Stoicism and the Art of Happiness - Ancient Tips for Modern Challenges
Stoicism and the Art of Happiness - Ancient Tips for Modern Challenges

Stoicism and the Art of Happiness - Ancient Tips for Modern Challenges

assumed that the goal of life was Happiness (eudaimonia), which Stoics believed to coincide both with rational self-love and an attitude of friendship and affection towards others, (Location 216)

‘love humanity from the bottom of your heart’ while rejoicing in doing good to others for its own sake and treating virtue as its own reward (Location 218)

He has natural emotions and desires but is not overwhelmed by them, and remains guided by reason. (Location 221)

Nobody should dare claim to be wise, although everyone should dare to try to be so. (Location 287)

Some people will be put off by their fundamentally uncompromising stance on ethics. Others will find it refreshing and intriguing, perhaps even quite radical and exciting. (Location 379)

‘A Stoic can be regarded, perhaps, as someone who continually reminds themselves that their plight is not as bad as it may appear, and that our capacities, to deal with both the petty frustrations of daily life and significant turns of bad fortune, are superior (with philosophy’s aid) to how we usually imagine them’ (Seddon, 2006, p. 78). (Location 495)

How does someone live a good life? They saw themselves as veritable warriors of the mind and would perhaps condemn modern academic philosophy as mere ‘sophistry’ by comparison. (Location 597)

Elsewhere, however, he advises students to go shirtless and barefoot, which suggests the Stoics saw these Cynic trappings as optional to the philosophical way of life. (Location 616)

his tolerance of hardship, including extreme heat and cold, having trained himself to have modest needs and to be content with the most basic material possessions. (Location 648)

through his philosophical lifestyle. He argued, paradoxically, that ‘it is self-discipline, above all things, that causes pleasure.’ (Location 651)

Self-control is healthier and actually leads to more enjoyment than self-indulgence, particularly with regard to the most common sources of pleasure in daily (Location 654)

Socrates also taught his students that we should keep the body fit through appropriate physical exercise because it is employed in all human activity, even the act of thinking, as everyone knows that people can’t think straight when they have certain illnesses. (Location 659)

Xenophon likewise believed that just as people who fail to exercise their bodies become physically weak, people who do not train their characters, through self-discipline, become morally weak. (Location 665)

How did the Stoics believe we might achieve a smooth-flowing and Happy life? (Location 672)

This means completing the job left unfinished by Nature herself, by voluntarily making the best use of our highest faculty: reason. (Location 685)

The Stoics therefore emphasized the need to contemplate what a perfect human being would be like, someone whose life is both honourable and benefits themselves and others. (Location 691)

Stoicism is a philosophy that focuses on teaching us how to excel in life, how to become better human beings, and how to live a good life. (Location 696)

It follows from the premise that our essential nature is rational that the greatest virtue is wisdom and the greatest vice folly or ignorance. (Location 700)

This is because the chief good in life is squarely located within the sphere of our control, in our own actions and judgements, and everything else is classed as fundamentally ‘indifferent’ with regard to living a good life. (Location 711)

must necessarily be ‘up to us’ and under our direct control is at once the toughest and most appealing aspect of Stoicism. (Location 714)

depriving us of any excuses for not flourishing and attaining the best possible life, because this is always within our grasp. (Location 716)

Here’s a novel idea… try eating a more healthy diet for the next week. There is an important ‘Stoic’ twist, though. When you’re trying to stick to your plan, rather than motivating yourself by thinking about some desired outcome, such as losing weight or improving your health, etc., focus instead on the inherent value of developing self-discipline. (Location 736)

For the record, though, the Stoics followed the advice of Socrates that we should ‘eat to live’ rather than ‘living to eat’. (Location 743)

Remember, the goal is to improve your self-discipline and related ‘virtues’ or character strengths, rather than to lose weight or gain physical health. (Location 749)

For Stoics, these are ‘indifferent’, and true ‘harm’ only relates to our ruling faculty, our mind, which can be injured by descending into vice and nothing else. (Location 763)

Stoic wisdom consists primarily in knowing good from bad, and that means knowing what is under our control and what is not. (Location 766)

One’s internal nature: Nobody can prevent you from living according to your own internal nature, as a rational being, i.e., wisely and virtuously. (Location 784)

Nature of the world: Nothing can befall you externally that is contrary to the universal laws of Nature, which the wise man accepts piously as determined by fate or, in theological language, as the will of Zeus. (Location 786)

Put crudely, we might say these deal with our ‘feelings’, ‘actions’ and ‘thinking’ – the three main areas of our conscious experience that we can learn to achieve some voluntarily control over. (Location 898)

