What is happiness?

We all have our ideas about happiness and how to achieve happiness. 

The main question is: Is it short term happiness? Or is it long term fulfillment?

Of course, we can enjoy the finer things in life, however, we should not forget long term happiness and fulfillment. 

We will discuss what real happiness meant to the Stoics and how they were able to lead fulfilling lives and achieve long term happiness.

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What is the definition of happiness? The four Stoic Virtues

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The four Stoic Virtues

According to the Stoics, the highest in life you can aim for is a virtue and all the rest will follow.

The Stoics believed in these four main virtues: 

  1. Wisdom
  2. Courage
  3. Temperance
  4. Justice

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1. Wisdom

“The chief task in life is simply this: to identify and separate matters so that I can say clearly to myself which are externals not under my control, and which have to do with the choices I actually control. Where then do I look for good and evil?”

— Epictetus

This is not about reading books and gain a lot of wisdom. This is about the ability to look within yourself and focus on the influences you control. 

This way the improvement you seek is always within your control and what the Stoics referred to as wisdom.

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2. Temperance

“‘If you seek tranquility, do less.’ Or (more accurately) do what’s essential—what the logos of a social being requires, and in the requisite way. Which brings a double satisfaction: to do less, better. Because most of what we say and do is not essential. If you can eliminate it, you’ll have more time, and more tranquility. Ask yourself at every moment, ‘Is this necessary?’” 

— Marcus Aurelius, Meditations.

This is about controlling your desires (emotional and material desires), about not attaching emotional value to those. 

It’s okay to want nice things, but don’t let them consume you.

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3. Courage

“Don’t you know life is like a military campaign? One must serve on watch, another in reconnaissance, another on the front line… So it is for us—each person’s life is a kind of battle, and a long and varied one too. You must keep watch like a soldier and do everything commanded… You have been stationed in a key post, not some lowly place, and not for a short time but for life.”

— Epictetus, Discourses, 3.24.31–36

This is about standing your ground. To dare to take that path of most resistance, to take that fear head-on. Because you know it will make you stronger. 

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4. Justice

“And a commitment to justice in your own acts. Which means: thought and action resulting in the common good. What you were born to do.”

— Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 9.31

This is about following your path and doing what is right. 

To follow your path, you need to fight resistance and resistance comes in all shapes and forms. If you fight it the path is laid out for you. 

  • For example if you want to work out, resistance will be there in the form of a couch and television. 
  • If you want to have a powerful relationship with your spouse, resistance will be there in in the form of temptations. 

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