To achieve freedom and happiness, you need to grasp this basic truth: some things in life are under your control, and others are not.– Epictetus
The basic tenant of stoic philosophy – a philosophy fully dedicated to living life the best way you can- is the one mentioned in the above quote. It sums up this philosophy pretty well. Only be concerned with things in your control, and you will live a life of eudaemonia (roughly translates to happiness).
Things beyond our control – I am starting with things beyond because these have the biggest influence over us. In Eastern Spiritual traditions – Hinduism and Buddhism- these are labeled as Maya (illusions) that need to be eliminated to reach reality.
These things include :
- health, looks
and the list could further include things that by their very nature are dependent a great deal on people and circumstances beyond our control.
What Stoicism says is in our control is our mind and how we choose to use it. How we choose to train it and strengthen it such that the more stable and independent it is of outer circumstances the better.
Now one may look at this and say this sounds unrealistic. That money and comfort are important. Stoics have an ingenious way to say YES!…they are important but not that important.
This is where the stoicism concept of indifference comes in. There are things that fall into the category of preferred indifference (health, body, money, success, comfort). These are the things we can want in our life. There is no harm or disadvantage to having these things. But they are still indifferent, i.e., we are not to get too attached to them. If they are in our life, good, if they are not, it doesn’t matter.
“If you ever happen to turn your attention to externals, so as to wish to please anyone, be assured that you have ruined your scheme of life.”– Epictetus
Then there are things that are completely indifferent like worry, anxiety, stress, seeking validation, and regret. These emotions in most cases- since they are strong and cause us to excessively ruminate – hinder us in living our lives in a positive way. They make us focused to a large extent on things we can’t control like our past. And rather than enabling us to take positive action, they paralyze us. In this way, we can’t live our lives and can’t help others around us.
It is better to die of hunger and … be released from grief … than to live in abundance with perturbation.-Epictetus
Now to talk about things that matter, and what Stoics call qualities to have to live a happier and fulfilling life are :
In the stoic sense, wisdom means creating distance between the outside world and our reaction to it. Instead of being worried or scared by a situation, we can act wisely and calmly towards it.
Temperance in a stoic sense means having self-control while indulging in pleasures. For example, while eating junk food or drinking alcohol showing temperance, knowing how much is enough is important.
Courage for stoics meant courage to face misfortune, adversity, exile, or even death. This way we can shake the stronghold that external events might have on our internal peace.
Justice for stoics meant acting in such a way that you see your actions are in line with your values and help your community to live in a favorable and just way. With safety, love, and compassion towards each other.
Following are the books to read to get you started on Stoicism :
- Unshakable Freedom: Ancient Stoic secrets applied to modern life by Chuck Chakrapani
- Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
- Enchiridion by Epictetus
- On the shortness of life by Seneca
Before ending, a stoic mantra for developing mental toughness and courage so that our muscles tackle the moody fate – as stoics call fortune- increases.
A gem cannot be polished without friction, nor a man perfected without trials.– Seneca
See you next time. Have a great day!
- Website: Baltzly, Dirk, “Stoicism”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2019 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.) [Link]
- Book: “The Enchiridion,” by Epictetus.
- Book: “Letters to a Stoic,” by Seneca.