What is Stoicism?
Stoicism, pronounced “stow ·uh ·si · zm“, is an ancient and practical Greek philosophy.
It’s a philosophy which aims to aid you in the pursuit of Eudaemonia (human thriving).
Self-mastery is gained through first understanding the inherent power of your mind.
The fundamental idea of Stoicism is:
“You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.”
– Marcus Aurelius
Once we stop looking at external conditions going your way for you to be happy, instead focusing on your inner state, you become Stoic.
Stoic vs stoic
One of the biggest misunderstandings in Stoicism comes from it being mistaken with the word stoic.
The dictionary definition of the word stoic is a person who can endure pain or hardship without showing their feelings or complaining.
Consequently, people believe following the philosophy of Stoicism entails the disregarding of emotions and transforming into an automaton.
This is an erroneous assumption.
Real Stoicism isn’t about eliminating your emotions. Instead, it encourages you to learn how to control them, so they don’t control you.
Table of Contents
Nassim Nicholas Taleb has a nice comment on Stoicism:
“My definition is a Stoic is someone who transforms fear into prudence, pain into transformation, mistakes into initiation, and desire into undertaking.”
“Stoicism is about the domestication of emotions, not their elimination.”
Ultimately, the philosophy inverts your world view of cause and effect.
Before becoming a Stoic, you will likely feel victim to outer conditions.
A slave to the contingencies of life.
After inheriting the Stoic world view, you will see the locus of control lies within.
How Did Stoicism Start?
Sometime before 300 BC, a wealthy merchant named Zeno of Citium became shipwrecked while travelling to Athens. Zeno lost all his precious cargo – expensive purple dye extracted from sea snails.
Stuck in Athens and not sure what to do, he decided to seek council from the Oracle of Delphi.
The legend goes the oracle told him to “Dye himself with the colour, not of dead shellfish, but of dead men.”
Zeno interpreted this cryptic message to mean he should seek knowledge from great thinkers of the past and undertake philosophy.
One day when Zeno was reading about Socrates, he asked a bookseller,
“Tell me where I can find a man like this?”
Since Zeno was in Athens during a booming period of philosophical inquiry, the bookseller had to only point outside at a man who was walking past named ‘Crates of Thebes’.
Zeno went on to study under the Cynic philosopher Crates of Thebes and was influenced by his teachings.
Around 300 BC Zeno decided to start his own school of philosophy.
He taught in the colonnade in the Agora of Athens on the stairs of the painted porch known as the Stoa Poikile.
The Stoa Poikile was an open market where the early Stoics would meet and philosophize.
Zeno’s students were initially called Zenonians (Yuck), which was later changed to the more elegant Stoics paying homage to the ‘Stoa’ Poikile.
Philosophies That Influenced Stoicism
Stoicism was formed during the Hellenistic period in the Mediterranean. This was a fertile time for philosophical inquiry. As mentioned, Zeno studied many other philosophies before starting his school.
Stoicism can then be seen as an emergent property of several different schools of philosophy: Cynicism, Epicureanism and the teachings of Socrates to name a few.
At some point between the transitioning of the late republic and the Empire, Stoicism started gaining more prominence in Rome.
The Roman Stoics have been the most influential due to having complete works that have survived the ages.
The period called the ‘Late Stoa’ produced works from the most popular Stoics:
- Lucius Annaeus Seneca (Seneca the Younger) (c. 4BC – AD 65)
- Musonius Rufus (c. AD 40 – 30)
- Epictetus (c. 55 – 135 AD)
- Marcus Aurelius (26 April 121 – 17 March 180)
Many of these works are what have allowed us to understand the Stoic framework.
Without them there wouldn’t be a re-surfacing in popularity of Stoicism nor the movement now called ‘Modern Stoicism’
Who Were The Stoic Philosophers?
Below is a summary of some of the most famous Stoic philosophers who have shaped the way we understand the ancient teachings.
Lucius Annaeus Seneca was a Stoic philosopher and wealthy Roman Stateman. He was the son of Seneca the Older, born in Hispania (South Spain) and educated in Rome. At age 49 he became the tutor of the emperor Nero (who would later sentence him to death for an alleged conspiracy). Seneca has left many detailed works which are still celebrated today.
