An introduction to Stoicism
“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
If writings such as these strike a chord within you and you find yourself pondering them or rereading them to understand their essence, chances are you already have some Stoic tendencies and philosophies of your own, this was at least the case for myself.
But What Is Stoicism?
The Wikipedia answer to this question is:
“Stoicism is a school of Hellenistic philosophy that flourished throughout the Roman and Greek world until the 3rd century AD. Zeno of Citium founded stoicism in Athens in the early 3rd century BC. It was heavily influenced by certain teachings of Socrates, while stoic physics are largely drawn from the teachings of the philosopher Heraclitus. Stoicism is predominantly 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 happiness for humans is found in accepting this moment as it presents itself, by not allowing ourselves to be controlled by our desire for pleasure or our fear of pain, by using our minds to understand the world around us and to do our part in nature’s plan, and by working together and treating others fairly and justly.”
Although this definition may sound highbrow or complex, my personal experience is that Stoicism is not a superior, convoluted, abstract style of thought. Stoic philosophy, rather, is a practical tool to nurture a mindset. One that distils life and its lessons onto our canvas of life, of which we are the artist and one which empowers us with choice and perspective.
The first of the Stoic writings that I read back in 2014 was “The Shortness of Life” by Seneca. This work of Seneca has turned out to be one of the books I have gifted most and one to which I refer to at least on a monthly basis. The Stoic philosophy is empowering whilst being passive. It is ambitious whilst teaching contentment and speaks to the internal struggle of any upward mobile woman or man.
How Can it help you?
An immersion in the Stoic way of thinking has helped challenge my outlook and approach in many areas such as parenting, being a husband, and in my professional life too.
Stoicism is empowering in that it induces a kind of self-assessment of how one reacts, acts and interacts. Instead of laying blame at the feet of circumstance or another individual, it empowers and creates new perspectives. Understanding what can be learned and how one could deal with the situations better, essentially transitioning the mindset from victim to victor is classic Stoicism.
“For nothing outside my reasoned choice can hinder or harm it—My reasoned choice alone can do this to itself. If we would lean this way whenever we fail and would blame only ourselves and remember that nothing but opinion is the cause of a troubled mind and uneasiness, then by God, I swear we would be making progress.” — Epictetus
I fundamentally believe that Entitlement and Gratitude cannot coexist. Try it, next time you feel wronged, or believe someone should have treated you better. Or if something should have had a more favourable outcome, ask yourself the question “What can I observe or learn from this moment for which I can be grateful?”. Its uncanny how in that very moment clarity of thought occurs lessons are harvested and the issue at hand is brought into perspective and the disappointment begins to dissipate.
“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.” – Seneca
The Stoic way of thought helps one to seek seasons of change and challenge through a counterculture paradigm. Societal norms, in particular, the norms of comfort and our innate desire to avoid pain are continuously challenged in the texts. As such I have found reading the Stoics to be a catalyst in my pursuit of growth both mentally and physically.
“The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”
If you are new to reading Stoic works they may seem overwhelming causing you to feel as if you’re competing for the Olympic gold medal in philosophical heavy lifting. A digestible and sustainable introduction to Stoicism is a book that I make sure to read 5 mornings a week when I reach my desk; The Daily Stoic. It is also a book I gift often and recommend to anyone looking to explore a different way of thinking alternatively you can start by exploring The Daily Stoic Instagram feed. As you spend more time in this way of thought and find yourself dissecting the philosophy it begins to feel more intuitive. When this becomes the case try exploring the highly thought-provoking works of Marcus Aurelius’, Meditations.