July 7, 2021
Stoicism is having a moment. Bestseller lists are full of books touting Stoic philosophy. Instagram feeds are full of pithy Stoic quotes with glorious images of sunrises and yoga poses. But what is this third-century BC philosophy exactly (and how does it apply to you in the 21st century?)
Stoicism is a school of philosophy of personal ethics informed by a system of logic and its views on the natural world founded in Athens. Evidently, in ancient Greece, lots of folks had time to sit around and contemplate things. This was, of course, before the Internet, Netflix, and podcasts.)
"Don't explain your philosophy. Embody it."
– Stoic philosopher, Seneca
According to Stoicism, the path to happiness is found in accepting the moment as it happens and by not allowing yourself to be controlled by the desire for pleasure or by the fear of pain. You must use your mind to understand the world and to do your part in nature's plan. And you must work together with your fellow human beings to treat them fairly and justly. Golden Rule, anyone?
Stoics decided on four virtues that would guide their principles: Wisdom, justice, courage, and moderation. A road map, if you will, to help you get your happy place.
Here's a (very partial) list of some Stoic "rules" that can provide some signpost for our own personal journeys.
- Memento mori. Remember, we all must die. Before we, as a society, decided to convince ourselves that we are immortal, taking all manner of supplements to postpone the inevitable, it was common practice to think of our time as finite. Deadlines have always been key to productivity.
- Focus on what you can control, including how your respond to things. The world is going to turn whether we say yea or nay. But we can control how we respond to situations and circumstances.
- Value time more than money and possessions. And spend a lot of that time with those you love and who love you.
- Remember, you have two ears and one mouth. Listen twice as much as you speak. My kids have heard this chestnut from me, ad nauseum, but that doesn't make it any less true.
- Don't compare yourself to others. Comparison is the thief of joy, as they say.
- What's bad for the hive is bad for the bee. We (okay, most of us) live as part of a larger society. We are social creatures and should act as such.
- Your ego is not your friend. This is a theme in most of the world's religions and philosophies for good reason. Want to be a good person? Dial your ego back.
- Practice forgiveness. Pure and simple.
- Don't make your difficulties worse by complaining about them. This is another nugget we are constantly sharing with our kids. (And one I frequently remind myself of, too.)
- Find at least one thing that makes you wiser every day. Always keep an open mind and be ready to absorb all the good stuff we come across daily.