An Introduction to Stoicism
Stoicism is a 2000 year old philosophy that helps direct your actions and thoughts in an unpredictable world. Often referred to as a “practical philosophy”, Stoicism can help anyone navigate the challenges they encounter in life.
Stoicism is a system for identifying the things you can and can't control, and provides principles that teach you how to focus only on that which is controllable. You may not have control over what happens to you, but you do have control over how you react.
Everyone has a tendency to have destructive thoughts and impulses. Stoics attempt to overcome these negative reactions through disciplined thinking. The idea is that no matter what happens to you, you can remain happy and at peace if you learn to discipline your thoughts and reactions toward outside events
Stoicism was founded by Zeno of Citium in Athens around 300 BC.
A once wealthy merchant, Zeno lost everything he owned in a Mediterranean shipwreck. Once back on land, he was introduced to the philosophy of Socrates in an Athenian bookshop. His new found interest in philosophy inspired him to develop his own set of principles that we now refer to as Stoicism. Though Zeno founded Stoicism, Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus, and Seneca are the most well known Stoics who are credited for its evolution and reach.
Stoicism flourished for nearly 500 years in Ancient Greece and Rome, popular with everyone from slaves to the aristocracy. Marcus Aurelius was the Emperor of Rome, who at the time was the most powerful man on earth. Epictetus was a slave, and Seneca was a playwright, political advisor, and one of Rome's richest men. Stoicism was, and still is one of the most universal philosophies that is just as relevant and useful as ever.
Stoicism is a philosophy centered around self-improvement. Unlike most philosophies, Stoics are not concerned with changing the world, nor imagining an ideal society. Instead, they seek to thrive within the world as it is. Stoics pursue personal development through 4 key virtues:
Prudence: The ability to navigate complex situations, in a calm. Logical, and informed manner.
Temperance: The exercise of self restraint and moderation in all aspects of life.
Courage: Facing daily challenges with clarity and integrity.
Justice: Treating others with fairness, even when they’ve done wrong.
The Stoic Perspective
Anxiety stems from trying to control the uncontrollable, most often to avoid negative outcomes. Stoics know that it's impossible to do so, and instead suggest to regularly rehearse worst case scenarios. Ask yourself: "What is the worst that can happen?" and then accept it. In fact, you should believe it will happen, and understand that you'll be alright. The goal is not to believe that bad things don’t happen, or to attempt avoiding them, but rather to learn that you are far more capable of enduring them than you think.
Anger stems when misplaced hope meets unforeseen reality. Every tragedy should already be priced in. If you accept failure, lust, greed, jealousy, etc; nothing will surprise you. That way you won’t be so angry when coming across the miseries of life. Stoics cultivate calmness by expecting and accepting the unexpected. This practice helps improve your emotional stability when negative events inevitably happen. A true Stoic reaches a state where nothing can disturb their peace of mind.
Every mischance in life is an opportunity to learn and grow. Every blow is an opportunity to be disciplined. Rather than immersing yourself in in self pity, try to utilize the blow in a constructive fashion. Stoics know that complaining won’t improve their situation. Stoics see misfortune as an opportunity to practice discipline. Everyone gets unlucky sometimes, but there is no need to stay discouraged. The quickest way to turn it around is to reflect, adapt, and move forward.
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