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Why Stoicism matters

Why Stoicism matters

Curated from: en.wikipedia.org

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What is Stoicism?

Stoicism is a school of Hellenistic philosophy founded by Zeno of Citium in Athens in the early 3rd century BC. It is a philosophy of personal ethics informed by its system of logic and its views on the natural world. According to its teachings, as social beings, the path to eudaimonia (happiness) is found in accepting the moment as it presents itself, by not allowing oneself to be controlled by the desire for pleasure or by the fear of pain, by using one's mind to understand the world and to do one's part in nature's plan, and by working together and treating others fairly and justly.

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Virtue

The Stoics are especially known for teaching that "virtue is the only good" for human beings, and those external things - such as health, wealth, and pleasure - are not good or bad in themselves, but have value as "material for virtue to act upon". The Stoics also held that certain destructive emotions resulted from errors of judgment, and they believed people should aim to maintain a will that is "in accordance with nature". Because of this, the Stoics thought the best indication of an individual's philosophy was not what a person said but how a person behaved.

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The four Stoic virtues

  • Wisdom - the ability to define what is good, what is not good, and what is indifferent.
  • Courage - the opposing force of cowardice. Courage is not the elimination or fear, desire or anxiety, it is acting in the right way despite our fear, desire and anxieties.
  • Justice - our duty to our fellow man, and to our society. It’s the morality behind how we act, specifically in relation to our community and the people within it.
  • Temperance - relates to self restraint, self discipline and self control. It is our ability to choose long term well-being over short term satisfaction.

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Exercises - pt 1.1

In his book, "A Guide to the Good Life", W. Irvine claims that the cause of sadness in people is a lack of moderation. We get bored of the item we wished and worked so hard for shortly after obtaining it. We rapidly start looking for the next "big" thing instead of being content with what we already have (hedonic adaptation). This was proven in a study where people's level of happiness was calculated (lottery winners vs people who suffered a tragic accident). Results showed that the happiness levels returned to normal (to the level before the incident) after a few months.

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Exercises - pt 1.2

As mentioned in the previous idea, Stoics recommend wishing for what we already have. But how could we do this? They propose that we imagine losing something valuable (a job or an expensive item). This is the only way we could be content with what we have. By imagining this, not only will we be better prepared in the eventuality that the event actually happens and we lose that thing, but we'll also start appreciating what we have more, realizing that it could be taken from us at any moment. As Epictetus, a Stoic philosopher, once said, we should never forget that everything is temporary.

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Exercises - pt 2.1

"Some things are in our control and others not." - Epictetus

In today's world, it's easy to start comparing ourselves to others or care extensively about their opinions. The Stoics recommend focusing on yourself and on what you can do. Let's look at an example of the commonly-known dichotomy of control. Imagine you're playing a tennis match. Your goal should be to play as best as you can instead of winning the match. If your goal is to win but you lose, you'll be upset. Also, seeing that you're losing could make you play worse during the game. 

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Exercises - pt 2.2

Continuing on the previous idea, having this new mindset will not make you play better or worse, but will reduce the emotional baggage that can come with losing the match.

This exercise is incredibly useful as it can be applied in a lot of different situations. It's raining and I have to bring an umbrella? Not my problem, I don't control that. My friend doesn't like my new shirt? That's not in my control.

“Just keep in mind: the more we value things outside our control, the less control we have.”

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Exercises - pt 3

The view from above exercise is designed to make us more aware of how small we really are and how little importance most things have. In other words, to give us a sense of the bigger picture. 

It’s quite simple, you use your imagination to try and relate yourself to the whole world and beyond. This not only makes you realize how stupid some things that preoccupy your mind are, but it can also shed some light on the most important things in your life. A human life represents a tiny fraction of the whole span of the universe and this exercise can help us realise just that.

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Exercises - pt 4

Contemplating the perfect person is another type of exercise that we as humans could use to achieve virtue and become better people.

Writing down a list of qualities an ideal person has helps us have a clearer view of it, while keeping us on track with what's important for us.

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Exercises - pt 5

A bedtime reflection / journaling is a good example of what we can do at the end of a day. Mentally replay your entire day and then ask yourself the following questions:

  • Did I behave according to my principles?
  • Did I treat the people with whom I interacted with in a friendly and considerate manner?
  • What vices have I fought?

A good tip here is to be brutally honest with yourself. It's just you and your mind, there's is no reason to hide anything or lie to yourself.

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Conclusion

Although Stoicism was founded more than 2000 years ago, there is no doubt that its core principles and ideas can help people of all kinds that are in different stages of their lives, especially in this day and age where social media usage and depression/anxiety levels are seeing all time highs.

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