The early Stoics made it clear that the ideal was not to be cold-hearted like a stone or statue and their ideal community was founded on mutual love and friendship. ‘Love’ and ‘natural affection’, as we’ll see, were very highly valued by the Stoics, as were a variety of rational, moderate, ‘healthy passions’ (eupatheiai), comprised mainly of rational joy, feelings of discretion, and well-wishing or affection towards others. (Location 926)

We might express the Stoic view by saying that being a good person is all it takes to have a good life, and therefore to be Happy and fulfilled, whatever our external fortune. (Location 1003)

we have all had years of practice thinking and doing the opposite. (Location 1013)

Otherwise we’re not true philosophers: we’re just commentators on other people’s opinions. Any idiot can give a discourse like this, Epictetus says, in the process giving us a convenient summary of Stoic Ethics: (Location 1014)

Focus on what you can control, and accept what you can’t. (Location 1047)

Choose your role models wisely, a lesson he takes from Plutarch’s Parallel Lives. (Location 1048)

track of your thoughts and behaviour by, for example, monitoring them in a personal therapy journal. (Location 1050)

Practical wisdom or virtue therefore consists largely in making accurate value judgements. (Location 1071)

This meant living a supremely good life, lacking nothing, and being free from anything bad. (Location 1163)

is truly beautiful because true beauty resides in our character. The good is also what is genuinely ‘praiseworthy’, what we admire in ourselves and others. (Location 1170)

Indeed, the virtue of ‘justice’ consists in willing others to also flourish and attain good lives, with the caveat: ‘fate permitting’. (Location 1181)

Virtue can also be understood as harmony or agreement at three levels: with oneself, with reason, with mankind, and with the nature of the universe. (Location 1210)

The Stoics therefore also followed Socrates in interpreting vice as essentially a failure to grasp the true nature of the good and to apply the concept appropriately to specific situations. (Location 1244)

Take a few moments to contemplate the questions below: (Location 1253)

The Stoics said that something ‘indifferent’ contributes neither to Happiness (eudaimonia) nor unhappiness and whatever can be used well and badly is classed as ‘indifferent’. (Location 1265)

Physical health and survival, in particular, are sought by all animals, above everything else, as ends-in-themselves. (Location 1275)

‘Life is neither good nor bad; it is the space for both good and bad’, meaning that life can be used wisely or foolishly, virtuously or viciously (Location 1276)

helps him come any closer to being a good man and, in fact, his wealth and power simply provide him with more opportunities to engage in vice. (Location 1280)

According to the Stoics, therefore, external ‘goods’ do not relate to our essential nature as rational and social beings and merely confuse foolish people over the true worth of a man’s character. (Location 1288)

For that reason, the Stoics say the good man will ‘at all costs’ pursue virtue and avoid vice. (Location 1295)

Yet such things do not make a virtuous life one iota better or more fulfilled. (Location 1355)

In other words, health is better than sickness and it’s natural to seek it, within reason, but not at the cost of wisdom and virtue. (Location 1365)

For example, Epictetus appears to enumerate some of the most popular areas of ‘appropriate action’ discussed by Stoics as follows (Location 1379)

However, any idiot can do the right thing for the wrong reasons. We make progress towards the ‘perfect actions’ (katorthômata) of the Sage only insofar as we begin to select things more consistently in accord with practical wisdom and virtue. (Location 1393)

Indeed, ‘selective value’ only applies to our future, where there is still opportunity to change things. (Location 1398)

The Stoics seek to eliminate this sort of meaningless rumination because they class our past as unchangeable and therefore completely ‘indifferent’. (Location 1400)

Seneca claims that unless we embrace philosophy, the love of wisdom, life is not even bearable, because emotional disturbances are allowed free rein. (Location 1489)

If we can learn to prize wisdom above all other things, ‘Zeus’ assures us we will never be obstructed, never become upset or complain, and never become angry with or subservient to any other person. (Location 1502)

very concisely as a ‘smoothly flowing’ or serene life, a life of freedom from being thwarted or obstructed in what we seek to achieve. (Location 1515)

One of the most important philosophical arguments of the Stoics was that it is impossible to imagine someone who is on the one hand a wise and good man, having attained perfect eudaimonia, and, on the other hand, still plagued by emotional disturbance or pathological desires. (Location 1525)

emotion. It recalls a story about Diogenes the Cynic, who was asked by a Spartan if he was feeling cold, when training himself by stripping naked and embracing a bronze statue in winter. (Location 1555)

the Stoic virtues of ‘courage’ and ‘self-discipline’ appear to presuppose that the Sage actually experiences something akin to fear and desire – otherwise he has no feelings to overcome. (Location 1558)

Tranquillity is also something of a ‘dead end’ as a goal because it doesn’t lead on to other good things or maintain itself in the way that practical wisdom does. (Location 1946)

