In the city of Cyprus in 300 bc, there lived a very wealthy trader called Zeno. His business was selling purple dye to royalties. This was one of the most valuable goods in the ancient world.
One day Zeno set sail on the Mediterranean Sea with a cargo full of purple dye. But, on that fateful day, Zeno lost everything. His ship was wrecked upon the rocks, and his cargo was lost to the sea. Because of that single event, this very wealthy man suddenly became poor in an instant.
Imagine you were Zeno. How would you react to your entire life’s work getting flushed down the drain by the sheer force of nature?
Would you be sad or angry? Would you feel that life has cheated you? For most people, all of these would be normal reactions but not for Zeno, the father of Stoicism.
It’s Only After You’ve Lost Everything That You’re Free to Do Anything
With nothing else to do, Zeno walked into a bookshop and became fascinated by reading about Socrates. He then proceeded to seek out and study with the city’s famous philosophers.
As Zeno began educating his own students, he originated the philosophy known as Stoicism, whose teachings of virtue, patience, and self-control have inspired generations of thinkers and leaders.
According to Zeno, we don’t have much control over what happens to us, but we do have control over how it affects us. The core of Stoicism is the very definition of acceptance and indifference. It’s not what happens. It’s how you respond to what happens.
The four pillars of Stoicism
Today, we use the word stoic to mean someone who remains calm under pressure.
Although keeping calm in stressful situations is a key component of Stoicism, the original philosophy was more than just an attitude.
Rather than imagining a perfect society, the Stoic tries to deal with the world as it is while seeking self-improvement through four cardinal virtues.
Courage means facing life’s challenges and conflicts with bravery and resilience. Courage doesn’t mean you don’t get afraid. Courage means you don’t let fear stop you.
Wisdom is the ability to define what is good, what is not good, and what is neutral. This separation of good, bad, and indifferent is what supports the Stoic definition of wisdom.
None of the virtues is easy to live by, but temperance might just be the hardest.
Temperance is often divided into three categories. Self-control, discipline, and modesty. Temperance is getting out of bed in the morning when you really feel like sleeping in. Temperance is going to sleep on time even when there are better things to do. Temperance is not expecting praise for your achievements.
We are prone to favouring instant gratification, even when we know that accepting instant gratification will harm us in the long run. We refuse to get out of bed even though we are wasting time—and later, we will be stressed over not having enough time to work. Temperance is all about having the right balance of everything in your life.
Justice is the most important of the four virtues. Because it influences all other virtues; after all, if courage is motivated by self-interest or wisdom is not shared with others, what use are these values?
Justice is about contributing to our community rather than just taking things for ourselves. Acting with justice means being kind, respectful, understanding, and generous to the people around us. It’s ensuring that we provide support to people when they need it.
Stoicism is a philosophy designed to make us more resilient, happier, more virtuous, and wiser–and as a result, better humans.
The stoics gathered, talked, and taught philosophy in a public area, so the general ideas of their philosophy were well known.
They believed that their principles could greatly benefit anyone and everyone, so they didn’t see the need to keep that knowledge behind the four walls of a school. As a result, everyone from slaves to emperors could learn and become stoic.
Epictetus, Seneca & Marcus Aurelius are some of the world’s most famous stoics.
Epictetus was a former slave, Seneca was a well-renowned statesman, and Marcus Aurelius was a roman emperor and one of the most powerful men to have ever lived.
Women, too, were allowed to learn freely about Stoicism and become stoics themselves.
A simple way of life
In a world full of unexpected turns of events, our emotions can tend to get in the way of things. In reality, we don’t really get sad because bad things happen to us. We get sad because unexpected bad things happen to us.
A human without any problem is a myth. We care a lot about our emotions and the external environment, which makes us vulnerable to all the darkness of life.
Don’t let the miseries that come into your life take control over you. You can’t stop all the disasters that come to you, but you though can control the way you react to them.
Concentrate your focus of control on your emotions and actions and treat your obstacles as if they don’t affect you in any way.
Don’t let your happiness depend on anything outside of yourself.
With the current state of the world, where advertisements are constantly being shoved down our throats, we’re made to believe that unless we have the next best thing, look a certain way, or make a grand amount of money, we will never be happy.
Stoicism is more important now than ever. If we unknowingly set unrealistic expectations for our lives, it will ultimately leave us unsatisfied and disappointed in the end. That’s no way to live.
Instead, we should focus on improving ourselves for ourselves only. Not to impress other people. We should do things for ourselves and for that reason only.
Most of the time, we try to fulfil the emptiness inside us by blowing all our money on a sports car, a fancy house, or even starting a beautiful family.
Sometimes we do all of these things for their external value. But Stoicism teaches that if you approach life this way if you place your happiness in the hands of external forces, it will always fail.
Cars almost always break down, natural disasters destroy entire cities, and divorce rates keep rising each year. Attaching any external hope almost always leads to disappointment.
External things are fleeting and temporary. They may bring momentary joy, but they will eventually lose their lustre and leave us feeling empty. Money and material possessions can only bring so much happiness, and that happiness is often short-lived. People come and go, and relationships can change, making it risky to place our happiness in their hands.
Furthermore, when we base our happiness on external things, we give up control over our own lives. We become passive, waiting for happiness to come to us instead of actively seeking it. This can lead to a sense of helplessness and a lack of motivation to pursue our own goals and aspirations.
The key to a happy life lies within ourselves. It’s important to cultivate a sense of contentment and satisfaction with who we are and what we have. We can do this by focusing on what we have control over, such as our thoughts, attitudes, and actions. By doing so, we can cultivate a positive outlook on life that is not dependent on external circumstances.
Relying on external things for happiness is a trap that can lead to disappointment and dissatisfaction.
“Almost nothing material is needed for a happy life, for he who has understood the existence of nature”— Marcus Aurelius.
No matter what life throws at us, We must choose to do our best to keep a cool head. A person stops getting angry when he learns to accept the misery of life.
Because regardless of what we may wish, at the end of the day, the majority of the things that happen to us are out of our control, but we do have complete control over how we respond to those situations.
Stoicism helps us steer through past and present storms into calmer and more peaceful waters, and if our ship sinks and we all drown, we can take peace in the fact that we lived a good life.
If you are interested in learning more about Stoicism, I’ll link a few more great sources to help you understand Stoicism in depth.