The Truth About Stoicism
There is a common misperception about Stoicism. For example, the dictionary defines a stoic as “one who is seemingly indifferent to or unaffected by joy, grief, pleasure, or pain” – such a definition gives the impression that Stoics would be emotionally repressed individuals. Yet, the goal of the Stoics was not to banish emotion from life, but to banish negative emotions.
When reading the works of the Stoics, you encounter individuals who were cheerful and optimistic about life; were fully capable of enjoying life’s pleasures; and, valued joy, tranquility, and virtue.
Inner Joy of Stoics
For Seneca, what Stoics seek to discover is how the mind may always pursue a steady and favorable course, may be well-disposed towards itself, and may view its conditions with joy. (On Tranquility)
Seneca also asserts that someone who practices Stoic principles must, whether he wills it or not, necessarily be attended by constant cheerfulness and joy that is deep and issues from deep within, since he finds delight in his own resources, and desires no joys greater than his inner joys. (On the Happy Life)
Similarly, the Stoic philosopher Musonius Rufus tells us that if we live in accordance with Stoic principles, a cheerful disposition and secure joy will automatically follow.
Active Lifestyle of Stoics
Rather than being passive individuals who were grimly resigned to being on the receiving end of the world’s abuse and injustice, the Stoics were fully engaged in life and worked hard to make it a better place.
Examples of Stoics actively engaged in life:
- Cato the Younger
While a practicing Stoic, Cato fought bravely to restore the Roman republic. Seneca referred to Cato as the perfect Stoic.
Along with being a Stoic philosopher, Seneca was a successful playwright, an advisor to an emperor, and the first-century equivalent to being an investment banker.
- Marcus Aurelius
Besides being a Stoic philosopher, he was a Roman emperor – arguably one of the greatest Roman emperors.
A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Joy
William B. Irvine
Irvine plumbs the wisdom of Stoic philosophy, one of the most popular and successful schools of thought in ancient Rome, and shows how its insight and advice are still remarkably applicable to modern lives. He shows readers how to become thoughtful observers of their own lives.
If we watch ourselves as we go about our daily business and later reflect on what we saw, we can better identify the sources of distress and eventually avoid that pain in our life. By doing this, the Stoics thought, we can hope to attain a truly joyful life.
William B. Irvine
. William B. Irvine (literary website)
. A Guide to the Good Life Interview (Daily Stoic)
. A Guide to the Good Life (YouTube)
William B. Irvine is a Professor of Philosophy at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio. Along with teaching, Irvine is an author and practices Stoicism as a way of life.
Books William B. Irvine has written include:
- A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy
- A Slap in the Face: Why Insults Hurt–And Why They Shouldn’t
- Aha!: The Moments of Insight that Shape Our World
- On Desire: Why We Want What We Want
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