The Stoic Triangle of Happiness

The Stoics held that virtue is both essential and enough for happiness. That is, if you have virtue and nothing else, you will be happy. But you cannot be happy if you don't have virtue. Click To Tweet

Stoicism was one of the Hellenistic period’s new philosophical movements. Zeno of Citium was its founder. The terms Stoic and Stoicism originate from the porch (stoa poikilê) of the Athenian Agora, where the school’s lectures took place.

Stoicism has never been entirely academic. For the Stoics, their philosophy was not just an interesting pastime or even a knowledge base, but it was a way of life. Modern versions of Stoicism continue this legacy.

What do the Stoics say about happiness?

The Stoics were clear that living a happy life requires possessing and practicing the virtues of courage, moderation, justice, and wisdom. 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.

The Stoics teach whatever is genuinely good benefits its owner in all situations and ensures their happiness. Contrary to popular belief, they believe money and property are neither good nor bad (‘indifferents’). The only things that are good are the virtues of the human mind.

The Roman Stoics further emphasized that the sage — a person who had reached moral and intellectual perfection — is impervious to misfortunes. A sage is happy because he or she never abandons virtue or reason.

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What is a Stoic triangle of happiness?

The Stoic Triangle of Happiness is a simple three-boundary figure that depicts Stoic happiness or eudaimonia. Its three arms are virtue, control, and responsibility, and the area inside is eudaimonia or happiness.

Stoic-Triangle-of-Happiness
The Stoic Triangle of Happiness

Control

The Stoic divides the world into two halves by a principle called the dichotomy of control. It says there are things in this world we can control, like our judgment, impulse, desires, intentions. Everything else lies beyond our control, like others’ opinions of you, your body, reputation, material possessions.

The Stoics recognize some things are under their control, and others are not. For a good life, they only try to change the things they can control, not those they cannot.

The Stoics advise us to focus on and get better at the things we control, and let go of things we do not. The dichotomy of control helps us complain less and maintain our equanimity more.

Responsibility

The Stoics ask us to take responsibility for all that is happening to us without blaming others. What good is blaming another? Because either they did it out of ignorance, or they were under compulsion, or 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.

Virtue

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Have A Positive Mindset!

Virtue, or moral excellence, is the cornerstone of Stoic happiness. The Stoics hold humans were living meaningless lives if they did not live them with virtue. Virtue is completely sufficient for a life of happiness, and a virtuous person already has everything that is required for a good life.

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

Eudaimonia

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

Eudaimonia, sometimes written as eudemonia, does not mean “happiness” in the modern sense of “feeling good or being cheerful,” but rather as being blessed or fortunate. In modern times, we translate eudaimonia as “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). But for the Stoics, the requisite, and the singular, constituent of eudaimonia is “virtue” (arete).


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Eudaimonia is also the feeling one has when they look back over their years at the end of their active lives, perhaps on their deathbed, and remark, “I have lived a good life!”

To the Stoics, eudaimonia is the ultimate form of happiness that one may achieve.

Final Words

A genuinely happy Stoic has nothing to complain about in any situation, and always feels liberated from the whims of fortune.

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 because virtue is the only good.

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Stoicism takes a timeless approach to philosophy. What are those 4 factors that maintain its modern-day relevance?

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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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