My husband introduced me to this practical philosophy at the beginning of our relationship. While I was non-committal initially, present circumstances goaded me to take a second look. It turned out to be a really good thing so much so that I am dedicating this space to this particular topic so that you, too, can learn what I have in the last few weeks.
What it is
In a nutshell, stoicism asserts that true happiness comes from within. It does not rely on external events because stoics see the world with a variety of uncontrollable realities. What they seek to control is how they respond to such uncertainties. Stoicism helps us overcome destructive emotions with restraint, compassion, and humility.
How it helps
Emotions left unchecked can be destructive. They destroy relationships. They spur knee-jerk decisions that are clearly not thought through. Sometimes, these situations take so long to fix, some even become unredeemable. This is where stoicism comes in. It teaches people to master their emotions by being self-aware. It is an exercise of tranquility and contentment, of learning to breathe in and out before reacting. Niassim Nicolas Taleb in his book “The Black Swan” perfectly captured it when he wrote: “A stoic transforms fear into prudence, pain into information, mistakes into initiation, and desire into undertaking.” During times of life’s storms and stress, the stoic remains calm and mindful as he/she plows through the mess. They basically are the epitome of keeping calm and carrying on.
Example to emulate
One of the personalities who seems to embody a modern-day stoic is former US President Barack Obama. His aides would attest that he was impenetrably cool. His critics could not get to him. Even racist epithets did not work. It was because Obama is naturally restrained. He called bad outcomes as teachable moments. He was tolerant of criticism. He handled pressure with so much grace. This demeanor buoyed his administration through a near recession and a bitter political divide. He worked WITH negativity and when the situation called for it, he had the courage NOT to fight back.
We can do it, too
We can master our inner Trump. You know, that temptation to be governed by our visceral thoughts and reactions without any effort to think things through. We lash out in real life and on social media. We fight back at anything and at everything. There is no coherent real-time response to bad situations and we end up compounding the mess even more. How do we rise above such a disaster? Here are some practical ways:
· Have time to sit, be quiet, and be mindful. You cannot be complaining and talking all the time. Center yourself. Contemplate. Such exercise over time will help you gain tranquility and self-awareness.
· Change perspectives. Have a difficult heartbreak? Change your perspective. Instead of thinking that you have lost the love of your life or how quickly you were replaced, understand that it was for the better — that the relationship wasn’t good for the both of you. The paradigm shift is this. There are some things that we cannot control so we let go and work on what we have influence over, that is, how we think and, consequently, how we respond. If you can turn problems into opportunities, weaknesses into strengths, then you would have succeeded.
· Learn not to take thing TOO personally. Most reactions are caused by a bruised ego. We hear criticisms or judgments against us and then we lash out. Breathe in and out. Sometimes what we think is not really what the person meant.
· Keep ego in check. We are but a speck in the universe. Entitlement should be weaned from our system. Humility allows us that extra patience in long lines or tolerating criticism. Humility gives us the courage not to fight back and to get our point across without hostility.
· Do not be influenced by materialism. Life now is about amassing anything and everything. Over time, this becomes a bottomless pit of wants. We never feel satisfied so we end up disillusioned and unhappy. Again, change perspectives. For every fault of your partner, think of five things that he/she does right (if you can’t, that’s probably a red flag). For every work complaint, think of five blessings that came with the job (if you can’t, again a red flag). Materialism seeks to replace. Stoicism seeks to endure (to a certain point, of course). Materialism focuses on wants. Stoicism focuses on what matters. Materialism is a casual, meaningless one-night stand. Stoicism is a satisfying long-term relationship.
Stoicism is a vehicle to achieve happiness by embodying goodness, practicing restraint, and appreciating what matters the most in life. Mark Manson perfectly encapsulates it when he says in his book “The Subtle Art of Not Giving an F”, “Maturity is what happens when one learns to only give an F about what’s truly F-worthy.”