Stoicism is ancient, but timeless and powerful philosophy providing principles that easily apply to life today, which can help you discover true purpose, meaning, happiness, success, peace of mind and your place in the world.
In this second of our two-part series, we’ll cover the core principles, beliefs and virtues of Stoicism and how they apply to life.
“True happiness is… to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence upon the future.”
– Lucius Annaeus Seneca
The Stoic model of living boils things down to four cardinal virtues for encompassing all logic, behavior, actions and choices. These four virtues are: Wisdom, justice, temperance and courage.
“Wisdom begins in wonder.”
This is also sometimes referred to as prudence, which more closely defines its application by the Stoics, which was how wisdom is applied in a practical sense. In other words, wisdom in itself is good, but practical wisdom is better. In short, Stoics believed that a person should have wisdom that gives them a better understanding about a particular issue before taking action. Thus, understanding the truth about something allows us to make a decision that is in our best interest and not be fooled by appearances or desires. Sometimes things that appear undesirable are actually good for us.
“The worst form of inequality is to try to make unequal things equal.”
This is also sometimes referred to as morality. Therefore, this virtue possesses two aspects. First, Stoics believed in cause and effect. As such, they believed people reap the results of their actions. If you live a brutal life, you will meet a brutal end. Second, where morality comes in and following the first aspect of justice, moral actions will bring a life of peace and tranquility. Being kind to all will make friends, not enemies. Following the laws of the land will make someone a valued member of society, and will bring security and safety, as well as a sense of belonging.
“Not what we have but what we enjoy, constitutes our abundance.”
This is also referred to as moderation in modern terms. Simply put, this is controlling one’s urges. We are to avoid overindulgence in the pursuit of pleasures or passions. Indulgence leads to destruction.
“Quality is not an act, it is a habit.
Courage follows logic, where one must make the right decision, even when it means not doing the easy thing or following the crowd. Not making the right decision always has negative consequences, despite how many others may make the wrong decision. A person can have all the other virtues, but unless they have the courage to make the right choices, everything else is of no value. Courage also requires fortitude (or grit), which means making the right choice over and over again. Fortitude keeps us on the right path consistently, even when we have to face obstacles repeatedly.
“Silence is better than unmeaning words.”
Stoic apatheia or apathy, was not how we define apathy today in a negative sense. Rather, it was a way of controlling your passions and emotions, so that these feelings do not control you. In other words, it was not allowing your emotions to reach extremes.
Stoic principles can help us take control of our lives rather than allowing life to control us. It can inform our decision-making, helping us to understand life and how we should react to it. Stoicism teaches us how to think logically by understanding how life works, to seek the ultimate truths in all situations, and not being guided or informed by raw emotions.
It teaches us to accept the natural things of the world and find balance and our place in it, and that applies to our direct environment in society and our community as well. It guides us to understand what we can control and how to use that to make the right decisions and live a more harmonious life. It teaches us that what we do and think matters. How we treat others matters. There is a cause and effect in life. When we take virtuous actions, we reap virtuous results. But when we give into destructive desires, it leads to destructive behaviors, that bring negative consequences into our life.