What Stoicism Can Teach Us About Living Our Best Lives

We use the word stoic to describe someone who can endure pain or hardship without showing their feelings or complaining, someone who avoids emotional extremes. But while this captures aspects of Stoicism, the original philosophy was more than just an attitude.

The Stoics believed that everything around us happens according to a web of cause and effect, resulting in a rational structure of the Universe, which they called Logos. (Viktor Frankelís Logotherapy is based on the Stoic principle that we can harness our willpower to fill our lives with meaning even in the bleakest situations.)

THE FOUR CARDINAL VIRTUES OF STOICISM

The ancient philosophy advocates self-improvement through four cardinal virtues. Letís look at each of them and see how we can hone them and then apply them in our own lives.

Wisdom

Wisdom is about knowing how to live. A wise person is someone who has knowledge of life. They have the ability to navigate complex situations in a logical, calm and informed manner. We donít start out with our wisdom cup full, but by consistently striving to improve we can get better and better at this thing called life.

The next time youíre faced with a tough challenge or situation, see if you can keep your cool and approach it calmly and logically, without letting your emotions get the better of you.

Justice

The word justice often brings to mind a court of law. However, in this sense justice is about living with integrity with your highest ideals. Itís about having a genuine respect for people and treating others with fairness even if you feel like they donít deserve it.

Take note of your behavior throughout the day. Are you living with integrity or are you reacting in anger? Remember, keeping your calm doesnít mean condoning poor behavior, youíre just choosing how you respond to it.

Courage

From the Latin word for heart, courage is the virtue that vitalizes all your other virtues. Courage isnít just reserved for extraordinary circumstances like slaying dragons, itís also about facing daily challenges with clarity and integrity.

As the great Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca says, ďSometimes even to live is an act of courage”. It takes courage to live well and to show up when all you want to do is pull the duvet over your head.

How are you showing up in your life? Are you facing your days head on with all the courage you can muster or are you shrinking back in fear and trepidation? Remember, to grow you need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Temperance

Temperance is basically self-mastery. Itís the ability to exercise self-restraint and moderation in all aspects of life. Someone who has honed the art of self-mastery can get themselves to do what they need to do when they need to do it. Thatís a skill-set worth having.

For example, you could turn off the television (Netflix will still be there tomorrow), put the rest of the Oreos back in the cupboard and get to bed at a reasonable hour. That way getting up early and hitting the gym will be easy (okay, easier).

stoicism living our best life

THE NUMBER ONE RULE OF STOICISM

We may not always have control over the events that happen, but we can control how we approach things. Rather than wishing things were different, the Stoic tries to deal with the world as it is.

The Greek Stoic philosopher Epictetus puts it this way, ďIt’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.Ē

The number one practice of Stoicism is to identify whatís in your control and what isnít. According to the Stoics, the only thing within your control is you living with virtue and controlling your thoughts and your behavior. Everything else is inconsequential.

So often we spend our time ruminating on things we have no control over (the past, the results of our behavior, etc.), when what we should be doing is taking the lesson from those things and moving on. Pronto.

Work on getting really good at choosing the most empowered response in any given situation. When something happens to you, you donít automatically have to feel a certain way in response. You can choose how you think about it.

I DONíT KNOW AND I DONíT CARE

This little nugget of Stoic wisdom comes from Ryan Holidayís book, The Daily Stoic. The basic idea is that we care so much about connecting with and expressing the highest version of ourselves that we just donít care about the trivial things happening around us.

If you need to know about everything that is happening in the news, pop culture etc., the one thing you wonít know is what your highest self wants. Youíre essentially living off-purpose. Ryan says you have to get into the habit of saying, ďI donít know and I donít care.Ē

Binge-watching series after series on Netflix wonít help you in your quest to live with artť and excellence. Neither will inhaling the news 24/7. Maybe now is the time to go on a news fast?

And while weíre about it, letís stop giving a damn about other peopleís opinions. If someone doesnít like us thatís their problem. People who like themselves tend to like everyone else too. Itís also good to remember that when weíre feeling off we tend to express our worst selves to the world. Helps put things in perspective, right?

WHO IS YOUR IDEAL SAGE?

Of course, learning about these ideas is one thing, putting them into practice is something else entirely. The Stoics knew this, so theyíd always ask themselves what their ideal sage would do in any given circumstance.

Sometimes we just donít feel up to the challenge, but if we ask ourselves what Jesus or Buddha or the Dalai Lama would do in any given situation, the right way is revealed to us in an instant. Who is your ideal sage?

Stoicism helps us develop the mental and behavioral practices so that we can be the best version of ourselves throughout the day. But as my favorite modern day philosopher Brian Johnson likes to say, you need to be a warrior of the mind, not a librarian of the mind.

Rather than simply cataloguing these ideas, you need to really apply them. Thatís how you live your best life.

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