On the shortness of life – A short, beautiful work on how humans devalue time. It deals with opportunity cost and death. I strongly suggest reading this to get started with Seneca.
Letters from a Stoic – A series of letters addressed to Seneca’s dear friend Lucilius. These letters are filled with Stoic wisdom for dealing with many of life’s recurring themes.
Best Seneca Quotes
Epictetus was born a slave.
When he was young, he attended the lectures of the Stoic Musonius Rufus, and would later live by these Stoic teachings as a free man. Epictetus along with other philosophers was expelled from Rome by the emperor Domitian. He lived his life ill and with a lame leg on Nicopolis. In spite of all these hardships, the strong Stoic ethos can be felt in his works which were written by his pupil Arrian.
Enchiridion – The word Enchiridion translates to ‘small manual’. This short work will give you essential Stoic principles and maxims you can start practicing today. This is distilled Stoic Sage advice.
Discourses – A more thorough analysis of Epictetus’ view on Stoic Philosophy. This book contains a series of informal lectures given by Epictetus.
Best Epictetus Quotes
Gaius Musonius Rufus was a Stoic philosopher who taught philosophy during the reign of Nero (same period as Seneca). Not much is known about his life, but he was notably the teacher of Epictetus. Most of his works have not survived the passage of time yet some lectures remain.
That One Should Disdain Hardships – A compilation of lectures given by Musonius Rufus edited by Cora E. Lutz.
Best Musonius Rufus Quotes
Marcus Aurelius was a Roman Emperor who at a time was the most powerful man on earth. Antoninus Pius and Marcus Aurelius are often regarded as the last of the 5 good emperors of Rome. Marcus was respected by the Roman people and is perhaps the most popular Stoic philosopher. His philosophy is embedded in his personal diary ‘Meditations’.
Meditations – A collection of short passages which give insight into the Stoic perspective of the philosopher King. These passages become more profound with each reading.
Best Marcus Aurelius Quotes
Below are 4 core Stoic beliefs to help you better understand the philosophy.
1. Eudaemonia Through Virtuous Living
The Stoics believed a state of Eudaemonia could be achieved through living a life in accordance with virtue. Eudaemonia has no direct English translation, but it means a state of fulfillment and human flourishing. Eudaemonia is like happiness but at a much deeper core level.
To feel Eudaemonia means you are doing something very right.
In the Nicomachean Ethics (1098a17) Aristotle describes Eudaemonia as
“Activity of the soul in accordance with virtue.”
The Greeks described virtue as arete.
When something has arete, it performs its function at an exceptional level.
It works as intended.
A sharp knife which allows you to effortlessly cut through sweet potatoes has arete.
A chair which is ergonomic and can withstand your weight even after the Christmas Buffet also has arete.
The Stoics believed that for a human to have arete they must live in accordance with nature.
Living in accordance with nature, for humans who are social creatures, means developing good character and making good judgements.
2. Stoic Cardinal Virtues
The Stoics believed eudaemonia could be achieved by following the 4 major cardinal virtues.
Prudence or Phronêsis: Prudence means having wisdom. Wisdom allows you to make better decisions and live harmoniously with other human beings. Stoic philosophers, notably Seneca, would spend time learning and understanding other philosophies (epicureanism in Seneca’s case) to gather more worldly wisdom.
Justice or Dikaiosynê: Justice entails fairness and morality, being benevolent and not holding on to grudges. Stoics believed in being a good human being and helping your fellow men through public service. This is especially important during times of adversity.
Courage Or Andreia: Courage is the ability to act despite fear. Stoics understood emotions such as fear could never be eradicated. They aimed to master themselves regardless of what emotions they were feeling in the moment.
Temperance Or Sôphrosynê: Temperance can be seen as discipline, self-control and having moderation. This is all about not allowing outside circumstances to get the better of you and being able to maintain good judgement.
3. Dichotomy of Control
The Dichotomy of Control is a core Stoic teaching which invites us to learn to distinguish the things in our control from those that are not.