Seek not for events to happen as you wish but rather wish for events to happen as they do and your life will go smoothly. (Location 2005)

Although, the Stoics thought this was admirable, perhaps even a ‘short-cut to virtue’, they felt it wasn’t necessary or appropriate for most people. (Location 2023)

and so Epictetus counsels his students to conceal certain aspects of their training, where possible, from others. (Location 2025)

It’s more that if we want to live wisely, we need to strengthen our self-control, by training ourselves, in a reasonable manner, to endure hardship and renounce pleasures that are unhealthy or to which we’re overly-attached. (Location 2028)

conditions. If that still sounds self-punitive, consider that for modern Stoics, simply engaging in physical exercise, sticking to a healthy diet, or going camping for a week in a tent, might provide fairly ‘normal’ and ‘healthy’ ways of developing endurance and abstinence. (Location 2033)

The Sage, by contrast, has perfect freedom because he only desires what is within his control, and so he’s never thwarted, and his life goes smoothly. (Location 2045)

To live in harmony with one’s fate in this way is to cease being alienated from Nature as a whole, and to become a true ‘Citizen of the Cosmos’. (Location 2050)

However, once abuse has happened, wisdom would consist in accepting the facts, the reality of the situation, without morbidly wishing things could be different, because we can’t change the past. (Location 2065)

Stoic ‘fate’ is basically the sequence or chain of causation, which produces everything in the universe: ‘nothing has happened which was not going to be, and likewise nothing is going to be of which Nature does not contain causes working to bring that very thing about’ (Location 2106)

who believed that all events in life are rigidly determined by a ‘string of causes’, going back to the start of the universe, but that this is not mutually exclusive with the facts of human freedom. (Location 2109)

about someone having ‘freedom’ in daily life we normally just mean that nothing obstructs them from acting in accord with their own desires. (Location 2112)

the idea that absolutely everything in life necessarily happens as it does – by saying ‘What’s the point doing anything then, if everything is determined?’ (Location 2141)

Your own thoughts and actions are necessitated as part of the whole ‘string of causes’ that forms the universe. The outcome of events still often depends on your actions, though. (Location 2145)

are things in life that seem to require great effort on our part to achieve, whether or not we make the effort is fated along with the outcome. (Location 2148)

It relates to all three Stoic disciplines as only our current judgements, desires, and actions, are truly ‘up to us’ at any given moment. (Location 2166)

However, you can’t change the distant past or even what’s just happened. You can only try to influence the future, to an uncertain degree, by changing your current thoughts and actions. (Location 2310)

As we’ve seen, the word ‘philosophy’ (philosophia) means ‘love of wisdom’ and the Stoics took this expression literally. (Location 2385)

For Stoics, nevertheless, leading by example, as Zeno did, and improving ourselves in order to help others by providing a role model, is presumably more important than lecturing them. (Location 2542)

Try to view them as foolish or misguided, like children, rather than malicious. (Location 2667)

He interprets it as the virtue of living in harmony with other humans, the essence of Stoic ‘philanthropy’ or ‘love of mankind.’ (Location 2887)

Marcus appears to place greater emphasis than Epictetus on acting with justice and benevolence towards the rest of mankind, although he may have known more of his teachings than we do today. (Location 2898)

For instance, Seneca discusses the Stoic ‘reserve clause’ very clearly, in several writings, defining it as the formula: ‘I want to do such and such, as long as nothing happens which may present an obstacle to my decision’ (On Peace of Mind, 13) (Location 2989)

The Sage therefore expects that something can always oppose his plans. (Location 2993)

should completely withdraw both desire and aversion from external events, ceasing to judge them either ‘good’ or ‘bad’, accepting them in accord with the discipline of desire. (Location 3003)

nevertheless told the discipline of action requires us to continue ‘selecting’ external targets and appropriate actions, albeit ‘lightly and without straining’, and with the addition of the ‘reserve clause’. (Location 3005)

Human consciousness has a kind of unlimited flexibility; he says, it can always adapt itself to whatever befalls us in life, and this is one of the most precious gifts of Nature. (Location 3015)

Stoics should never be overly attached, in other words, to a particular outcome or course of action. (Location 3029)

but could the hypothetical ideal of a community of Sages, the dream of an ideal Stoic ‘Republic’, have served a similar function? (Location 3115)

One way of interpreting this, arguably, would be that the discipline of action requires us to dedicate every action, from the outset, to a single underlying target, the ideal ‘Republic’ or enlightened philosophical community. (Location 3120)

rehearsing (Location 3498)

By exposing yourself to small doses of stress in a controlled way, sometimes in imagination, you can build up stronger defences and become less vulnerable when confronted with a real-life problem. (Location 3550)