Stoic Philosophy- the way to a happier life

Stoicism is a form of philosophy that was founded over 2000 years ago. It was initially founded in Greece by Zeno of Citium around 300 BC. The name “stoa” is Greek – meaning painted porch. A porch or doorway is where the first followers of stoicism would listen to Zeno and his teachings.Stoicism in simple terms is about keeping calm and rational in your mind whatever happens to you. It helps you to understand and focus on what you CAN control and not to waste your time/energy about things that you CANNOT control. The stoics also would live in agreement with nature and respect the world/ environment in which they lived in. There are 3 main leaders of stoicism in its early stages- amazingly documents and manuscripts have survived nearly 2000 years. Marcus Aurelius (remember the dying emperor in the amazing film Gladiator) was the last of the good Roman emperors and would sit down each night to record his thoughts and reflections. This group of works is known as “Meditations” and is the main source of stoic philosophy. Seneca was another follower and was a tutor to the emperor Nero ( the mad one who later forced Seneca to take his own life). The 3rd main source of stoicism comes from Epictetus- he was born a slave but rose to achieve great things and had his own school- teaching Marcus Aurelius amongst others.
All of the readings focus on how we can become ” better” people and to be less worried about external things- wealth, possessions, status, relationships etc… By simply focussing on ourselves and what we are on control of strips away a lot of unnecessary stress and worry.

Here are some of my favourite quotes that I suspect we can all apply into our lives.


From Seneca:

“We suffer more in imagination than we do in reality”

“It does not matter what you bear but how you bear it”

“The whole future lies in uncertainty: live immediately”

“He who indulges in empty fears earns himself real fears”


From Marcus Aurelius:

“The best answer to anger is silence”

“The more we value things outside our control, the less control we have”

“Be content to seem what you really are”

“Let not your mind run on what you lack as much as on what you have already”


From Epictetus:

“If anyone tells you that a certain person speaks ill of you, do not make excuses about what is said of you but answer, “He was ignorant of my other faults, else he would not have mentioned these alone.””

“It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters””

If you want to improve, be content to be thought foolish and stupid”


These are just a tiny selection of many quotes and advice that stoicism provides. What does this mean to me in my life ? How can I apply this to become a better, calmer and wiser person ? The key for me is to look at what I CAN control. This includes my appearance, how I act, respond to others, how much exercise I do, how healthy a diet I eat, etc… I can also then consider regular possible events in my life that I CANNOT control. I have to take the train regularly to see my kids- anyone knows what regular train travel can do to your stress levels ! But train times, weather, strikes, etc . are all outside of my control. Another example- checking and worrying about the weather for an upcoming holiday. No amount of checking weather forecasts will actually change the weather- it is a total waste of my time !
My favourite quote is ” we suffer more in imagination than we do in reality”. How true is this… all the worry and anxiety that many people have on a daily basis. This very much has included me with a very stressful personal life/ divorce over the last 3 years. There is nothing like a divorce to shake your life up- remove your stability- your routine. I have had so many thoughts and anxiety about the future. When and how will I retire ? Will I have enough money to live on ? Will I meet someone else who will love me and not think I have this baggage ? All of these thoughts and worries are on top of the divorce itself and worrying about my kids and how they are managing. But in reality many of these things will not necessarily happen- I am suffering in my imagination again. I need to focus on the here and now- the present time- living life as it is right now.
Have a read through the quotes and I suspect that we can all live a happier and calmer life thanks to the stoic crew with their fine wisdom.

Dr Michael Burdon 15th April 2020

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