You know that you’re living a thriving life when happiness and positive feelings are a part of who you are. The idea of a thriving life is intriguing.
It’s when you are in an all-encompassing state in which you are succeeding in all areas of your life. You feel personally fulfilled and you’re at your healthiest, fittest, and most confident self.
So, how exactly do you go about living a happy and prosperous life? And how can you tell when you’ve succeeded?
Let’s start by acknowledging that having money, fame, or social standing has nothing to do with leading a happy and thriving life. It is more about connecting with your inner self, increasing your level of self-awareness, and realizing your full potential.
In this ultimate guide, we’ll look at what it takes to thrive in life from a Stoic’s perspective. Let’s begin with a quick overview of the Stoics’ philosophy.
The modern definition of a stoic is someone unaffected by happiness or pleasure, as well as by sadness or suffering. However, in Ancient Greece, the Stoics were members of a school of philosophy founded by Zeno of Citium.
Zeno was a Phoenician merchant who was stranded in Athens after being shipwrecked and losing everything he owned. As fate would have it, he wandered into a bookstore and stumbled upon the works of Socrates.
Aimlessly strolling into a bookstore was a watershed moment for Zeno, as he later reflected:
“Now that I’ve suffered a shipwreck, I’m on a good journey.”
From that day onwards, he gave up his old life and focused only on the study of philosophy.
Sometime later, Zeno began to impart his personal philosophy. Being unable to afford a proper venue, he taught under the shade of a stoa (the Greek word for porch). This gave birth to the term “Stoic” and the school of Stoicism.
For about 500 years, Stoicism was one of the most well-known and revered philosophical movements. But over time, this knowledge that was once so important was all but lost and forgotten.
Thanks in large part to contemporary Stoics like Ryan Holiday and William Irvine, Stoicism is experiencing a resurgence in popularity. Since most of the early Stoics’ writings have been lost, they relied on the literary works of three Roman Stoics:
Marcus Aurelius was the last of the “Five Good Emperors” of the Roman Empire. Being one of the most powerful people on earth at that time, he could have ruled with impunity. Instead, he fervently pursued and lived the Stoic philosophy.
It was in Stoicism that he found support when faced with the myriad of challenges during his reign. He kept a journal while leading a military campaign in Central Europe, recording his daily struggles.
It is a record of his innermost thoughts, offering himself guidance on how to fulfill his duties and obligations. Never intended for publication, his musings became known as “Meditations.” Today, his writings are regarded as the definitive guide to Stoic philosophy.
In the opening line of his renowned Enchiridion, Epictetus outlined the central tenet of Stoic philosophy:
“Some things are in our control and others not.”
According to Epictetus, we should only focus on things that we can influence, such as our own thoughts and actions.
Today, this school of thought is reflected in Protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr’s “Serenity Prayer”:
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”
Epictetus is undoubtedly the most important figure in the current global renaissance of stoicism. His version of Stoicism influenced Marcus Aurelius, Decartes, and contemporary behavioral therapies like Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT).
In the Stoic universe, Seneca seemed to be a bit of a conundrum. He was a tutor and adviser to Nero. A fact that led many to question:
“How can one with so much wisdom tutor one of the most tyrannical emperors in the Roman Empire?”
Also, being one of the richest people of his time, people wonder, “Can you be rich and a Stoic?”
As humans, we frequently fall victim to the cognitive distortion pattern “black and white thinking.” People with this thought pattern tend to think in extremes. The all-or-nothing mindset with no middle ground.
Despite being a paradox in Stoic-dom, Seneca’s writings were both practical and timeless.
If I were to sum up Stoicism in one sentence, it would be:
“A philosophy that centers around the attainment of eudaimonia.”
This Greek term has no one-word equivalent in the English language. Just think of it as “a state of fulfilment, happiness, and thriving.”
So, for the Stoics, the ultimate goal of life is to find the answer to the question:
“How can I find a path to happiness?”
The Stoics believed that in order to reach eudaimonia, you must embrace the three principles of the Stoic Happiness Triangle:
The fact that stoicism is still applicable in today’s society shows how prevalent the pursuit of happiness is. According to Patrick Wanis, an expert in human behavior, people are constantly chasing the elusive goal of happiness:
“…we’re never able to enjoy where we are now because we’re always thinking we’re only going to be happy when we get to be, do, or have something.”
Let’s examine the three pillars of the Stoic Happiness Triangle more closely. At the center of the triangle is eudaimonia, the ultimate goal of happiness we so desperately yearn for.
Then there are the three pillars that make up the triangle:
Making the most of life no matter the circumstances is at the heart of Stoicism. To live up to your full potential, you must constantly strive for excellence and develop into your ideal self.
