What Is Stoicism?

Virtue is the path to happiness.

“Don’t explain your philosophy. Embody it.” — Epictetus

The ancient Stoics believed virtue was the true path to happiness:

  • Embrace obstacles with courage and an inner stillness.

  • Avoid excess. Moderate the extremes.

  • Gain wisdom as a lifelong student.

  • Do what is right.

Stoicism is a Hellenistic philosophy founded by Zeno of Citium in Athens in the early third century BC. It flourished in the Roman and Greek cultures until the third century AD.

  • What stands in the way becomes the way.

  • Perspective shapes reality. Change perspective to change reality.

  • Memento Mori. Live your best life today. It may be your last.

  • Amor Fati. Focus on what you control. Accept what you cannot.

  • Premeditatio Malorum. Plan for what can go wrong and avoid surprise.

  • Reflect often on the self.

Apart from its founder Zeno, Marcus Aurelius, Seneca and Epictetus are revered for their contributions to Stoic philosophy.

Marcus Aurelius was a wise and virtuous Roman Emperor who spent most of his time on campaigns at the edges of the empire. His personal journal, Meditations, is a rare look into the mind of a man who tried to embody the four aspects of virtue under the stress of ruling an empire.

Seneca was born to a wealthy family in Spain. He was tutor and advisor to Emperor Nero and is known for making stoicism more accessible. Of his publications, Seneca is best known for his Letters from a Stoic, sent to his friend Lucilius on how to be a better Stoic.

Epictetus was born a slave and didn’t obtain his freedom until Emperor Nero’s death. He authored Discourses and Enchiridion. His influence on Marcus Aurelius is evident in Meditations, where Aurelius quotes him often.

To be a Stoic is to live a virtuous life of self-mastery. Nassim Nicholas Taleb says it best: “Stoicism is about the domestication of emotions, not their elimination.” A Stoic “transforms fear into prudence, pain into information, mistakes into initiation and desire into undertaking.”