Zeno of Cyprus will forever be remembered as the founder of Stoicism. However, the story behind the birth of this philosophy is often forgotten. Its historical background serves as a metaphor for Stoicism’s influence on its followers despite their generations’ tragedies.
Zeno travelled from Phoenicia (in modern-day Lebanon) to the Greek Peninsula, but his ship sank as they approached the coast. He lost everything on this voyage, aside from the terror he faced. Then, in Athens, he entered a bookstore where he got immersed in Socrates and Crates’ philosophy. What Zeno read there would transform his life and lead to the birth of Stoicism.
After building the foundations of his new philosophy, Zeno started teaching it on a porch at the Athenian marketplace. His message of virtue, peace of mind, and happiness started with a shipwreck and a determination to persevere. We can trace the legacy of Stoicism to its influence on kings, leaders, peasants, thinkers, and everyday people.
If you want to apply Stoic philosophy, here are the ways you can use it daily.
- 1 1. Do not rely on validation and praise for happiness.
- 2 2. Recall that nothing lasts forever.
- 3 3. Train and foster your inner control.
- 4 4. Stay faithful to your beliefs and principles.
- 5 5. Reject pride and pretence.
- 6 6. Write about your ideas and experiences.
- 7 7. Do not get distracted.
- 8 8. Expect that problems will arise.
- 9 9. Do not waste your time.
- 10 10. Cherish every moment, even during difficulties.
- 11 The impact of Stoic teachings
1. Do not rely on validation and praise for happiness.
The desire to feel appreciated is deeply lodged in human nature. Belongingness was necessary for the survival of our ancestors—disdain and separation from the tribe meant exposure to the hostile wilderness and death. Despite the comforts provided by modern times, the same innate fear drives people to win approval and favour.
Nothing is wrong with wanting to be liked. However, many people choose to spend so much energy and wealth just for inclusion, praise, and vanity. Stoicism is against this. Cato, a Roman senator and Stoic, said that he should only reject what brings shame and disgrace without compromising his values out of fear of disapproval.
2. Recall that nothing lasts forever.
Humility is at the core of Stoicism. Despite his power over the Roman Empire, Marcus Aurelius acknowledged that he would die one day. Whatever his achievements, fame, and importance were will eventually disappear.
Stoicism teaches us not to drown in feeling essential or famous. Even legacy will not last forever, so do not be miserable over intense expectations. Stop dwelling on making a tremendous impact and staying remembered. Instead, lead a kind and virtuous life according to your faith and principles.
3. Train and foster your inner control.
Epictetus, a leading Greek Stoic, predated cognitive behavioural therapy by a millennium when he said that people are affected not by events themselves but by how they see and interpret them. Stoics correctly believe that what happens in the world is beyond our power. Accidents happen, tragedies strike, and problems come. But we should focus on what we can control—our responses, thoughts, and emotions.
Epictetus himself is the best example of what he taught. He grew up as an enslaved person, and his master even injured his leg. Like many servants during that time, Epictetus could have quickly expected to die in misery and resentment. However, he did not dwell on his poverty. He cherished what he owned, no matter what: his mind.
4. Stay faithful to your beliefs and principles.
Wherever we go, we encounter temptations and immoralities. Pressure is intense that most people give in. Do you seek a moral and virtuous life? Wisdom is pointless if you do not practice it. Stoic rulers like Cato did not compromise their principles for fleeting pleasures or societal demands. By staying steadfast in their moral standards. They did not get swayed by outside influences and trends that stood against their beliefs.
5. Reject pride and pretence.
Do you think you would ever learn from a teacher if you insist that you already know what he tells you? No matter how you “want” to learn, thinking with such arrogance will stifle your growth and limit your potential.
Stop thinking that you are better than others. Instead, always open your mind to the thoughts, corrections, and feedback. Read and listen to wise and prestigious people as their students. Moreover, remember that you have an almost infinite spring of knowledge on your phone—you have what long-dead scholars and philosophers could only imagine at the tip of your fingertips.