Understanding this difference frees up mental bandwidth allowing you to stop worrying about things which you cannot fully influence.
Epictetus is simply stating the only thing over which we have control is our actions.
We can control our thoughts; we can regulate our emotions, and we can choose how we respond or react to events.
Yes, we have influence over the external world but not full control.
It’s much easier to focus on our internal world in which we have more sovereignty.
A good analogy for the Dichotomy of Control is a popular Stoic allegory.
The Stoic Archer
Imagine you are an archer.
For years you have studied archery and practiced diligently with the bow. You have learned first-hand from master archers, spending tireless hours refining your shot.
The craft has not been cheap; thousands of dollars were invested into getting the best gear.
All this work, all this dedication, for one tournament. You enter the tournament and quickly progress to the finals.
The bullseye is a measly 5 meters away from you.
It’s a ‘no brainer’.
You have made similar shots thousands of times. You pull back the bow and shoot the arrow.
From the outside it looks like a perfect shot. Pure class and finesse. The arrow moves en route as if pulled by a magnet.
With only a meter left, the arrow is blown off course by a gust of wind.
You lose the tournament.
Here is the fundamental question.
Should you be disappointed for losing the tournament?
According to Epictetus, winning this tournament was outside your control.
You did everything in your control fulfilling your side of the bargain, but things do not always go to plan.
As a Stoic you must learn to differentiate between the boundary of what’s in your control and what is not. Then you must ruthlessly let go of things over which you have no power.
This attitude allows you to get better at your craft and avoid unnecessary stress.
4. Memento Mori
Memento Mori translated from Latin means ‘Remember that you have to die’.
It is a bedrock in the Stoic ethos of confronting your morality.
Stoics believed in living in accordance with nature and hence did not see death as being evil.
To them, death was a natural part of life.
It is then prudent to learn to face our deaths with equanimity.
A Stoic dies many times before his real death.
“Think of yourself as dead. You have lived your life. Now, take what’s left and live it properly. What doesn’t transmit light creates its own darkness.”
— Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 7.56
He does this by contemplating his demise with ‘Premeditatio Malorum’ (Negative Visualization).
Stoics take this a step further and confront the mortality of their loved ones.
“When giving your child or wife a kiss, repeat to yourself, ‘I am kissing a mortal.’”
This approach to human death is not meant to be bleak.
You are not meant to fixate on mortality at the expense of enjoying the present.
It’s simply a reminder of the reality of your life contract.
When you consider it and learn to conquer your fear of death you gain personal liberation.
You become more grateful for what you have and learn to value your time much more.
A Stoic Death
In William Irvine’s great book ‘A guide to the good life: The ancient art of Stoic Joy’, the story of Julius Canus’ death is mentioned.
Clearly the Stoics had a completely different view of death from the rest of the population. The many years of contemplation prior to the event taking the fear and desperation away.
Seneca was ordered to kill himself by the rogue Emperor and former pupil Nero. It is said that he did not run away but instead performed the deed whilst dictating his final words to scribes.
Here is the account from Annals 15.61.
Clearly from this account we can see that Seneca was not surprised by his death. He had prepared for it for many years. It seems that his loved ones were more bothered than him, hence, his having to ask where their ‘preparations of so many years’ study against evils’ had gone.
In the wake of his impending doom, Seneca talks about his most noble possession his ‘imago vitae suae’ (pattern of life).
This is consistent with Stoic teachings, which encourage you to love only those things which are in your possession. Seneca’s life was Nero’s to take, but his deeds and actions could not be undone, and this was his final pride.
5. Indifference to Externals
Stoics were focused on living a life of virtue and avoiding vices.
Naturally things are not separated by a clear barrier of good and bad.
Most thing lay on a continuum.
The perspective from which you are looking at the thing also dictates its designation as being a vice or virtue.
Is having money good or bad?
Money is a tool which can be used for both good and evil.
Money could build schools and supply millions with clean drinking water, but money can also support child trafficking and drug addiction.
Is drinking alcohol good or bad? It all depends on the context and the amount.
For one man it enhances a social atmosphere, for another it makes him pugnacious.
