Stoicism is a philosophy of life that aims to find eudaimonia (human flourishing or happiness). Practiced for over 2300 years, its popular appeal stems from its universal principles of peaceful coexistence.
Contrary to common belief, the Stoics do not discourage people from experiencing or expressing their emotions. In fact, the Stoics encourage experiencing the entire range of emotions.
They suggest we remain mindful of the effects that our thoughts can have on our feelings and actions. So, they practice and suggest suffering and enjoying this human existence, and yet do both in moderation.
We can become modern Stoics by choosing to practice virtue, whether anyone is watching or not.
What is Stoicism, In A Nutshell?
Stoicism is a still-practiced Greco-Roman school of philosophy founded in 301 BCE by Zeno of Citium. It holds the highest good of human life is Virtue, and we can remain indifferent to pleasure, misery, and the whims of fortune if we practice the four cardinal virtues — wisdom, courage, justice, and temperance.
Stoic philosophy urges living in the present moment, harmonizing with cosmic wisdom, being grateful for what we have, and remaining indifferent to earthly riches and recognition through the practice of memento mori.
Stoicism starts with the belief that we can find good in all human experiences and live meaningful lives if we practice Virtue or moral excellence.
Stoicism holds that if we practice moral virtue in all of our thoughts and acts, we can live rich, worthy, and happy lives.
The Stoics recognize that many of our negative emotions, which they called “pathe” (suffering), are a product of our voluntary judgments about the world. So they avoid making judgments about situations and people, and instead, prefer accepting them as they are. It shields them from the severe effects of lingering emotions.
The Stoics believe in the idea of loving their fate, or amor fati. The premise is that if you accept what you can’t change, then you won’t be frustrated when it happens. This allows the Stoics to keep an optimistic outlook on their situation, no matter how bleak it seems, and to keep working for a brighter tomorrow.
To love only what happens, what was destined. No greater harmony.— Marcus Aurelius, The Philosopher King
Stoicism can help you live a life of serenity and peace. Stoic happiness comes from their understanding of their role in the universe and fulfilling it to the best of their ability.
Stoic philosophy emphasizes self-control and the rule of reason. It tells us to not let our emotions dictate us and to use reason to make any decision that we make.
Be tolerant with others and strict with yourself.— Marcus Aurelius, The Philosopher King
It teaches us how to live forward without being burdened by shame, remorse, disgust, or guilt about the past. It tells us we cannot control what happens to us, but we can control our response to what happens to us.
The masters of Stoicism repeatedly remind us that the only things we have control over are our thoughts, choices, and actions in the present moment.
The Stoics believe life is short, unpredictable, and often painful. Wasting it on doing useless things only adds to our pain. So, they advise:
- Stop whining about people spoiling your day or mood – they are what they are. Instead, expect to come across some “wicked, ignorant, ungrateful” people every day. Our good comes from us, not others.
- Don’t turn away from the harsh times. Instead, meet adversities with the wisdom that they will pass, and hold the same thought for the good times. The trivial and the vital, the blissful and the painful, all fade away.
Think often on the swiftness with which the things that exist and that are coming into existence are swept past us and carried out of sight. For all substance is as a river in ceaseless flow, its activities ever-changing and its causes subject to countless variations, and scarcely anything stable.— Marcus Aurelius
Finally, for a Stoic, the purpose of life is to live in simple harmony with nature, which can only come from a life of virtue, which then leads to a life of joy (eudaimonia) that is free of suffering (apatheia).
[Download the PDF: Stoicism—Short Summary]
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What is Stoicism?
Stoicism is defined as an ancient Greek school of philosophy founded by Zeno of Citium in Athens. The school taught that Virtue, the highest good, is based on knowledge; the wise live in harmony with the divine Reason (sometimes equated with Fate and Providence) that governs Nature, and are indifferent to the whims of fortune, as well as pleasure and pain.
What are the four main ideas of Stoicism?
The four major ideas of Stoicism are Virtue, Nature, Apatheia, and Eudaimonia. Virtue has four subtypes: wisdom (the root virtue), justice, courage, and moderation. Nature or the cosmos is perfect and everything that happens is predetermined, so all outcomes must be accepted. Apatheia or equanimity is a state of mind unaffected by the passions. Eudaimonia is the ultimate goal of life, and a good life comes from the pursuit of virtue.
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Author Bio: Written and reviewed by Sandip Roy—a medical doctor, psychology writer, and happiness researcher. Founder and Chief Editor of The Happiness Blog. Writes on mental health, happiness, positive psychology, and philosophy (especially Stoicism)
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