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Understanding the importance of decision-making
Identifying biases that affect decision-making
Analyzing the potential outcomes of a decision
The first time I ever heard about Stoicism was when my parents used a German expression called “stoische Ruhe” — Stoic calm. The phrase usually describes someone who seems to be unfazed in the face of adversity. “With Stoic calm, he accepted his plight,” we might say. Someone who has Stoic calm is not invincible but unshakeable, and if you’re looking to develop this and other Stoic qualities, what better place to start than a selection of the best Stoic quotes? Well, you’ve come to the right place!
If you want to grasp the most important Stoic ideas — self-reflection, restraint, taking action, and acceptance — in a nutshell, you could do worse than start with these lines from 10 quintessential Stoics. We’ve sorted them chronologically based on when their originators lived.
Technically, Heraclitus, who lived around 500 BC, wasn’t a Stoic, but his ideas greatly influenced all subsequent philosophers. Zeno, born 334 BC, is considered the founder of Stoicism, and Marcus Aurelius can be deemed the last great Stoic before the decline of the Roman Empire. Here are some of their and other famous Stoics’ best thoughts:
Okay, so much for the most important quotes from Stoics, but what about the most popular ones? Which ones resonate the most with people? On Goodreads , over 125 million members can vote on their favorite lines from books and authors. Below, we’ve compiled the ten most-voted lines from three of the most well-known Stoics, Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, and Epictetus (mainly because their writings have partially survived to this day) and one other philosopher, Epicurus.
A few caveats: Epicurus founded his own school of thought, Epicureanism, and though it is often depicted as a philosophy contrary to Stoicism, the two approaches actually have a lot in common. Hence, some of his Stoic-leaning ideas are worth including. Each quote has received over 1,000 likes on Goodreads, some up to 5,000. Any line that would be a double mention from above was excluded, and so was any quote we couldn’t at least somewhat verify as correctly attributed.
7. “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.” — Seneca
Around 600 years after its inception, Stoicism got lost in the sands of time. For nearly 2,000 years, the philosophy and its scarce literary remnants were condemned to obscurity. Sitting in church archives and private collections, Stoic ideas were shunned in public by Christians and other religions alike, perhaps practiced in private by few.
It is only in the second half of the 20th century that Stoicism found renewed interest, thanks in part to a book by an academic, Problems in Stoicism . The second party to be credited is Albert Ellis , a psychologist who partially relied on Stoic ideas to develop the foundations of cognitive behavioral theory , a now popular approach to treating various cognitive disorders, including anxiety and depression.
1. “Your potential, the absolute best you’re capable of—that’s the metric to measure yourself against. Your standards are. Winning is not enough. People can get lucky and win. People can be assholes and win. Anyone can win. But not everyone is the best possible version of themselves.” ― Ryan Holiday
I’m not an expert in Stoic philosophy, but I’ve been studying and enjoying Stoic wisdom for almost a decade. I read The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday several years in a row. Other books I’ve read, at least in parts, include Meditations , Letters from a Stoic , and On the Shortness of Life . I most enjoy the themes of using our time well, remembering our mortality , and focusing on what we can control. My perspective on Stoicism isn’t perfect, but here are 14 of my favorite quotes that I’ve curated over the years:
2. “Let the mind be disciplined to understand and to endure its own lot; let it have the knowledge that there is nothing which fortune does not dare — that she has the same jurisdiction over empires as over emperors, the same power over cities as over the citizens who dwell therein. We must not cry out at any of these calamities. Into such a world have we entered, and under such laws do we live.” — Seneca
7. “It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it. Life is long enough, and a sufficiently generous amount has been given to us for the highest achievements if it were all well invested. But when it is wasted in heedless luxury and spent on no good activity, we are forced at last by death’s final constraint to realize that it has passed away before we knew it was passing.” — Seneca
12. “So you must not think a man has lived long because he has white hair and wrinkles: he has not lived long, just existed long. For suppose you should think that a man had had a long voyage who had been caught in a raging storm as he left harbor, and carried hither and thither and driven round and round in a circle by the rage of opposing winds? He did not have a long voyage, just a long tossing about.” — Seneca
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