Welcome to Rise to the Good Life! I'm Simon Drew and I'm so excited that you've found your way here.
Before you go wandering around I thought you might want some background on myself and/or Stoicism.
So in case you're wondering, I'm a musician, podcast host, blogger, coach, photographer, "student of life", and soon-to-be personal trainer. I live on the Sunshine Coast (Australia) with my incredible wife Jennifer, and I am on a mission to help as many people as I can to find joy and fulfillment in life through using the principles and values of Stoicism (as well as some good old fashioned self-improvement techniques).
"What is Stoicism?" I heard you ask? Let me explain...
STOICISM - THE ULTIMATE TEMPLATE FOR A WELL-LIVED LIFE
I first heard of Stoicism when Tim Ferriss (author of many life-changing books and host of many life-changing podcasts) said in an interview that "Letters from a Stoic" was his favorite book. Being the avid fan of Tim's work that I was, I had to have this book.
The book, which is a collection of letters written by Seneca the Younger (I'll get to him later) to his friend, was an absolute game-changer for me. Since my 20th birthday I had been absolutely obsessed with self-improvement books and motivational strategies, and what I discovered in Letters from a Stoic was that everything motivational gurus and personal development leaders are saying today had already been said over 2000 years ago by the Stoics!
But I'm getting ahead of myself. I think it's important to get a bit of history before you jump straight in, so here is a very brief overview of Stoicism (If you would prefer to listen to a brief history then you can go here to listen to episode #2 of my podcast):
A BRIEF HISTORY OF STOICISM
Stoicism is a school of philosophy that was founded over 2000 years ago by Zeno of Citium. Zeno was the son of a merchant who would often bring books back from is trips to Athens. These books were often philosophical, and this is where Zeno began his love of philosophy.
Later in his life Zeno was shipwrecked in Athens, and so he took this as an opportunity to start anew and to begin learning from the philosophers of Athens.
Eventually beginning his own school teaching on the stairs of the Stoa Poikile (thus, Stoicism), Zeno and his successors taught that to live a good life one should focus heavily on virtue, which is the ultimate goal, and that to have true virtue you must set your aim at knowledge and wisdom. He also taught that a good life should be free from negative emotions like hate, anger, and fear, and that one must align oneself with the laws of n
ature in order to live a good life.
But Even though stoicism began in Greece, it eventually found it’s way to Rome, where the most notable philosophers of stoicism that we know today resided.
So who are these philosophers? Well, there are four that I'll talk about. Lucious Annaeus Seneca, Gaius Musonius Rufus, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius. There are many others, such as Cato the Younger and Chrycippus, however due to the limited resources that we have from them and their teachings, most people are happy to cling to the former mentioned philosophers as the guides for Stoicism.
Lucious Annaeus Seneca was born around the same time as Jesus in Cordoba (a town in Roman Spain). His life is not heavily documented, however his adult years saw him become a wealthy and highly influential philosopher, statesman, investor, playwright, and advisor to the Roman Emperor Nero.
Seneca championed the art of rhetoric, public speaking, and debate, and also spent time as a speaker in the Senate.
As was, and is often the case with anyone who would devote their life to politics, Seneca's life was marked with scandal. But what we see in his writings is a man who was torn between a life of philosophy and a life of ambition; two worlds that are difficult, yet not impossible, to combine without conflict.
Seneca's life was at times filled with beauty, and at others filled with strife. For example, In the year 41, all of Seneca's property was confiscated and he was banished after he was accused of committing adultery with the Emeror's niece. He was sent to a rocky island where he spent 8 years in exile, returning only after Claudius’s new wife had convinced him to bring back Seneca so that he could tutor her son, Nero.
Seneca's letters and essays show a man who was aware of his shortcomings, and who was deeply dedicated to understanding the truth about what really makes life worth-while. His letters are personal, touching, and full of beauty.
Around 65 AD after being accused of conspiring to kill the emperor, Seneca was sentenced to death by suicide, a fate which, by most accounts, he met with calmness and dignity.
At the same time that Nero was in power, Gaius Misonius Rufus was at the height of his fame as thought leader in Rome, and was teaching stoicism to many eager students. One of these students had the foresight to take prolific notes at his lectures, without which we would have very few records of his teachings.
Musonius was a bold teacher, and believed that a lecture should almost be painful to the student, seeing as they are there to rid themselves of negative traits and behaviors.
Misonius, like Seneca, also suffered banishment, and In 65AD he was sent away to a desolate and rocky island. Many say that this was because of Nero's jealousy about Misonious’s rising fame as a philosopher.
Misonious returned home only after Nero had died, although he was exiled again later in life, and died in 100AD.
Although he is the least known philosopher of the four that I am outlining, his contributions to Stoicism cannot be overstated. And one of his best contributions to Stoicism was his greatest student, Epictetus.
