The Stoic Triangle of Happiness

The Stoics held that virtue was both essential and enough for happiness. If you have virtue and nothing else, you will be happy. But you cannot be happy if you don’t have virtue.

Stoicism was one of the Hellenistic period’s philosophical movements, founded by Zeno of Citium. Stoic and Stoicism originate from stoa poikilê, or the porch in the Athenian Agora, where Zeno gave lectures.

For the Stoics, their philosophy was more than an amusing pastime or a body of knowledge; it was a way of life.

What are the four factors that maintain Stoicism’s modern-day relevance?

What is the Stoic triangle of happiness?

The Stoic Triangle of Happiness is a conceptual framework that illustrates the requirements for Stoic happiness or eudaimonia. The Stoics held that the ideal human state was one in which wisdom, self-control, and personal responsibility coexisted in balance. They visualized these as three arms of a triangle with the area inside representing Eudaimonia.


The “Virtue” Arm of Stoic Happiness Triangle

Virtue, or moral excellence, is the cornerstone of Stoic happiness.

The Stoics believe that if people do not live their lives with virtue, their lives are meaningless.

They feel Virtue is completely sufficient for a life of happiness, and a virtuous person already has everything necessary for a good life.

So, they strongly advise us to practice the four cardinal virtues to the best of our ability to achieve eudaimonia.

The “Control” Arm of Stoic Happiness Triangle

The Stoic divides the world into two halves by a principle called the dichotomy of control.

This principle says there are a few things in this world that we can control, such as our judgment, impulse, desires, and intentions.

Everything else lies beyond our control, mainly other peoples’ opinions of us, our bodies, our reputation, and our material belongings.

The Stoics recognize that for a happy life, they must try to influence only the things that they control, and let go of things that they do not.

Knowing and using the dichotomy of control allows us to complain less about unexpected results and undesired behaviors.

The Stoics encourage us to focus on and improve on only the things that we can control, that is, our thoughts, attitudes, and actions.

Not trying to control the results of our actions or the behaviors of others helps us keep calm when things go wrong, and increases our overall happiness.

Stoic Triangle of Happiness Tweet: keep-calm-not-trying-to control-others

The “Responsibility” Arm of Stoic Happiness Triangle

The Stoics advise us to take responsibility for all that happens to us without blaming others.

They ask you, what good is blaming another? Those people did what they did out of ignorance, under compulsion, or with limited information. But it was the best judgment they took at that point.

When we take responsibility for things involving us and decide how to respond to them with wisdom and judgment, it makes us more prudent and independent — both freeing us from mental enslavement to others.

Stoic Happiness or “Eudaimonia”

Eudaimonia is a Greek word for flourishing or life satisfaction. It means having a good relationship with our daemon, our divine inner nature.

  • Stoic eudaimonia is the ultimate form of happiness that any human may achieve.
  • Stoic eudaimonia is also the feeling one may have at the end of their active life, perhaps on their deathbed, when they look back and declare, “I have had a good life.”

Eudaimonia, sometimes spelled eudemonia, does not mean “happiness” in the modern sense of “feeling good or being cheerful,” but rather as being blessed or fortunate. In positive psychology, eudaimonia means “flourishing.”

To the Greeks, most of all Aristotle, it epitomizes the best kind of happiness. In ancient Greek philosophy, eudaimonia typifies the condition of someone living “the good life.”

A eudaimonic person has everything that is intrinsically good and is living their best possible life.

  • For the Epicureans, eudaimonia was having positive feelings like pleasure (hedonia) and tranquility (ataraxia).
  • For the Stoics, however, the requisite and the singular constituent of eudaimonia is “virtue” (arete).
EUDAIMONIA | The Stoic Happiness Triangle (3 STEPS)

What do the Stoics say about happiness?

They say the ideal life is one that is lived in harmony with Nature and other people, and with a mind that is calmly indifferent to external events.

A real man doesn’t give way to anger and discontent, and such a person has strength, courage, and endurance — unlike the angry and complaining. The nearer a man comes to a calm mind, the closer he is to strength.

Marcus Aurelius, The Philosopher King

The Stoics believe that whatever is genuinely good would ultimately benefit its owner in all circumstances and ensure their happiness.

Contrary to popular view, the Stoics regard money and property as neither good nor bad, but rather as “indifferents.” So, a Stoic’s attitude is unaffected by a lack or surplus of money.

The Roman Stoics further emphasized that the sage — a person who had reached moral and intellectual perfection — was impervious to misfortunes.

The Stoic sage never finds themselves in a position where they must go against their natural desire. The only instance they accept that something is bad is when it threatens their virtue.

The Stoics were clear that living a happy life required possessing and practicing the four cardinal virtues of wisdom, temperance, justice, and courage.

The only things that are good are the virtues of the human mind.

How does Stoicism determine happiness?

Stoic happiness is determined by the following factors:
1. Awareness of your goals and motivations.
2. Using the Stoic principles of control and virtue.
3. Loving fate without shirking your responsibilities (amor fati).
4. Acceptance of the way things are rather than how they should be.

What did Nietzsche think of Stoicism?

Nietzsche turned to Stoicism in the late 1870s in an attempt to find a philosophical therapy that might treat injuries caused by fate or chance without resorting to divine vindication.
However, he came to oppose Stoic therapy when he found that it involves a radical elimination of the value judgments that underpin emotions.

Nietzsche’s Free Spirit Trilogy and Stoic Therapy, Michael Ure. The Journal of Nietzsche Studies (2009).

Final Words

Stoicism takes a timeless approach to be the philosophy of everyday life. That’s one reason it has survived for over 2000 years, and modern Stoicism continues to thrive today.

A truly happy Stoic has nothing to complain about in any situation, and always feels liberated from the whims of fortune. A Stoic is happy because they never abandon virtue or reason.

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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 popular science articles on happiness, positive psychology, and related topics.

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