This is where the concept of Stoic ‘Indifference’ comes into play.
Stoics are indifferent to most of the grey areas which lie in the external world.
Indifference is not synonymous with not caring.
There has been an erroneous stereotype of a Stoic person being dark and cold towards everything life might offer.
This is not the archetype of our Stoics.
Stoic indifference is about lowering the importance you put to externals.
The importance is lowered so you can maintain your equanimity.
There are things you would still prefer such as having more money, better health or more friends, but these things are not needed for you to have a good life.
This category of things is called ‘Preferred Indifferences’.
“Count yourself happy only when all your joys are born of reason, and when, having seen the things that everyone clutches at, or prays for, or watches over, you find – I do not say nothing you prefer – but nothing you require.”
– Seneca, Epistles 124.24
Another false assumption is the idea of Stoics being lazy and not chasing their goals.
You can be indifferent to the outcome and still apply sufficient energy to achieve it.
You can learn to love yourself and your life without being a millionaire but still build a multi-million dollar business.
In some ways it becomes easier to achieve certain goals when the importance has been dropped.
It takes the pressure off and allows you to get into a flow state.
Practical Stoicism Exercises
As mentioned before Stoicism is an incredibly practical philosophy.
It’s a philosophy that invites you to practice what you preach and embody its teachings in your daily life.
“Don’t explain your philosophy. Embody it.”
Below are several powerful Stoic exercises you can start doing today to become the master of your life.
1.Negative Visualisation (Premeditatio Malorum)
Negative visualization is one of the most powerful Stoic exercises.
It involves you visualizing adversities that could possibly happen in your lifetime.
You could visualize what it would be like to lose a parent while they are still alive.
You could visualize losing your pet.
You could even visualize your own death (memento mori).
These visualizations do not need to be bleak or graphic like a horror film.
You don’t need to linger on them for hours.
The focus should be more on the feeling and acknowledging the possibility of the event.
The visualizations do not need to focus primarily on death, they can centre around smaller events.
Imagine you are going for a job interview.
Before committing yourself to the process, you might negatively visualize you not getting the job and how you will feel.
You might keep this visualization going for 5 minutes.
Next you might focus on you smashing the interview and getting the job.
You might focus on this for 30 minutes.
Having covered both outcomes you remove the shock if the result is not to your liking.
This is how you turn an external into a preferred indifference.
Along with allowing you to prepare for contingencies, the exercise also helps you gain a greater sense of gratitude for what you have.
Let’s say you are currently in a committed relationship.
You visualize the relationship ending and you being single.
This visualization allows you to be grateful for your current situation through knowing it could possibly be different.
Negative visualization is incredibly powerful because it reminds you of the transient nature of reality.
The human mind in its natural state doesn’t understand transience.
The years tick by without us knowing; we move through various phases of life oblivious to it all.
We live rather unconsciously and are prone to shocks, so this exercise helps you become antifragile.
2. Voluntary Discomfort
Voluntary discomfort is a Stoic exercise where you deliberately put yourself in uncomfortable situations to develop resilience against future challenges.
Seneca was known to practice voluntary discomfort through walking around cold streets underdressed for the season.
“Set aside a certain number of days, during which you shall be content with the scantiest and cheapest fare, with coarse and rough dress.”
Putting yourself through stressors allows your body and mind to develop the appropriate adaptive response to deal with future ordeals.
When a bodybuilder lifts weights he stresses the muscles and creates micro-tears.
When he rests the muscles recover and grow bigger and stronger.
If he continues increasing the weight or reps (progressive overload) whilst getting adequate rest his muscles will respond well.
This is a great analogy for how voluntary discomfort works in the mental plane.
If you limit yourself to eating one meal a day (OMAD) for a month you will no longer fear hunger again.
The next time you get stuck in an airport and can’t find anything to eat, mentally you will remain undisturbed.
Athletes use voluntary discomfort all the time.
Coaches know how to make the training simulations much more challenging than anything the athlete will deal with on game day.
Mike Tyson famously said in an interview that during training camp he would wake up at 4AM to go for a morning run to get the psychological advantage over his opponent.