Epictetus, was born a slave to a man called Epaphroditus, who at the time was the administrative secretary to Nero. Seeing that Epictetus was highly intellectual and showed great talent, Epaphroditus sent him to Rome to study with Musonius Rufus, where he became an excellent student and was eventually freed from slavery after the emperor Nero had died.
Later, in 94 A.D., the Emperor Domitian banished Epictetus and other philosophers out of jealousy over their rising influence among the people of Rome. Sent away to Nicopolis, Epictetus made the best of his exile by establishing a school where he spent the rest of his life living in humble circumstances and teaching the fundamentals of Stoicism to eager students.
Among those people highly influenced by the works of Epictetus was Marcus Aurelius, who studied the works of Epictetus as a young man. Marcus Aurelius is widely considered to be one of the five good Roman Emperors, and also one of the great Stoic philosophers. He, along with his brother, Lucius Verus, were groomed for Emperor status from a young age (although the two boys were completely different in terms of character and ability to lead). Lucius was highly indulgent in the vices, yet Marcus was focused on the study of philosophy and was dedicated to his duty as heir to the throne.
Throughout his reign as emperor the Roman empire was struck by plague, war, and famine, yet amongst all of this turmoil Marcus Aurelius stayed true to his Stoic values. At one time it is said that he even sold large portions of his furniture and precious jewellery to help the people endure the hard times, and to set an example of sacrifice from the top down.
Through extreme illness, war, betrayal, and hardship, Marcus Aurelius shone as a brilliant example of a person whose life was dedicated to philosophy. During his life he wrote extensive notes on life, death, god, and philosophy, introducing the idea that death is always lingering over us, and so the only way to live a good life is to dedicate ones time to only good and agreeable causes.
So that is a brief history of Stoicism and it's main philosophers, but where do we go from there? Is Stoicism still relevant today?
IS STOICISM STILL RELEVANT?
Even though the roots of Stoicism date back more than 2000 years, the principles and values that were taught are still as relevant and useful today as they were then. In fact, now more than ever we are in need of practical philosophies that can help people to find true fulfillment and joy in life, and Stoicism offers most, if not all of those philosophies.
I believe that if something is true, then it is also timeless. A truth is not a truth unless it can stand firm throughout the ages, and I believe the ideas that the the Stoics championed truly have stood the test of time.
Below is a list of people from modern history or today who have been highly influenced by Stoicism, just to give you an idea of how important and relevant this philosophy has been throughout history.
SO WHAT ARE THE MAIN TEACHINGS OF STOICISM?
There are a few core values that the Stoics taught that can help anyone to live a beautiful and effective life. Here is my best list of the most important teachings of Stoicism:
1 - Virtue is the Ultimate Goal
Virtue is the ultimate goal of life, and that to obtain virtue we must be in a constant search for knowledge and wisdom. Stoics teach that you are never too old or too young to start studying philosophy, and that time is never ill spent if it is spent in the pursuit of knowledge. We should be curious about life, nature, the arts, literature, and philosophy.
2 - Excess in Passions and Emotions Should be Limited
Excessive passions or emotional reactions should be limited, because they hinder our ability to think logically and they keep us from a virtuous life. Extremes in emotions should be avoided, because they are often irrational and based on whims, not reality. This is where you will get the colloquial use of the term “stoic” often used to describe someone who avoids emotional extremes, is calm under pressure, and is generally unresponsive to pain or torment. This is an interesting portrayal of a stoic, however it is not 100% accurate. Stoic philosophers actually encourage people to feel the emotions, and to experience happiness, joy, grief, love, sadness, and excitement, but at the same time they remind us to put these emotions in their proper place, and to not allow them to interfere with our ability to make good choices.
3 - Chance and Fortune Happens to us All
Stoics teach that you can’t change what is happening to you right now, but you can do your best to prepare to have a better future. The future can be molded by your actions now, but the present cannot. Chance and fortune definitely play defining roles in our lives, and stoics teach that the best way to live is to do the best that you can in everything that you do, all the while making sure that you are practicing becoming a virtuous person, because ill fortune cannot harm a mans virtue. A hurricane may take your house, but you will decide if it takes your mind.
4 - Harmonizing With Nature
Stoics believe that nature holds all the necessities of life. If we order our lives according to the divine laws of nature then nothing can harm or surprise us, because no matter what stage of life we are in, we will always have the bare necessities to live a great and fulfilled life, and anything that happens to us is aligned with natures laws, so it cannot be so bad. Equally important is learning to appreciate all of nature’s beauty and wonder. The Stoics saw nature as an endless source of wisdom and abundance.
