Stoicism for a Better Life (Part 4)

Principles

“Remember, it is not enough to be hit or insulted to be harmed, you must believe that you are being harmed. If someone succeeds in provoking you, realize that your mind is complicit in the provocation. Which is why it is essential that we not respond impulsively to impressions; take a moment before reacting, and you will find it easier to maintain control.” ― Epictetus

Daily Stoic offers nine core Stoic beliefs by Stephen Hanselman:

  1. If You Want a Smooth Flow of Life, Live According to Nature
  2. Happiness Isn’t Found in Things, but in Virtue Alone – It’s All About What We Value and the Choices We Make
  3. We Don’t Control External Events, We Only Control Our Thoughts, Opinions, Decisions and Duties
  4. We’ve Each Been Given All the Inner Resources We Need to Thrive
  5. We Must Eliminate Toxic Emotions – Why Hope, Fear, and Anger are Always the Worst Strategies
  6. We Are and Must Remain a Unified Self – We Can’t Complain or Blame Anyone Else (Best to Deal with Our Own Demons)
  7. No Man Is an Island: The Stoic Golden Rule
  8. Our Personal Development is Bound Up in Cooperation with Others
  9. Persist and Resist: It’s All about Progress, Not Perfection

N.S.Gill lists eight of the main ethical notions held by the Stoic philosophers.

  • Nature: Nature is rational.
  • Law of Reason: The universe is governed by the law of reason. Humans can’t actually escape its inexorable force, but they can, uniquely, follow the law deliberately.
  • Virtue: A life led according to rational nature is virtuous.
  • Wisdom: Wisdom is the root virtue. From it spring the cardinal virtues: insight, bravery, self-control, and justice.
  • Apathea: Since passion is irrational, life should be waged as a battle against it. Intense feelings should be avoided.
  • Pleasure: Pleasure is neither good nor bad. It is only acceptable if it doesn’t interfere with the quest for virtue.
  • Evil: Poverty, illness, and death are not evil.
  • Duty: Virtue should be sought, not for the sake of pleasure, but for duty.

Paul Jun writes about 9 principles, distilled from the ideas of Stoicism:

  1. Acknowledge that all emotions come from within
  2. Find someone you respect, and use them to stay honest
  3. Recognize there is life after failure
  4. Read purposefully, and apply your knowledge
  5. Challenge yourself to be brutally honest
  6. Reflect on what you spend the most time on
  7. Remind yourself: you weren’t meant to procrastinate.
  8. Put the phone away and be present
  9. Remind yourself that time is our most precious resource

Chris Loper offers a list of 10 principles and practices:

  1. Focus on what you can control
  2. Take action
  3. Be virtuous
  4. Lead by example
  5. Diminish your ego
  6. You’re not entitled to anything
  7. Exercise your will
  8. Practice resilience when faced with obstacles, failure, or tragedy
  9. Choose your response
  10. Be grateful

Modern Stoicism elaborates on the key ideas:

  • It’s not things that upset us, but our judgements about things, said Epictetus. How we think about things is key. You are only frustrated or disappointed or angry about any given situation because you have judged that something terrible has happened. But is that judgement correct?
  • Negative emotions such as fear, anger, or jealousy should be avoided because they are based on mistaken judgements, are unpleasant to experience, and can lead to bad actions. Anger is a temporary madness, Seneca said, and should be avoided at all costs, for all too often it can escalate to violence.
  • It is a mistake to think that external circumstances and objects are inherently good. The only thing that is genuinely good is having a rational mind / virtuous character; this is the only thing the Stoics say we need in order to live a good life. While everything else – money, health, status – might be preferable (we’d all choose them over their opposites), none of these things are essential and it is possible to live a good life even without them.
  • With this in mind, the Stoics argue that it is possible to live well in any and every situation, so long as one has the right frame of mind. Whatever bad luck or adversity someone might experience, these external shifts in fortune can never undermine their frame of mind, so long as they guard it well.
  • Our focus, then, ought to be on cultivating this excellent state of mind. This means paying attention to the judgements we make and avoiding negative emotions. It also means developing positive character traits such as justice, courage, moderation, and wisdom. These virtues will enable us to act as ‘good citizens’, in line with our nature as social animals.
  • The ideal Stoic will thus be clear headed and rational, but also unselfish and social, as well as ecological and global in outlook. They will value their own integrity higher than material success. They will appreciate what they have and, if they lose it, accept with good grace that nothing can be kept forever. They will behave the best they can, without getting frustrated when things don’t work out as hoped.

As one thinks about these ideas, beliefs and principles, what is striking is their simplicity and how obvious they are. At the same time, it requires immense self-discipline to make them part of our life’s daily operating system.

Published by

Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.

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