The Characteristics of Stoicism: A Helpful Philosophy
We often find that life doesn’t go exactly how we want it to. It constantly surprises us with unexpected events that may disrupt our plans, desires, or goals. When we’re faced with these difficulties, we tend to feel distressed, upset, and frustrated. However, there’s a philosophy in life called stoicism that can help you deal with those feelings. Today, we’ll share some characteristics of stoicism and how to use them in your life.
Stoicism is a philosophical school that emerged in the 3rd century BC. Its principles represent a practical guide to living a good life in an unpredictable world. However, despite having been created more than 2000 years ago, its teachings are still valid.
What is stoicism?
Stoicism is a philosophical belief that defends controlling any emotions that may disturb your life. And, you control them through virtue and reason. The goal is to achieve happiness and wisdom, regardless of comforts, material goods, and fortune.
For Stoics, there are three types of emotions: good, bad, and indifferent. They propose that we should focus on those that are unhealthy so we can learn to manage and deal with them. That way, we can acquire a certain imperturbability and degree of independence when faced with real-life issues.
This position is based on the principle that people aren’t disturbed by the facts themselves, but by the beliefs people hold about those facts. So, the responsibility when we’re frustrated, embarrassed, or upset would be entirely ours and not others’.
In addition, it’s important to emphasize that you don’t want to eliminate or repress your emotions. That’s not what stoicism is about. Instead, you should confront the beliefs that lead to unpleasant emotions and turn them into healthier thoughts.
Keep reading: Hygge: Being Content With the Little Things
History and origin of stoicism
Zeno of Citrus founded the Stoic school in the 3rd century BC in Athens. The name comes from the Greek term stoikós, derived from stoá, which means ‘portico,’ the place in the city where philosophers met. Seneca (4 BC-AD 65), Epictetus (55-135), and Marcus Aurelius (121-180) are among the most well-known exponents.
Stoicism was one of the most influential Hellenic schools, reaching a great height between the 3rd and 2nd centuries BC. However, it began to weaken as Christianity became more popular. But, you should note that Christianity and other religions took some principles from Stoicism.
Today, Stoic ideas are very valid in different positions. Also, it has a great influence on psychology, especially in the cognitive-behavioral branch.
Characteristics of Stoicism
The essential characteristics of stoicism are the following:
- Stoicism is a life philosophy. There are recommended daily practices that will help you achieve happiness.
- For Stoics, the universe is a living organism that has a rational soul (logos). This universal and divine reason participates in everything that exists and explains everything. So, each situation has an explanation. Also, each particular element belongs to cosmic order, in which we participate.
- Each person’s intelligence is a particle of universal reason. Therefore, achieving happiness implies living in tune with it.
- The only thing that human beings can do in the face of external events is control their own way of seeing and dealing with things.
- The Stoic philosophy of life involves living in harmony with nature through the use of reason. In this sense, your social life can improve if you accept what fate holds.
5 exercises to apply stoicism to your daily life
As we already mentioned, stoicism is a practical philosophy that seeks to improve people’s daily lives. Below, we’ll show you some exercises you can use to incorporate the characteristics of stoicism into your daily life.
1. Recognize what is and is not in your control
Identify and separate the issues in your life by which are external and, therefore, not under our control, and which are internal and we can handle.
According to contemporary philosopher Massimo Pigliucci, the things we can control are our judgments, opinions, and values. Everything else is external and beyond our control.
While it may seem like Stoicism encourages you to settle for everything in life, that’s not actually true. Instead, it asks: if you cannot control what’s outside of yourself, what practical sense is there to worry about it?
2. Think before you act
Marco Aurelio affirmed that if you’re disturbed by something external, the discomfort doesn’t come from the thing itself, but from your thoughts about it. Therefore, you have the power to avoid that discomfort.
So, when you feel angry, frustrated, or distressed by something, you should stop to think for a moment and reflect on what happened. Then, ask yourself what the best way to react would be. Simply reflecting on things can help you avoid negative and impulsive responses.
3. Define your fears
Another valuable practice of Stoicism is to define what you’re afraid of. Then, you can think of ways to keep that fear from happening. Or, if it does happen, you can be prepared to minimize the damage.
This helps us get our fears out of our heads and evaluate them objectively. In doing so, we’ll realize that it really isn’t that bad. We can control them if we know how to prevent them.
4. Live in the present
Seneca said that happiness lies in enjoying the present without being anxiously aware of the future. It may seem trite, but it’s a very valuable lesson that will help us feel satisfied with what we already have.
Many think that achievement and success will bring us happiness. However, Stoics know it’s the other way around. Happiness is what brings us success and achievement. So, you shouldn’t wait for tomorrow to start enjoying your life.
5. Accept the reality of death
We all need to accept that one day we’re going to die. Very few people like to talk about death, or even think about it. However, it’s the one certain thing we have in life. And, confronting that can be liberating. That’s because the fear of death paralyzes us and doesn’t let us leave our comfort zones.
Reflecting on one’s own death is depressing if you don’t approach it correctly. Life is short. Like it or not, once day we will all cease to exist.
Managing your emotions and understanding what is and is not under your control are characteristics of Stoicism. However, this isn’t always an easy task.
One way to help is writing in a journal before bed. As you do, you can reflect on the most important parts of the day, based on your own perspective of the day. To do so, you can ask yourself questions, like what went wrong, what went well and what you can improve on.
All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.
- Baltzly D. Stoicism [Internet]. Estado Unidos: Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy; 2018 [consultado 20 jun 2021]. Disponible en: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/stoicism/
- Ellis A. Autocontrol: el método de la terapia racional-emotiva. Avances en Psicología Clínica Latinoamericana [Internet]. 1984; 3: 35–43. Disponible en: https://psycnet.apa.org/record/1985-20848-00
- García I. La filosofía helenística. Azafea Rev de Filosofía [Internet]. 2015; 17: 11-14. Disponible en: https://revistas.usal.es/index.php/0213-3563/article/view/13126