5 - Know What You Can Control, and What You Can’t
William B Irvine, a professor of philosophy and self-proclaimed Stoic, calls this the trichotomy of control, meaning that there are three possible options. First, there are things that we absolutely cannot control, such as the weather. Second, there are things that we can only partially control, like the way that people treat us. And third, there are things that we can fully control, such as the time and effort that we put into a project. When we become skilled at knowing what we can control and what we cannot then we are able to double our efforts towards those things that we can control, and stop worrying about the things that we can’t. This is helpful when it comes to our worries about the future because it allows us to stop focusing on what will happen tomorrow, and in stead start to focus on what we can do today that will create the outcome that we want tomorrow. Fearing the future is pointless because we cannot control the events that will come our way, but we can control our own actions today.
6 - Gratitude
Stoics teach that if you want to have a happy life then you should learn to love what you have in stead of being in a constant search for something new. If you can learn to fully appreciate all of the beauty in your life now then you will not be effected by that new car that’s on the market, or that new home that you want. You’ll think rationally, and you’ll recognise that even though it is nice to acquire new things, they do not bring long term happiness. It’s not about not wanting to progress, but it’s about finding a pure and full gratitude for all of the beauty that you experience in your life.
7 - Philosophy is for Everyone
Philosophy should be both accessible and useful to the general public. Anyone, if he or she desires, should be able to study philosophy and derive from it some goodness that will allow them to live a better life. Stoics sometimes even liken the philosopher to the doctor, arguing that people should, after a visit with a philosopher or teacher, always take away with them some useful information that will heal or strengthen their mind. Philosophy should not be concerned with pretentious semantics or clever wordplay, but in stead it should set its aim at bettering mankind.
8 - Put Negative Emotions in Their Rightful Place
We should rid ourselves of harmful emotions like hate, fear, lust, jealousy, sadness, and envy, and replace them with beautiful emotions. For example, if one of your loved ones were to die tomorrow, the stoic philosopher would likely counsel you to feel the grief, but then to begin to focus not on the death, but rather on all of the beautiful memories that you have about this person. Move your emotions from sadness and grief to joy and gratitude. Be grateful for all the time the you shared with that person, and put the negative emotions in their rightful place. Negative emotions are necessary at times, but we must always learn how to transition from negative emotions, which are harmful if felt excessively, to positive emotions, which are often helpful and rational.
9 - We Must Seek Harmony With Our Fellow Man
We must always seek to live in harmony with other people. We were all put on this earth in the same way, and we all share the same blood, so we should all care for each other to the best of our abilities. All of the Stoics at one time or another wrote about the need to treat other people as we would ourselves. Marcus Aurelius wrote about the fact that we all are born, and we all must die, so how are any of us different? Seneca expressed his disdain toward the cruel treatment of slaves, and the horrible entertainment of the coliseums where people were being thrown to lions. Epictetus was a slave himself, and expressed no negative feelings towards his previous masters. Musonious Rufus expressed his view that it should not only be men who study philosophy, but women also, seeing as all people, regardless of gender, can benefit from philosophy. Stoics focus on what makes us all the same, not what makes us different.
10 - Understand the Frailty of Life
Everything is destined to perish. Death should not be feared, but rather it should be constantly on our minds as a source of inspiration. In fact, the Stoics would say “Memento Mori”, which means “remember you must die.” Remembering that one day we will die should serve as a great source of inspiration; a reminder that we should be filling our days with as much life as possible. You should live more, love more, walk away from negative emotions, and become the person who you want to be, because tomorrow it could all be gone. And this doesn’t only apply to death. For example, Stoics teach that we should rehearse poverty because the truth of life is that nothing lasts forever, and so what you have today may be gone tomorrow. If you are always aware that tomorrow you may lose everything then it won’t be a crippling surprise to you if or when you do lose it all. By constantly pondering the frailty life, stoics are better able to live in the moment, because they understand that every day in the light is an incredible blessing, one that should be cherished, like a flower that will soon wilt.
So these are what I believe to be the core values of stoicism. There may be more, but based on my own studies and experience this is the best list that I could assemble, and I hope that it helps you to better understand what being a stoic is all about.
WHERE TO FROM HERE?
Congratulations! You now know more about Stoicism than about 99.9% of other people, and you're ready to start learning even more.
If you like listening to podcasts, then you should check out my bi-weekly show, the Practical Stoic Podcast. Here I discuss practical philosophies and tactics that you can implement into your life every day.
Otherwise, if you like to read then you should check out my Stoic Reading List. Here you'll find numerous suggestions for where you can get the best information about Stoicism.
Do you love quotes? I do too, and if you want to see all of my favorites then just go here.
If you're really in the mood for some serious life change, then don't hesitate to contact me and book a coaching session. I'd love to talk with you and see how we can align your life and goals more closely with Stoic principles.
Apart from all of that, just enjoy looking around the site!