What is Stoicism?
I’m gonna provide a definition based on what I’ve learned from the Stoic texts I’ve read and studied. So it may not be perfect or up to the standards of Zeno (the founder of Stoicism).
Stoicism is a very personal philosophy based on recognizing that which you can and can not control. Stoics try to spend little time worrying about or acting upon that which they can’t control, instead bothering only with that which they can directly impact.
It may already be clear, but just by learning about Stoicism, one can see massive benefits in the anxious state of their mind.
My Experience with Stoicism
A few years ago, I read a book called “How to be a Stoic” by Massimo Pigliucci. I found it at a local bookstore, it’s only a few years old, and there hadn’t been many reviews on Goodreads at the time.
But for some reason I was drawn to it. And I can say with intense confidence that it’s an excellent book.
This post is not a review, but I highly recommend this book. It’s fun, much of it is set up like a classical dialogue, but the reader also explores the author’s life through the lens of Stoicism, so there’s some excellent vibes here and there.
When I finished that book, I distinctly remember that for the next couple weeks, my anxiety was significantly reduced. I wasn’t even really trying to incorporate the knowledge of the book into my life—I seemed to benefit just by osmosis, as happens so often with good books.
Flash forward a few years, and I picked up one of the most fundamental of Stoic texts: Meditations by Marcus Aurelius.
I have a love/hate relationship with this one, to be sure. I disagree with a lot of what Aurelius says: he was a Roman emperor, and so he acts pretty entitled and uses the gods in a lot of his arguments.
This is my copy of Meditations: it’s severely annotated because I so often disagreed with it:
But I just kept reading it and I’m very glad I did. Much of it is repetitive, but when you read it, his words act almost as a sort of mantra that helps slowly change the way you see the world.
It’s another I highly recommend: you may want to get out a pencil for this one, but it’s very valuable.
My Main Takeaway
After reading these books, but particularly after reading Meditations, I realized something crucial. Something that has helped me make positive decisions for my anxiety.
To boil it all down to its basic components:
By this I mean that your values are just as important and valid as everyone else’s, and you have the decision to stick to your own or conform with theirs. The former choice is the only one that’s going to make you happy.
No matter how much energy you expel in the effort, you’re not going to change anyone. And you shouldn’t be surprised when people do stupid things, because you already know they’re going to.
It should be our goal to keep ourselves intact while everything around us is in flux.
The world is going to change rapidly, and Stoicism teaches that the best way to defend yourself against that is to accept it as a truth and remain a steady boulder as the water of life rushes around you.
But, to get to the point of this post, this means something huge for yourself. By learning about Stoicism, I was able to do whatever I had to do for myself without guilt and without any fear of how others would perceive it.
Here’s another truth: we’re all going to die. And you can live easier knowing that nothing you do is weird, and even if it is, none other but your own opinion matters. If you avoid meditation because you’re worried about your family’s opinion, realize that nothing makes them “correct” in their judgment.
No person, no family, no society, no country, and no human is “right” about anything. So listen to yourself.
With that knowledge, you can begin living for yourself. Doing whatever it is you have to do to make you happy, so long as it doesn’t impede on others. So if you want to incorporate that feeling of freedom and lack of judgment in your life, I recommend you check out Stoicism.
Judgments About Philosophy
Many people who study philosophy are annoying. I would even argue that Marcus Aurelius is annoying. To outsiders, philosophy is a stuffy, dense subject orchestrated by stuffier, denser people.
So you may not really be willing to jump into a philosophy because of negative preconceived notions.
But in order to become a more complex, prepared, and educated person, you need to worry about yourself.
For people with anxiety, that’s an almost impossible task. We’re worried about how others will see us and whether or not we’re wasting our time.
Say this to yourself:
“The judgments of others are just as invalid as my own. So am I gonna do what makes me happy or what makes the others who hate themselves happy?”
And before you can rationalize it, order Meditations on Amazon. Get it shipped and start reading. Be patient: don’t expect the first lines to change your life. Just get through the book at whatever speed makes you comfortable and notice how it makes you feel.
Why This Old Knowledge is Applicable to Modern Life
Philosophy is pretty cool: it’s an academic subject based solely on thinking. I believe that many of our present neuroscientists and psychologists would have fit in well with past philosophers.
That being said, philosophers were also regular people. They just spent a lot more time conscious of their thinking and trying to bend their situations to their emotional and physical advantage.
Epictetus, another massively influential Stoic, and Marcus Aurelius both felt worry, contentment, and heart-break, just as we do.
Just as and more trustworthy than any modern “self-help” author.
Within old philosophical texts, there is an almost infinite well of knowledge about how to live life, regardless of the time the reader reads. And it will always be applicable, as long as humans have the capacity to feel emotion.
I’m not even asking that you study philosophy. I’m just suggesting that you read a couple books and see where they take you.
The Author of this Post
My name is Ethan and I thank Evan for giving me the opportunity to write for him.
I have a blog at abovecognition.com and would be extremely grateful if you clicked the image to check it out.
I try my best to write about effective and actionable solutions to struggles people have with their thoughts, and I put a strong emphasis on the symptoms of OCD and other Anxiety disorders. I post content very similar to MindPowerGrow, so if this blog interests you, check mine out too. Thank you so much.
*Editor’s note: Thank you to Ethan for writing this wonderful piece! It’s the first ever guest post here on MindPowerGrow. So please, check out his blog, give him a follow, and let us know what you think in the comments!*