It’s a sunny afternoon. You’re sitting in a park, enjoying a sandwich, and watching the world go by. But there’s a nagging worry in the back of your mind, a storm cloud on your sunny day. What if there was a philosophy that could help you enjoy the sandwich, the sunshine, and even the storm clouds?
Welcome to Stoicism, a philosophy rooted in ancient Greece and Rome but as relevant today as your next breath.
- Principles of Stoicism Philosophy
- The practice of Stoicism (Epictetus)
- Memento Mori – The Transience of Life (Seneca)
- The Modern-day Relevance of Stoicism
- Final Thoughts on Stoicism Philosophy
Principles of Stoicism Philosophy
Stoicism isn’t a monolithic block of thought; it’s a vibrant tapestry woven from many threads. But let’s focus on three threads that are particularly striking: the dichotomy of control, the nature of emotions, and the pursuit of virtue.
The Dichotomy of Control (Epictetus)
Imagine you’re a sailor. You can’t control the wind, the waves, or the weather. But you can control how you set your sails, how you steer your ship, and how you react to the storm. That’s the dichotomy of control, a concept distilled from the teachings of Epictetus, a man who went from being a slave to one of the most respected philosophers of his time. He taught us to focus our energy on what we can change and accept what we can’t, a lesson as valuable today as it was two millennia ago.
Stoic view on Emotions (Seneca)
Our next guide on this philosophical journey is Seneca, a Stoic philosopher, statesman, and dramatist. He viewed emotions not as wild horses that drag us where they will, but as horses that we can guide and direct. According to Seneca, it’s not events themselves that upset us, but our judgments about them. It’s like watching a movie: the screen is neutral, but our reactions to what we see make us laugh, cry, or hide behind the sofa. If we can learn to manage our judgments, we can manage our emotions.
The Virtue Ethics (Marcus Aurelius)
Now we turn to Marcus Aurelius, a Roman Emperor, and a Stoic philosopher. For Marcus, the most important thing in life wasn’t wealth, power, or fame—it was a virtue. Virtue is about being the best version of yourself, about striving for moral excellence. It’s like being in a room filled with treasures, but realizing that the most valuable thing is the mirror in the corner, the reflection of your character.
The practice of Stoicism (Epictetus)
Stoicism isn’t a theory to be discussed in a philosophy seminar—it’s a way of life to be lived every day. Epictetus emphasized the importance of practice, of applying Stoic principles in our daily lives. It’s like learning a musical instrument: reading about how to play the piano isn’t enough. You have to sit down and touch the keys, feel the music, make mistakes, and learn from them. Similarly, being a Stoic means practicing reflection, mindfulness, and contentment.
Memento Mori – The Transience of Life (Seneca)
Remembering our mortality, memento mori is a Stoic practice that can give depth to our lives. Seneca wrote extensively about this. It’s not about dwelling on death in a morbid or fearful way, but about appreciating life as a precious and temporary gift. It’s like having a scoop of your favorite ice cream. You know it will melt eventually, so you savor every moment, enjoy every lick, and appreciate the taste, texture, and sweetness.
The Modern-day Relevance of Stoicism
We’re not living in ancient Rome or Greece. The world has changed in countless ways since the days of Epictetus, Seneca, and Marcus Aurelius. But the core principles of Stoicism remain as relevant today as they were then. Just look at the life of Tim Ferriss, an entrepreneur, author, and podcast host who is one of the most vocal modern proponents of Stoicism. For Ferriss, Stoicism isn’t an abstract concept; it’s a practical tool that helps him navigate the challenges of his daily life, from managing stress to dealing with critics.
Tim Ferriss and Stoicism
Ferriss first encountered Stoicism during a challenging time in his life, when he was running a business that was consuming his time and energy. He discovered Stoic principles, particularly the teachings of Seneca, and began to apply them to his life. He found that Stoicism helped him simplify and streamline his life, providing him with an operating system that had been tested in high-stakes environments and was highly specific and tactical. It resonated with him on many levels, including its secular nature and its focus on practicality and effectiveness in the real world.
How Stoicism Helps Ferriss Daily
For Ferriss, Stoicism is not just a philosophy, but a practical tool that he uses daily. One of the key Stoic practices that he uses is negative visualization, or rehearsing the worst-case scenarios. This practice helps him to prepare for high-pressure situations, like interviews or live broadcasts. By visualizing the worst-case scenario, he can stay calm and composed, choosing his response rather than reacting on impulse.
Ferriss also uses Stoic principles to deal with criticism. By reminding himself of the Stoic idea that he is not as good or as bad as others say he is, he can maintain a balanced perspective and not get swept away by praise or criticism. This Stoic practice helps him to navigate the highs and lows of public life, providing a steady compass in a turbulent world.
Final Thoughts on Stoicism Philosophy
So that’s Stoicism in a nutshell. It’s a philosophy that has stood the test of time, helping people from ancient philosophers to modern entrepreneurs navigate life’s challenges. It’s about understanding what we can and can’t control, managing our emotions, striving for virtue, practicing daily, and remembering our mortality. Whether you’re dealing with stress, seeking simplicity, or trying to be the best version of yourself, Stoicism has something to offer.
As the sun sets on our day in the park, I hope you’ve found something in Stoicism that resonates with you. And if not, that’s okay too. After all, as Kurt Vonnegut once said, “If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”