“No one wants to get up at 4 and run when it’s pitch-dark, but it has to be done. The only reason I do it so early is because I believe the other guy isn’t doing it and that gives me a little edge.”
— Mike Tyson
Voluntary Discomfort is not self-punishment
The point of voluntary discomfort is not about being a masochist.
Don’t choose activities which can potentially lead to permanent physical or psychological damage.
It’s not about jumping into the deep end to prove how Stoic you are.
You should choose mild stressors and progress as you become adapted.
There should be intention behind the activities you do, the exercise is not about meaningless pain.
Let’s say you are an accountant. Perhaps you might challenge yourself to get better at performing calculations in your head.
You obviously don’t need to do this as you will have calculators.
However, this form of voluntary discomfort might be beneficial.
Imagine you need to give a quick estimation to provide guidance to a client over the phone. Your training will better equip you for this.
As an accountant it might not benefit you to walk on hot coals as a form of voluntary discomfort.
Examples of Voluntary Discomfort
Below is a list of popular ideas for a voluntary discomfort practice. Look through the list and see what makes sense for your situation.
- Cold showers (lots of benefits as demonstrated by Wim Hof)
- Intermittent Fasting
- Sleeping on the floor
- One Meal a Day
- Drinking only water
- Dopamine Detox
- No Fap
- Weight training
An interesting observation in life is any activity can become enjoyable given enough time. Going to the gym sucks at the start but can become very pleasurable with time. When you find that an activity is no longer a stressor and has become easy, your subconscious mind has likely become attuned to it. It is at this stage you should find a new activity on which to focus your voluntary discomfort training.
3. Evening Routine
The Stoic evening routine is a reflective exercise which allows you to live more consciously.
The essence of the exercise can be gained simply by analysing Seneca’s quote.
For this exercise to be effective you need to be consistent and do it daily.
“…daily pleading my case at my own court….my habit.”
Just like the spirit of Kaizen, the exercise requires you make small iterative improvements on how you live your life.
The evening routine is best done at night when you can have some time to yourself.
“Light has been taken away and my wife has fallen silent.”
During the period before sleep, we enter the hypnagogic state.
In this state our brainwaves operate at different frequencies, and we are more susceptible to reprogramming our subconscious minds.
Perhaps the ancients somehow knew of this precious period?
To do the exercise you need to examine your day in its entirety from start to finish.
You can do this in your mind as you begin to fall asleep, or you could write in a journal.
It’s important you do your best not to miss any event.
“I pass nothing by.”
Alternatively, you could revisit the events backwards like an exercise Neville Goddard calls ‘Revision’.
Starting from the morning and moving to the evening is easier for most people.
Examine each activity you performed one by one, from brushing your teeth to getting the mail.
Consider how you interacted with the people in your life.
Were you disciplined today?
Did you make excuses for yourself?
“I conceal nothing from myself.”
Analyse each event and congratulate yourself for the actions you took which were in alignment with your Stoic Ideal.
Take note of the events where you fell short and ensure you do not make the mistake again.
For this exercise to work you must feel a sense of detachment from the events.
You need to be the judge who is watching you.
“…pleading your case at your own court.”
When you find an error you need to be able to forgive yourself and learn from it.
Make a firm commitment not to make the mistake again.
Remember, you will have to face the judge again tomorrow night.
“See that you do not do this anymore. For the moment, I excuse you.”
Benefits of an evening routine
The evening routine is one of the most potent Stoic exercises for self-mastery because it works as a feedback mechanism.
Instead of living your life unconsciously and hoping things will get better, you actively work on it.
You re-play each day like an athlete watching a videotape of their performance, looking for weaknesses in their game.
This level of focus also calibrates your reticular activating system to focus on the things you need to work on.
Let’s say after several nights of reflection you observe a pattern.
Each time you walk past the fridge you feel the urge to grab some ice cream.
Daily ice cream doesn’t help you with your diet and this is becoming a challenge for you.
On day number eight, you will have more awareness of your habit when you walk past the fridge.
You will have a moment to decide what your next action should be instead of reacting automatically to the stimulus.