So, the Stoics’ framework for excellence is to “live in accord with virtue.” To help them strive for excellence, the Stoics rely on four cardinal virtues:
One of my favorite Stoic quotes is this one, which can be found right at the beginning of Epictetus’ Enchiridion:
“Make the best use of what is in your power, and take the rest as it happens. Some things are up to us and some things are not up to us.”
Epictetus’ message clearly states that we need to focus on what is within our power and within our control . Some things are within our control, while others are not.
Oftentimes, you suffer because you worry about things that are beyond your control. You’re unhappy when things don’t turn out the way you expected them to.
As University of Texas psychologist Kristin Neff puts it:
“Suffering equals pain times resistance.”
When you experience pain, it is compounded by the amount of resistance you put up against it. Let’s just imagine that you are stuck in traffic and it causes an unpleasant feeling in your mind.
The more you feel upset, disappointed, frustrated, or annoyed, the more your suffering is amplified. This is a result of your false sense of control over external circumstances.
You have no control over, for instance, what people say or do. The only thing you can control is how you respond to what others say or do.
The Stoics believed that you’re in control of two things: your thoughts and actions. This gives you the power to decide what events mean to you and how you wish to respond to them.
When you embrace Stoicism, you are faced with an apparent paradox. Dr. John Sellars, from Royal Holloway University of London, makes the following observation:
“…we have almost no control over anything, yet at the same time, we have potentially complete control over our happiness.”
It is precisely because of this paradox that the third pillar is relevant. The Stoics believed that once you begin to take responsibility, you can start to control your level of happiness.
When you don’t place the blame on other people or outside circumstances, you are taking responsibility. Although you cannot control external events, you may alter your perception of them.
You are responsible for managing your perceptions of any external events. According to Epictetus:
“If you want anything good, you must get it from yourself.”
This suggests that you are accountable for your happiness as well as your unhappiness. Jack Canfield of the bestselling Chicken Soup for the Soul series echoes the words of Epictetus:
“If you want to be successful, you have to take 100% responsibility for everything that you experience in your life.”
Whether we’re feeling happy or miserable, we must accept responsibility for our own emotions because they come from within. As Epictetus remarked:
“It is not events that disturb people, it is their judgements concerning them.”
So, what do you need to do to live a thriving life? How do you live a life filled with confidence and a sense of personal growth?
Making the decision to become the best version of yourself is the first step to a happy and thriving life. Once you’ve made that decision, let it permeate every decision you make and action you take going forward.
However, the most important factor in determining whether or not you lead a thriving life is the worldview you hold. But what exactly is a worldview and why is it important?
It is the lens through which you perceive everything, consider every experience, and make every decision in your life. Your worldview shapes your reality, and your reality shapes your worldview. This is a never-ending feedback loop that exists in your life.
The premise of the Stoic worldview is a desire to live a good life Although it is ancient, its methods are straightforward, practical, and still relevant today.
If you’re looking for an effective strategy to help you live your best life, then Stoicism may be the answer. The fact that you have read thus far is a clear indication of your readiness to accept a Stoic worldview.
The Stoic Happiness Triangle offered a brief summary of the core Stoic principles. Now let’s explore their approach to living a happy and thriving life.
When it comes to a happy and thriving life, the Stoics have many useful and effective strategies in their playbook. Here I have put together eight practical Stoic concepts that will put you on the path to happiness (eudaimonia).
Use the Stoic Happiness Triangle as your guide to become a better version of yourself. Do this at every moment of every day.
The triangle is a reminder to focus on what you can control and take full responsibility for your thoughts and actions. While outside factors may affect how you live, they cannot stop you from living a happy life.
Psychologists refer to people’s perceptions of how much control they have over their own lives as their “locus of control.” You would typically feel in charge of your life with an internal locus of control.
Those who have an external locus of control will blame external factors and others for their problems and misfortunes.
The triangle will ensure that you stay on the right path.
The Stoics understood that not everything is within our control. Yet we bring unhappiness into our lives by trying to control things that are beyond our control.
The only thing that you can control is your thoughts. You possess the capacity to judge as well as perceive.
Oftentimes, your judgments make you unhappy. You tend to become disturbed, anxious, or sad when you judge something that has happened to you as terrible.
When you pass judgment, you’ve given it a meaning, and that meaning is what triggered an emotional reaction in you. Your mind is your most valuable asset, yet it can also frequently turn against you and try to ruin you.
Hence, be as careful with your thoughts as you would with your life. You are in charge of your thoughts because they influence your decisions, and decisions affect how your life turns out.
Just imagine that today was your final day on earth. Can you say with absolute certainty that you have led a happy and meaningful life?
You have no control over the past or the future. The only influence you have is over the present.
You have control over the things you do at this very moment because your life takes place in the moment. Stop thinking about the past or the future and start creating in the present.
Most people think that being happy equates to having more success, wealth, fame, and possessions. The Stoics think otherwise.
They regard material possessions as transient and believe that the fewer material items you own, the happier you will be.
