Stoicism is an ancient Greek philosophy founded by Zeno of Citium in the 3rd century B.C. The term “stoic” originates from the Stoa Poikile, or painted porch, an open market in Athens where the early Stoic philosophers gathered to teach and exchange ideas. In essence, Stoicism teaches that practicing virtue is not only necessary but also sufficient to achieve true happiness.
While many philosophers embraced Stoicism, two notable figures serve as our primary guides: Seneca, a Roman politician, writer, and tutor to Nero, and Marcus Aurelius, the last “good” Roman Emperor.
It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.
Like many other ancient philosophers, the Stoics believe that the purpose of life is to achieve eudaimonia. While there is no exact English equivalent for this Greek term, it is commonly translated as “happiness,” although it carries a deeper meaning. Eudaimonia can be better understood as “a well-lived, flourishing life.”
Stoicism asserts that the key to a good life lies solely in virtue. The virtues, including prudence, justice, courage, and moderation, are considered good, while their opposites, such as foolishness and injustice, are seen as bad. There are also certain things, like health, pleasure, beauty, strength, wealth, reputation, and similar aspects, that are neither good nor bad and should be viewed as indifferent.
Even in the face of numerous tragedies or severe physical torment, a virtuous person still has the potential for eudaimonia, as external circumstances cannot damage their virtuous character. Once one achieves virtue, nothing has the power to destroy one’s life. In Stoic reasoning, virtue represents the pinnacle of happiness.
No man’s good by accident. Virtue has to be learnt.
According to the Stoics, it is important not to be held accountable for things beyond our control. Thus, while a skilled archer aims for the target, hitting it is not the ultimate goal. The true measure of an archer’s skill lies in their dedication to becoming the best archer they can be. The Stoics propose that we adopt a similar mindset when pursuing our life goals. Only our own actions and thoughts are within our grasp. If we consider external factors, which are beyond our control, as necessary for our happiness, we relinquish our responsibility for our own well-being to chance. The Stoics view this as a misguided approach, as our happiness ultimately lies fully within our own power.
The Stoics, who were pantheists, held the belief that God and the cosmos are one and the same. As a result, they considered everything in the universe, including stones, trees, animals, and humans, as integral parts of God. They also believed that God has purposefully organized the world to be as good as possible. Although they embraced a deterministic universe, they did not reject the notion of human freedom. They believed that fate and free will can coexist without contradiction.
You have power over your mind―not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.
Even today, Stoicism continues to inspire and empower people across the globe. Its teachings have been integrated into modern psychotherapy and self-help literature, helping individuals cope with stress, adversity, and the challenges of daily life. Stoicism’s emphasis on self-control, resilience, and moral integrity remains as relevant now as it was centuries ago.
Words of Wisdom
“I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.” —Douglas Adams
“Have no fear of perfection; you’ll never reach it.” —Marie Curie
“Just write every day of your life. Read intensely. Then see what happens. Most of my friends who are put on that diet have very pleasant careers.” —Ray Bradbury
“If you are lonely when you’re alone, you are in bad company.” —Jean-Paul Sartre