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
— Viktor E. Frankl, a neurologist, psychologist and Holocaust survivor
The evening routine allows you to grow that space and have more options in your life.
4. Phantasia Kataleptike
Phantasia Kataleptike is a Stoic concept developed by Zeno of Citium.
The historian Diogenes described it as:
“The cognitive, which the Stoics say is the criterion of things, is that which arises
from what is and is stamped and impressed exactly in accordance with what is.”
— Diogenes Laertius VII.46
Phantasia Kataleptike is often called ‘objective representation’.
It’s an exercise which asks you to remove value judgements from your perceptions replacing them with objective descriptions.
For instance, when we feel sick we tend to say things such as
“My stomach is killing me”,
“I can’t take this any longer”
“It feels like my stomach is about to explode!”
All of these are value judgements.
You are adding more description to the event and are making the subjective experience of the stomach-ache worse.
Through saying something like
“I am feeling some discomfort in my stomach”, when you don’t identify with the issue, you gain cognitive distance from it.
This cognitive distance allows you to feel less pain than when you are immersed in value judgements.
Learn to stop creating fictional stories with your words and you will be practicing Phantasia Kataleptike.
5. A View from Above
It’s often easy for us to get trapped in our head.
It’s easy to think we are the centre of the universe, and all our mistakes are being highlighted for everyone to see.
Most of our woes (as the Stoics keep saying) lie entirely in our imagination.
Our value judgements of events create elaborate stories which make us feel miserable.
At times Phantasia Kataleptike is not enough and we need to create more cognitive distance.
This is where the exercise ‘A view from above’ comes in.
It’s a visualisation which invites you to ‘comprehend the whole universe in your mind’.
Start by seeing yourself in the third person in what Neuro-linguistic Programming (NLP) calls a ‘dissociative view’.
This view is less personal and gives you some cognitive distance from your current problems.
See yourself from the top of your roof and begin to zoom out slowly.
Continue zooming out until you see your house and street.
Zoom out until you see your suburb.
Zoom out until you see your city.
Keep zooming out until you see your country.
At this stage you should be seeing Earth.
From this distance you see the solar system and Earth in its relative spot.
Keep zooming out until Earth becomes a pale blue dot saturated by stars.
As you go further you see our Milky Way galaxy.
You zoom out and our Milky Way is one of many thousands of galaxies.
Perhaps at this stage you contemplate multiverses.
Check out this video representation if you are still confused.
The other aspect of this exercise involves ‘contemplating the eternity of time, and observing the rapid change of every part of everything’.
You can begin at the Big Bang or visualise God creating the universe.
You can then view Earth in its early primordial state.
View the small single-cell organisms which inhabited the planet.
See the emergence of more complex lifeforms.
Fish to amphibians, to reptiles to mammals.
See the first humans living in the savannah.
See the rapid developments from small settlements to towns.
From towns to cities.
From cities to states and country borders.
Move through time which seems to stretch forever.
Reach your present moment and rapidly move forward to when you are long gone.
When Earth goes away and the Universe contracts back into nothing.
Back To the Now
The whole meditation could take you 2 minutes to complete or an hour depending on how detailed you want to get.
Upon completing the contemplation think about your current issues and see if the emotional charge is still there.
You will see how insignificant it really is.
You will feel silly for getting hung up on such ephemeral trivialities.
“Soon, you will have forgotten everything. Soon, everybody will have forgotten you.”
— Marcus Aurelius
6. Delayed Gratification
The ability to delay gratification is one of the most important indicators in determining success.
Many studies have shown how people with a low time preference tend to be more successful than people with a high time preference in the long term.
One of the most popular studies being the Marshmallow Test.
This Stoic exercise teaches you to delay gratification whenever you can to help build your willpower.
As a Stoic you are working towards complete self-mastery of your inner world, so you must learn to tame your desires.
Whenever you are proposed with something delightful, use the opportunity to practice delaying gratification.
“Let the thing wait for you, and give yourself some delay.”
Let’s say you want to eat chocolate.
Instead of eating it straight away, decide to wait an hour.
Maybe you want to challenge yourself.