Attaining more things is not the answer to a happy and thriving life. If you attach your happiness to obtaining the things you lack, the less happy you will become.
Your constant craving for more will only lead to more challenges in your life as you will be enslaved by your desires. The Stoics are not suggesting that you completely eradicate your desires.
Instead, they are encouraging you to curb your desires and make the most of the things you already have.
The Stoics understand that in order to live a happy and thriving life, one must grasp the concept of control. To discern what we can control and what we cannot.
The Stoics are well aware of what’s within their control. That’s why they focus on the process and not the outcome.
Take the metaphor of the archer who does everything in his power to hit the target. Being well aware of what is within his control, he focuses on the process by:
By doing his very best up to the moment the arrow left his bow, the archer focused on the process. Once the arrow is released, the archer no longer has control over the arrow.
The outcome is now beyond his control. External factors like a shift in wind direction or a sudden movement of the target will determine the arrow’s fate.
The archer metaphor demonstrates unequivocally that you have no control over the outcome, only your thoughts and actions. Thus, there’s no need to stress about the outcome if you did your best.
If you’re a director, aim for artistic excellence rather than box-office success or win an Oscar. Or aspire to write well rather than to become a bestselling author. Considering that one is under your control and the other is not.
To lead a happy and thriving life, focus on the process when striving towards your goals. If you get too fixated on the outcome, it will lead to feelings of anxiety, stress, and misery.
The Stoics believe that when you strive towards your goal, you must do everything within your control to achieve it. But what happens when you don’t?
Do you regret and lament life’s tragic turn of events and wish things could have turned out differently? Or do you focus on what you can control and accept the outcome?
The Stoics will approach this with the mentality of amor fati, translated from Latin as “a love of one’s fate.” This means you not only accept but also appreciate everything that occurs in life, even struggles and losses.
It’s a mindset that looks for the positive in everything and accepting things as they are. Stoicism calls this the “art of acquiescence” – acceptance rather than resistance.
However, acceptance does not imply that you give up. It means making a plan to go on after accepting reality. Ask yourself two questions to let acceptance empower your growth:
Altering your perception of what happened is far simpler than altering the event itself. Practice accepting life’s circumstances as they happen, and like the Stoics, you will find your eudaimonia.
“Developing an ‘attitude of gratitude’ is one of the simplest ways to improve your satisfaction with life.”
Gratitude improves one’s ability to experience positive, maintain excellent health, overcome challenges, and forge close personal bonds. In fact, numerous studies have linked higher levels of happiness to gratitude.
Of course, the Stoics knew this all along. They also understand that everything in nature, including life itself, is seasonal, brief, and temporary.
The Stoics are not only appreciative of all the gifts the universe has bestowed upon them. They also expressed thankfulness for their misfortunes, believing that true wisdom can only be discovered under those circumstances.
In essence, this is consistent with what Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote decades ago:
“Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.”
Your degree of happiness can rise if you have gratitude for all the wonderful (and unpleasant) things in your life. Start a journal or use a set of gratitude cards to develop the practice of expressing gratitude.
Death has always been an uncomfortable topic and is generally avoided. But not for the Stoics.
They believe in the philosophy of momento mori, which translates as “remember you will die.”The goal of the Stoic is to live well, and this means dying well too.
Hence, no discussion of Stoicism is complete without bringing up mortality and how fleeting our existence on earth is. According to the Stoics, a decent death would be marked by an appreciation for the life that has been given to us.
Take Epictetus, who is unflinching in his words when discussing human mortality:
“Death is necessary and cannot be avoided. I mean, where am I going to go to get away from it?”
Or Marcus Aurelius, who wrote in Book IV of Meditations:
“Do not act as if you were going to live ten thousand years. Death hangs over you. While you live, while it is in your power, be good.”
As for Seneca, he preached that dying is a process that is happening to you every day. “Whatever time has passed is owned by death,” he said.
This momento mori mindset has inspired me to cherish and value life and to not waste time on trivial pursuits. When you consider your own death, you’re forced to reflect on what is actually essential in life.
By imagining not being alive, it prompts you to live life to the fullest while you still can. So, be happy and live every day as a representation of who you are at your best.
These eight strategies that the Stoics use are not the be-all and end-all approach to attaining eudaimonia. They’re just merely guidelines to assist you in living a happy and thriving life.
Pursuing happiness, according to Positive Psychology (the people devoted to studying the good life), can make us miserable. That is why the Stoics are not fixated on being happy.
Instead, they commit to the four cardinal virtues. They know for sure that a good life will come as a result of doing this.
At the end of the day, there really are no hard and fast rules to happiness. Epictetus offers a simple solution:
“Tell yourself, first of all, what kind of man you want to be, and then go ahead with what you are doing.”
In short, live by a set of principles and abide by them without making any exceptions. Then, perhaps, happiness will just land on your lap.
William B. Irvine
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