6. Write about your ideas and experiences.
Stoics value self-reflection and meditation. By examining how we think and see the world, we can find answers and stay mindful—because of this, writing a diary or journal is a worthwhile and helpful activity. Keeping a record of your life helps you become creative, grateful, and understanding. Moreover, you can detach yourself from problems by seeing them from a third-person perspective.
A Stoic philosopher and the last emperor of Rome’s golden era, Marcus Aurelius routinely wrote his reflections and thoughts. This volume, now known as Meditations, benefited him and everyone who came to read his wise words. We see how his virtues recorded in Meditations served as his guide while he led the greatest empire of his time. Likewise, those thoughts inspire business leaders, politicians, and people like you and me as we navigate through life and concerns.
Regularly write in a journal, and you will enjoy the insights and enlightenment it brings.
7. Do not get distracted.
Modernity brings us many choices—which foods to eat, books to read, and movies to watch. However, these options ironically brought us indecision and paralysis.
We always hear that life is a journey. But many people miss a crucial truth: trips require a destination to be successful! Seneca once wrote that you should know which port to bring your ship to take advantage of the winds of the sea. Stoicism teaches that we must select a path that will define our life. By staying committed to this road, we can maintain our sense of purpose. Each decision will not merely become a reaction. Instead, we will progress until we reach our dreams and beyond.
8. Expect that problems will arise.
We usually hear counsellors and motivational speakers teach that optimism leads to success. They advise that we should always think positively and expect the best. Life is already hard, so they say we should avoid pondering negativity.
But Stoics disagree. They say that only focusing on life’s goodness causes us to stay passive, waiting for hope instead of doing what is expected. Hence, people must accept and even embrace problems as a feature of life.
Roman Stoics meditated on pessimism and the worst possible tragedies they might need to endure. Try it. Would you think of losing a loved one, your career, or getting sick? Is it death? What would you do in response? How would you adapt? Should you become a slave to this worry?
As you can see from such a meditation, this exercise empowers you to deal with life’s tragedies. You would feel the determination to avoid the worst, but you also arm yourself with the appropriate response should it arrive. Once you surpass those challenges, self-meditation will still help you learn and improve as you move forward.
Be honest and realise that you cannot fight life’s reality and uncertainty. But you can prepare and confront them in your mind and actions.
9. Do not waste your time.
As a responsible person, you are expected to save money and allocate your resources. Can you bear the thought of buying a Ralph Lauren necktie or a Gucci bag, even if your budget is limited?
Unfortunately, people value material possessions over time. Stoics believe that the latter is our most genuine treasure. After all, you can work hard to replace lost money, but you can never recover the time and opportunities you have already lost. If you treasure wealth and properties, you must take care of how you spend time. Otherwise, you will suffer from crammed schedules, unnecessary stress, and procrastination.
Stoicism emphasises duty and responsibility. However, it is harmful to accept too many commitments that already conflict with one another. Calendars are tools, not masters. Remember that we work on limited time; apply each minute wisely.
10. Cherish every moment, even during difficulties.
According to Stoic philosophy, reason and fate govern the universe. Hence, what happens around us is inevitable. Laughter and joy, even bitter experiences and hardships, come. But Stoics teach that we must still embrace our experiences throughout our lives. Like how the air fuels flames, Marcus Aurelius wrote that pain should catalyse our journey towards progress and true happiness.
The impact of Stoic teachings
These timeless Stoic applications are time-tested practices to achieve purpose and peace. Imagine what your potential will be as you fulfil Stoicism! Doing the advice of the ancient Stoic thinkers and rulers can help you do the following even in the modern time:
- You will become wiser as a friend and leader. You will improve as you accept criticisms without feeling insecure and afraid of corrections.
- You will no longer procrastinate or squander any moment on useless tasks.
- You will improve your mindfulness and stay secure even during uncertain times.
- You will not become confused by overwhelming choices and distractions.
- You can overcome anxieties and worries.