Go to the gym and have a workout before diving into the chocolate.
If you are a pro, you might decide to have it the next day.
You will eventually eat the chocolate.
When you eat the treat your experience will be more enjoyable.
You will be proud of yourself for being the one in control and not being controlled by the chocolate.
“How you will congratulate yourself.”
When it comes to negative habits, Epictetus challenges us to contemplate our actions.
We must think about the consequences of doing the habit and avoiding it.
Let’s say we enjoy smoking but are trying to quit.
You drive past a cigarette shop and feel the urge to buy a pack.
Take a moment to consider how good it will feel to smoke the pack and the sense of regret and disgust you will feel afterwards.
Then take a moment to consider how it will feel resisting the cigarettes but the overwhelming sense of pride you will feel after conquering the habit.
Contemplating the two scenarios allows you to have more conscious awareness before deciding.
Typically, our responses are Pavlovian – we see a stimulus and react automatically.
This exercise allows you to break your conditioning and develop greater levels of self-esteem and discipline.
Below is a collection of some of my personal favourite Stoic quotes and passages. Keep some of these quotes in your journal, on your wall or wherever you can see them regularly. These quotes will help you live and die well.
Is Stoicism Compatible with Christianity, Islam or Buddhism
Stoicism is not a religion.
It does not ask you to believe in any specific God or doctrine.
Stoicism is a philosophy which allows you to change your perspective of how you see ‘negative’ events in your life.
Stoicism provides guidelines not strict black and white rules.
The guidelines are meant to help you attain a state of Eudaemonia on earth and do not speak about an afterlife.
Many people have fears about Stoicism being incompatible with their religion.
Stoicism much like meditation can be practiced with any religion.
You can be a devout Muslim and a Stoic at the same time.
You can follow Scientology, Christianity or Judaism and be a Stoic.
In many ways Stoicism enhances your faith.
It allows you to see how everything is happening for a reason and provides context to many religious teachings.
Do not be afraid of Stoicism.
Modern Stoicism Books
In this section I will discuss some of the top modern books on Stoicism. These books are great for beginners looking for an easily digestible explanation of Stoic philosophy.
The Little Book of Stoicism: Timeless Wisdom to Gain Resilience, Confidence, and Calmness
This book by Jonas Salzgeber is a must-read for any aspiring Stoic. The first half of the book provides context into Stoic Philosophy and gets you up to speed on the history and theory. The second half is a goldmine filled with dozens of practical Stoic exercises. This book is easily digestible and flows nicely.
A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy
A great book by William B. Irvine which explores the fundamental principles of Stoic philosophy. William B. Irvine does a great job of explaining how one can integrate Stoic teachings into the modern world. He also challenges certain principles and presents new interpretation (Notably his Trichotomy of Control). This is also a must read.
How to Be a Stoic: Using Ancient Philosophy to Live a Modern Life
This book much like ‘A Guide to the Good Life’ aims to educate the reader on how to implement ancient Stoic teachings in the modern age. Massimo Pigliucci is an academic and provides an interesting take on the philosophy. He uses Epictetus as the main teacher to present the philosophy to the reader. Massimo Pigliucci is also responsible for helping bring Stoicism back into the mainstream through his viral TedX talk. You need to read this book if you are serious about Stoicism.
How to Think Like a Roman Emperor: The Stoic Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius
This book is about Stoicism through the lens of the great Marcus Aurelius. Donald Robertson does an amazing job uncovering the history of the Philosopher King. He explores the life of Marcus from birth to death whilst sharing interesting insights from his trials and tribulations. Marcus Aurelius is the paragon of Stoicism, and through his brave actions you can learn how to improve your life. This book complements Meditations as it provides a lot of context about what Marcus was dealing with as he was writing in his diary.
The Practicing Stoic: A Philosophical User’s Manual
This book explores Stoicism through analysing dozens of Stoic quotes. If you enjoy hidden Stoic wisdom then this book is for you. It explores many themes such as anger, wealth and death and shares the thinking of several Stoics on the matter. This work gives you many different perspectives of Stoicism so you can choose what works for you.
