Becoming More Stoic


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.



3 thoughts on “Becoming More Stoic

  1. “If you are unhappy, it’s your own fault.” One of my favorite lines from Stoic Philosophy, although I disagree this is always true.

    Having read Marcus Aurelius, it was interesting to find, many of his expressions were very Christian-like. Yet, from time to time, he was known to order the persecution and execution of Christians.

    🙂 I love it when people get on Stoic Philosophy. If nothing else, Stoic Philosophy can be fun to read. Or as Spock might declare with exuberance, “Most logical!”


  2. […] of the guiding principles in the book is the fact that “It’s all Invented.” I’ve written about this idea before; what happens to us is neither positive nor negative – it just is what it is. It’s the […]


  3. […] I’ve written about Stoicism before; it’s a philosophy many leaders embrace, for good reason. One is that Stoic thinking keeps you focused on what’s most important. Van Natta says one of the main principles of Stoicism is the Dichotomy of Control. It’s the most fundamental of the Stoic premises: Some things are in your control, and some things are outside of your control. Stoics divide every situation according to this and focus only on the things that are in their control. […]


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