The Profound Way Stoicism Can Transform Your Life
Over the past two years, I’ve become familiar with Stoicism. If you haven’t heard of it before, Stoicism is a philosophy popular throughout the Roman and Greek culture until the 3rd century A.D. There are many ways one could describe it, but according to Wikipedia, it is a “philosophy of personal ethics which is informed by its system of logic and its views on the natural world.”
There are several Stoics I follow including Seneca and Marcus Aurelius as well as existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre. A lot of my thoughts on life (now) are based on some philosophies these people taught. Other popular Stoics include Epictetus and Musonius Rufus. Here’s what they taught and how their teachings made a profound impact on my life.
Seneca wrote about many things, but one key takeaway in his writings is the amount of time we waste on meaningless things. Basically, we make life short by wasting so much of it. We allow time to slip away as if we can replace it and then realize at the end of life what time is worth. The length of life is not something you can control, but how you live your life is within your power.
In his writings, he compared wealth to life. When wealth is put into the hands of a bad owner, it is squandered. When it is put into the hands of a good owner, it increases. This is the same for time. If you invest the time you have in good pursuits, it will reward you. If you spend it on meaningless tasks, you will not see growth.
He also talked about life having 3 periods. They are that which has been (past), that which is (present), and that which will be (future). He teaches the present is short, the future is doubtful, and the past is certain. Therefore we should focus our time on the present since the past is gone, and the future is uncertain. Seneca also taught about suffering. One of his famous quotes is “We suffer more in imagination than in reality.” Many of us suffer when we don’t need to. We focus on what may occur in the future and ruminate on the past instead of remaining in the present moment. He taught if something is going to happen, it will happen. There is nothing you can do to prevent it, so we should not worry about things we cannot control.
Like Seneca, Marcus Aurelius was another stoic who impacted me and my transformation. Aurelius taught the mind is a source of human freedom. We can change our lives through our reactions and thoughts by recognizing what is in our control and what is not. By not wasting energy on things we cannot change, we are not tormented by anxiety and worry.
He also taught to live simply and always be consistent in your actions. Aurelius stressed the importance of self and not worrying about others and minor things. One teaching which sticks with me is to always be the same in your actions and with people no matter what. The person you are should always be the same, even in times of despair.
But the main thing which I have learned from him is the difference between the external and the internal. The external are things beyond our control and the internal are things we can control. The internal are your thoughts and actions. How you react to things are always internal, and no one can get you upset except yourself. It is always within your power to live the life you want and make choices which benefit you.
Sartre was an existentialist. Similar to stoicism, existentialism discusses how we, as individuals, create our own values and meaning to life as there is no inherent meaning otherwise. It teaches we are responsible for our own actions and choices. Sartre believed we have the freedom to choose and we are not bound by our current circumstances. We get to define what our life looks like and we are the sum of our actions.
He also taught we are individuals and are not bound by labels, roles, stereotypes, or definitions which we give to others. Sartre also stressed since you are responsible for your own actions, you can use that responsibility to be cruel or be nice, and you can live life authentically and passionately based on your own choices. You are also not your past and the past does not define you.
Since learning of Stoicism and the philosophers mentioned, I have changed my way of thinking.
I have realized I have wasted a lot of time on meaningless things. Meaningless, for me, is something which does not benefit my overall life or health. Instead of sitting on the couch and watching television for hours, I will write or exercise. Instead of spending time or energy worrying about things I cannot control, I now focus on things which I can. The things which are meaningless to you will be different.
I’ve learned to value myself and I now know I am not defined by my job, the size of my house, or the fancy car I don’t drive. Success is not defined by others, but by me. My thoughts are not who I am and I have learned how to control them by not running out to meet the suffering which may or may not come. But the most important thing I’ve learned is that I am in control of my life and I have the choice to make it better. And I have chosen to live how I want.
You can also live the life you want, but you have to take action. You cannot allow others to decide your life for you. Be the driver of your own life instead of a passenger. Stoicism is just one way to transform your life. Do what works best for you. The only things you should do are the things you value. Fill your days with things which mean the most to you. Your time is not wasted when you are filling your day with meaningful pursuits.
Each day spent not doing at least one thing to change your situation is a day you can never replace. Use your time wisely.
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