The Obstacle is the Way: The Ancient Art of Turning Adversity to Advantage
One of the most popular modern Stoicism books is by Ryan Holiday (owner of thedailystoic.com). The book’s theme is based on a quote by Marcus Aurelius.
“The mind adapts and converts to its own purposes the obstacle to our acting. The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.” – Marcus Aurelius
This book is about turning obstacles into means of growth. Much like Jonas Salzgeber’s book, this one is easy to read and great for beginners.
The Inner Citadel: The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius
Pierre Hadot has spent over 20 years reading and translating Meditations and through that time has gained incredible insight into the grand work of the Philosopher King. Much like Donald Robertson’s book, this one provides context into Meditations and how its teachings relate with Stoic Philosophy in general. This book is a denser read than the others but provides rare gems of wisdom for the initiated.
Ancient Stoicism Books
I would be remise if I didn’t mention the original Stoic works. I suggest you read these only after gaining some context from the modern books.
Reading the ancient texts can be challenging and easily put you off Stoicism if you are not used to the archaic language or don’t understand the themes. If you are comfortable reading philosophy and literature then feel free to start with these.
Ultimately, you will get the most benefit through forming your own interpretations from the original works.
The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius is perhaps the most celebrated Stoic work. The journal entries were never intended to be published to the public – luckily they were.
The writings show a rare glimpse of the inner world of the Stoic King as page after page he affirms his Stoic beliefs. The book is full of dense wisdom which might take you a lifetime to fully comprehend.
This is not meant to be read like a novel but studied like a textbook. Read one passage and meditate on it. The passages will gain new meaning as you move through your life. Each time you pick up the book, it’s as if you are reading it for the first time.
This is a crucial read for aspiring Stoics.
Enchiridion means ‘in the hand’ or ‘small manual’.
Epictetus never wrote anything, but his students took down notes.
Arrian, a 2nd century disciple of Epictetus, is responsible for compiling the 53 short chapters of the Enchiridion.
Each chapter is composed of short maxims which embody the Stoic ethos.
The book explains the most crucial core tenets of the philosophy (notably the Dichotomy of Control).
This work has inspired many including Adam Smith, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson.
Most of the writing is derived from the denser ‘Discourses’, and hence serves as introductory material to new Stoics.
The Discourses of Epictetus are based on a series of lectures given by Epictetus.
Like the Enchiridion this collection of writing was compiled by Epictetus’ disciple Arrian.
The complete work was a combination of 8 books but 4 have been lost over time.
Only fragments of the lost 4 books still exist.
Despite this, Discourses is a dense piece of work which highlights the best of Epictetus’ teachings.
If you want to become the perfect Stoic, you must pick up a copy.
On the Shortness of Life
This is a thought-provoking essay by Seneca about life and how we choose to use our time.
Seneca argues that life is not short but long. Life seems short only because we waste much of our time on senseless things.
This is a great book for those who want to learn how to develop a higher time premium, stop procrastinating and live a more fulfilling life.
Letters from a Stoic
A series of 124 letters from Seneca to his friend Lucilius (no instant messaging in those days). The letters discuss a range of topics from the importance of moderation, dealing with insults, death, and other human matters.
The intention of the letters was supposedly to help Lucilius become a better Stoic, but many believe the letters are essays in disguise.
Regardless of their intention, the letters provide a wealth of Stoic wisdom for you to utilise in your life. Some letters may seem irrelevant or deal with dated matters, but others are profound and timely.
These letters are worth the read.
The philosophy of Stoicism has resurfaced in modern culture due to its practicality and timeless wisdom.
Stoicism can be seen as a mental operating system to help you overcome the inevitable hardships of life.
Simply start practicing one of the exercises mentioned in this article and you will reap the benefits.
As our world changes and the future becomes uncertain, followers of Stoicism will have an unfair advantage over laymen.
The uninitiated will remain in reaction to the outside world while the Stoics conquer their lives through mastering their inner planes.
To finish our journey, I implore you contemplate this quote by the great Epictetus:
“How long are you going to wait before you demand the best of yourself?”
Check out our Manifesto to diver deeper into the world of self-mastery.
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