Stoicism is having a moment. The ancient philosophy started in Greece in about 300 BC. It spread to Rome and over the centuries has influenced many modern philosophers, academics, and entrepreneurs. It is the basis for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, a psychotherapy practice that helps patients become aware of inaccurate or negative thinking so they can view situations more clearly and respond to them in a more effective way.
The Stoics developed a system designed to help everyone live a happier life. If you’re going through a rough patch in your job or career transition, you can apply Stoic principles to help you cope. Here are some ideas to consider.
Stoics believe that emotions come from within, and they are controllable. The universe is basically indifferent; nothing that happens (good or bad) is aimed at you personally. It’s raining today as I write this. Rain is neither inherently good or bad; the stories we tell ourselves determine our response to it – and our resulting mood. If you had a picnic or outdoor wedding planned, the rain will make you miserable. If you own a farm that has gone through months of severe drought, you’ll feel joy and gratitude. But the rain remains indifferent to you.
If you can learn to experience human events as you do rain, you can learn to remain calm and resilient in the face of adversity. Marcus Aurelius wrote, “You shouldn’t give circumstances the power to rouse anger, for they don’t care at all.”
Stoics also believe that you don’t need material wealth to be happy; living a good life and being a good person is all you need. Things will come and go from your life; your circumstances can change at any moment. It’s easy to be envious of what other people have: a great job, a promotion, happy relationships, or 10,000 more Instagram followers than you. Envy is one of the most corrosive of human emotions, and it can make even people with many blessings miserable. Learning to love what you have is the key to happiness. Epictetus wrote, “Wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants.” Marcus Aurelius addressed envy and its cure: “Do not indulge in dreams of having what you have not, but reckon up the chief of the blessings you do possess, and then thankfully remember how you would crave for them if they were not yours.”
Stoicism teaches you that no one can hurt you unless you let them. In fact, the pain you feel comes from your cooperation with the person who has hurt you. Epictetus wrote, “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.”
Several great versions of this idea have emerged over the centuries. Eleanor Roosevelt said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” And one of my favorite quotes on the subject from the great philosopher W.C. Fields: “It’s not what they call you that matters, it’s what you answer to.”
Stoicism has been defined by many as having (or expressing) no feelings, but that’s not a fair representation of the concept. Being stoic doesn’t mean you feel nothing. Indian Author Abhijit Naskar wrote, “Being a stoic does not mean being a robot. Being a stoic means remaining calm both at the height of pleasure and the depths of misery.”
If you’re not happy with what’s happening right now, remember that this too, shall pass. In the meantime, take comfort in an ancient philosophy that can help you cope with modern life.