Is Stoicism the key to one’s happiness?

Throughout history the human race has ventured to find the panacea to life’s problems. Since the dawn of time, society has sought to attain a life of bliss and success. However, this success is often determined by societal constructs such as beauty, education, and social status. These social constructs, prejudices, and

Graphic by Savannah Pinnock

divisive ideologies have paved the way for a world defined by discontentment, chaos and melancholy. The underlying psychological forces that promote the previously aforementioned ills of society share one key thing in common, unhappiness.

The nature of this unhappiness however is colored by melancholy. When given a moment of idle time, the mind wanders to questions such as what is the meaning of life? This is by no means suicidal in nature but just the general thought patterns of many. When given the time, people tend to gravitate towards answering life’s big questions. Among these many individuals are people like that of Leo Tolstoy. Tolstoy was a writer whose writings often dwelled in the existential and were often pessimistic in nature. With this in mind, what is the key to happiness? What philosophical ideology can one practice in order to achieve happiness?

Taking a look at acclaimed philosopher’s like that of Aristotle, Plutarch or Seneca, one can find a wide host of different ways of life that may allow one to achieve happiness. In your search you may come across a philosophy in particular that is absolutely contrary to the way in which most people live. It is so revolutionary and odd it may even be worth a try, this philosophy is that of Stoicism. Stoicism can be defined as the understanding “that virtue, the highest good, is based on knowledge, and that the wise live in harmony with the divine Reason that governs nature, and are indifferent to the vicissitudes of fortune and to pleasure and pain.” In layman terms, Stoicism is a philosophy that treasures one’s ability to live and respond to external stimuli in accordance to reason and rationalism. It asks an individual to not respond from a place of emotion, whether good or bad but in a rational fashion.

With this being said, how might one practice this in their everyday life? It seems simple enough, right? Well the truth is, in order to effectively practice Stoicism, one must change the way in which they respond to external stimuli. This is the quite challenging component of this practice. To some, the feat may seem easy to accomplish but the truth is that due to the way that humans operate, it may prove difficult to form a new habit. In fact, according to a study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology “on average, it takes more than 2 months before a new behavior becomes automatic — 66 days to be exact.” With this in mind it is clear to see that practicing Stoicism will not be an easy task, it is contrary to how we normal behave.

From youth to old age, regardless of one’s geographical location, being in tune with your emotions has often been stressed. On a gender based level, men are encouraged to display aggression and women are encouraged to be emotional on every level. In many senses, people have been taught to be emotional. Stoicism asks a person to do the opposite. In fact, according to The School of Life, stoicism was created “to teach people how to be calm and brave in the face of overwhelming anxiety and pain.” In other words, it seeks to promote balance and keep practitioners of the philosophy on an even keel.

Therefore, it is important to maintain a state of humility when embarking on this philosophical journey. In attempting to follow this philosophy you may be forced to see the world in a different manner and behave differently. As creatures of habit, this philosophy can prove to be extremely challenging so proceed with caution and be gentle with yourself. Now, you may be wondering, what concepts rules and practices does Stoicism consist of?

The truth is that there are many facets to this philosophy however, they can all be summed up into one central understanding. According to Tim Denning writing from, Stoicism “is more a meditative practice that allows us to take the negative feelings we experience, and turn them into thoughts that give us peacefulness and perspective on life.”

As a result of this, one can practice this philosophy by understanding that we cannot control external situations but we can control what they mean to us. In other words, Stoicism is asking one to understand that a situation is primarily what one makes of it, it’s mental. If you can control your reaction to something, it has less of an affect on you, and subsequently, less power over you. It also stresses that “in good and bad times we have a choice” and encourages introspective thinking. Stoicism essentially suggests that we hold the power over situations based on how we choose to react to them. A well-known Stoic philosopher by the name of Epictetus carefully cemented this idea in a deterministic sense by stating “remember that you are an actor in a play determined by the author.” In other words, everything is essentially set in stone and the point is not to try to change things but to be the best you can be.

It is clear to see that Stoicism gives the practitioner the power. It allows one to see that although you cannot control external events, you can control how you perceive them. Due to this philosophy’s ability to transform negative situations into positive ones, is it the panacea to the calamities of life? Is it the key to attaining happiness? The answer is yes if you’re willing to truly practice it however, it is not an exclusive key. In fact, there are many keys to attaining happiness. Some keys may fit your life and some may not. It is up to the individual to try. So give it a try, this philosophy may change your life for the better.