What does it truly take to live a good life? What does it even mean by a “good life”? Is it having a lot of money or having the financial freedom to live an abundant life? Is it the rich and healthy lives of our and our loved ones? Or is it pleasure, derived from sex, drugs, alcohol and so on?
Back in 300 B.C.E, a Greek physician by the name of Zeno of Citium supposedly found the answers to these questions, which as of today, we know as stoicism.
Stoicism, originally called “Zenonism”, is a school of Hellenistic philosophy. It derives its meaning from the ancient Greek monument Stoa Poikile, meaning “painted porch”. It’s a site on the north of Agora in Athens, where Zeno and his followers would gather and discuss their ideas and philosophies.
The idea of stoicism has been challenged, refined, and built upon by many after Zeno. Cleanthes, Chrysippus, Epictetus, Seneca, Marcus Aurelius are the names of some of the most influential stoics that have helped shape stoicism into what it is today. But at its core, all Stoics believed that living a virtuous life is the only way of living a good life. And that everything external - wealth, health, or pleasure, is neither good nor bad in itself, but "material for virtue to act upon".
Living a life based entirely on stoicism may not be possible in these modern times, but there is definitely space for us to integrate a few stoic lessons into our daily lives that will help us find more peace in the everyday chaos.
Take control of your time.
Death. It’s something that makes some of us really uncomfortable. But only when we are confronted with it that we realise how scarce our time is, or better put by Seneca, “It is not that we have so little time but that we lose so much. The life we receive is not short, but we make it so”.
Go to an old-age home and talk to people there. You will see time from a person’s perspective who knows their share of it is about to come to an end. So, the next time you find yourself procrastinating or allowing others to impose on your time, remind yourself to take back the control.
Don’t get carried away by the stream of life.
It’s hard not to get distracted when you’re constantly bombarded with advertising, marketing, social media, and whatnot. Most people today are in a constant state of reactiveness. Reacting to their environment. Reacting to their circumstances. Reacting to things outside their control.
This constant state of reactiveness puts us out of our purpose. We get carried away in the stream of life and end up in an unknown place far from where we wanted to be.
Stoics always teach that one should live life purposefully and intently. So, no matter how hard it is to avoid distractions. Train yourself to be more proactive everyday and do your tasks and duties with intent and purpose. As Marcus Aurelius said, “Let each thing you do, say, or intend, be like that of a dying person”.
You can’t control everything, so don’t try.
It’s easy to misinterpret the sentence above. We’re not telling you to put your hands off the steering wheel. We’re just asking you to not worry about the traffic. We are conditioned to be upset about things outside our control. But that’s not the ideal way to live.
Epictetus was born a slave who didn’t even have control over his own body and freedom. You would think he had no reason to be optimistic about his life. But this is what he had to say, “Just keep in mind, the more we value things outside our control, the less control we have”. Train yourself to shift your focus to things you can control instead of what you can’t.
Take the time to put your thoughts into writing.
The book Meditations, written by Marcus Aurelius, is just a collection of writings of him introspecting. People often underestimate the potential benefits of writing. When you collect your thoughts and present them in writing, you force your mind to think more clearly, which develops more clarity in your thoughts.
Make it a daily practice to reflect on your thoughts, beliefs and assumptions about the world through writing. No matter how much you study or know about it, you can truly only acknowledge the benefits of writing by experiencing it.
“You are scared of dying-and, tell me, is the kind of life you lead really any different than being dead”