.
2. Marcus Aurelius.
Leader of the Roman Empire for two decades. Nightly, he wrote in his journals. Those journals are now published as a book Meditations and are known for changing perspective.
Lucius Annaeus Seneca was an advisor to the Roman emperor Nero. He is famous for his practical ways of viewing the psychology of emotion, the human condition, and consumerism.
Epictetus was born a slave. After he was freed from slavery, he started a philosophical school. His book, The Enchiridion, includes a summary of his teachings.
These Stoics taught similar key principles that are still used today.
The 5 key principles of Stoicism:
- “Make the best use of what is in your power and take the rest as it happens. Some things are up to us, and some things are not up to us.” – Epictetus
This key principle acknowledges some things are within our control and others simply are not. A recurring theme that comes up in Stoic teachings is the principle to focus on what you can control and accept what you cannot.
How you can use this: Practice focusing on what you can control – namely, your thoughts, judgments, and actions.
- “If you are pained by any external thing, it is not this thing that disturbs you, but your own judgment about it. And it is in your power to wipe out this judgment now.” – Marcus Aurelius
Stoics train themselves to look at events objectively in the moment they happen. From a Stoic perspective, the events themselves are neither good nor bad. It’s how you respond to the event that is either good or bad.
How you can use this: When you feel sad or angry, separate facts from feelings. What can you do to change your judgment about the situation so you can reach acceptance?
3. “How late is it to begin to live just when we must cease to live!” – Seneca
Seneca wrote about appreciating the present instead of dreaming about the future or ruminating about the past. Stoicism you can turn misfortunes into good fortune by accepting events as they come.
How you can use this: Although it may feel unnatural – learn to accept, and then look for the positive, in every situation.
4. “Every day and night keep thoughts like these at hand—write them, read them aloud, talk to yourself and others about them.” – Epictetus
Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, and Epictetus used daily journaling to keep track of their thoughts. This is also a daily practice of modern-day Stoicism. In Stoicism, journaling is a way you can review the day, and prepare for the next day.
How you can use this: Journal in the morning or evening every day. This allows you to reflect on the previous day and plan for the next.
5. “There is a noble manner of being poor, and who does not know it will never be rich.” – Seneca
Seneca believed poverty was good to test your discipline. He found wealth and the temptations that came with wealth as challenges to self-control.
How you can use this: What is one way you can put yourself in an uncomfortable situation? Take an ice bath, fast, or have a “no-spending” day. Do something that pushes you out of your comfort zone.
At its core, stoicism is a philosophy of acceptance. Stoics are able to turn obstacles into opportunities because they believe external things do not affect their happiness. For stoics, happiness is an inside job.
While some things, such as looking for the positive in every situation, may feel unnatural, practicing stoicism can help you feel calmer and happier because you’re not focusing on the negative. Of course, this can improve your overall life satisfaction and help you live a much happier, fulfilling life.