Imaginary portrait of Epictetus
 Image by William Sonmans/

Preface to the Philosophy

People often stereotype philosophy as some heavy academic stuff with zero application in their life. But it is not true. Henry David Thoreau said that philosophy isn't meant to solve the problem of life just in theory but in practice.

And who could explain the significance of studying philosophy better than Epictetus, one of the prominent Stoic philosophers? He said that those who indulge themselves in studying philosophy in their leisure time are the people who truly live for they not only observe the best about their age but also try to acquire the good of every age and "all the harvest of the past is added in their store."

I came across an excellent philosophy in the midst of an emotional crisis. I turned to philosophy to soothe my aching soul. 

Similar to what Zeno, the founder of Stoicism, did when he suffered a crisis.

So the story goes like this...

Zeno, a rich merchant from Citium, Cyprus gets shipwrecked. He has lost everything he had. He stumbled his way across into a book shop in a library in Athens, Greece. He finds a book in which he reads about Socrates. He gets impressed by his method of enquiries. He feels within himself a thirst to know more. The librarian tries to quench his thirst by suggesting him to reach out to Crates of Thebes, a Greek philosopher. So this shipwrecked merchant gets in touch with Greek philosophers and after much learning he says, "I made a prosperous voyage when I suffered a shipwreck."

He gets a bunch of disciples and gathers for discussion in a building called 'Stoa Poikile', literally meaning 'painted porch'. Originally, the disciples were to be known as 'Zenonians' after Zeno but the humble Zeno didn't let the school of philosophy to be named after him so the disciples called themselves 'Stoic'.

The thread of
Stoicism entwined 

Marcus Aurelius, the Emperor of Rome; Seneca the playwright and Epictetus, the slave into a common cord. They are the three most famous proponents of Stoicism.

It is this philosophy which has inspired so many great personalities like J.S Mill, Adam Smith, Frederick the Great, Bill Clinton, Theodore Roosevelt, Ralph Waldo Emerson, etc. No doubt Stoicism has stood the test of time and will continue to inspire future generations.

Now without further ado, let me open the treasure chest of Stoicism.

Essaying the Essentials of Stoicism

If you ever happened to go down the rabbit hole of overthinking, where you are frightened by the future or persecuted by the past remember what Seneca said, "Happiness and Freedom begin with a clear understanding of one principle. Some things are within your control, and some are not." The art of living in the present is one of the most important Stoic teachings. 

To have clarity of thought, of what is in our control and what is not will help us stay calm and solution-oriented because there's no point in frustrating about things which are beyond our control.

Don't let the anxiety distract you into unproductivity, discard the anxiety just like Marcus Aurelius did when he wrote in his personal diary, "Today I escaped anxiety. Or no, I discarded it, because it was within me, in my own perception and not outside."

Because, stress is such a pollution to the solution, it is a poison that kills time. In order to do well in future, you must prepare yourself in the present. As Marcus Aurelius said, "Never let the future disturb you. You will meet it, if you have to, with the same weapons of reason which today arm you against the present."

If you are afraid of confronting the challenges that life will throw at you in different times, recall this Stoic principle of turning challenges into opportunities. Marcus Aurelius converted his obstacles into ways when he said, "The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way, becomes the way." The road to success is never smooth. Things will never go, as you wish them to go. You'll have to overcome many obstacles before you reach your destination. Try to tackle them with a cool head, and you'll convert the obstacle into a new path.

But in case you find yourself struggling and getting low with no motivation, use the Stoic method of 'viewing your problems from above'. Just for a moment, step away from the microscopic visualisation of your day-to-day problems, and zoom out. Try to look at your problems from a larger perspective, as a third person or a bigger person and you'll find that most of your problems aren't that big a deal, they are trifles. The moment you realise it, the ideas which were obstructed by the panic will start to flow.

Besides meeting obstacles, you'll meet people. Most of them will have prejudices against you. They'll comment on you without knowing you enough... Most of the time, the things they'll say will neither be true nor nice. So, if you're having a bad day because someone gossiped something mean about you, handle it like a Stoic would. A Stoic would never dilute his self-esteem due to someone's inability to see their worth. They won't succumb to the opinions of others. Epictetus said, “If anyone tells you that a certain person speaks ill of you, do not make excuses about what is said of you but answer, He was ignorant of my other faults, else he would not have mentioned these alone.” 

Don't be angry or resentful, just stay calm and do the rightful thing. The opinion of others shouldn't define what you can or cannot do. As Marcus Aurelius puts it, "It never ceases to amaze me: we all love ourselves more than other people, but care more about their opinion than our own."

This attitude of Stoics to not care what others say, shouldn't be misconstrued as an attitude of arrogance. Because, Stoics believe in bettering themselves through learning and gaining experience. Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, and Epictetus would constantly indulge in reading and engaging with wise men. Although, Marcus Aurelius was the Emperor of Rome, yet he would carry his books and take lessons to learn what he does not know. You can't learn without being humble and therefore Epictetus said, If you want to improve, be content to be thought foolish and stupid."

 Stoic philosophers insist on doing the right thing even if even you don't get recognition for it. Marcus Aurelius says that "A good reputation is a preferred indifferent, it's nice to have but we don't need, it doesn't exclude virtuous living."

Don't do good for recognition, do it because you're a good person. 

Stoics believe that in order to get better you must evaluate your doings and plan ahead. Journalling is something which is a must-do for the Stoics. Seneca wrote, "I will keep constant watch over myself and---and most usefully--will put each day up for review."

Journalling is not only important to retrospect our actions done in the past, but prospect the actions we must perform in near future to get better.

Stoics are very productive people. Seneca said that "Putting things off is the biggest waste of life." Stoics keep reminding themselves of the shortness of life, lest they should waste their time.

Crux in the Conclusion.

Stoicism teaches us to make the best use of time, always keep learning, do the right thing irrespective of what others say, and approach every problem in life as an opportunity to get better.

It is said that attitude decides the altitude of your life. I believe Stoicism helps in constructing that attitude.

I'll like to end my article with this self-explanatory quote by 

Epictetus - "Don't explain your philosophy. Embody it."


I have put forth some of the beliefs of Stoic philosophy to stir the curiosity of readers, but there is so much more which is still left untouched. My aim was to make content less theoretical and more relatable for a first-time reader. Furthermore, I will like to credit Ryan Holiday for his works have been my major source for this article.

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