Lessons in Stoicism is a book written by John Sellars that introduces the Stoic school of philosophy made famous by Marcus Aurelius, Seneca and Epictetus in the first and second century AD.
One of the main themes in Stoicism is the idea of control within one’s life. The Stoics asked themselves what they really control. The answer – the only thing we can control is our judgements. Although judgements are only a small part of the mind, the Stoics believed that because we can control our judgements, we are able to control what truly matters for our wellbeing.
So, if our happiness is based on our romantic relationships, career, possessions, appearance, or health, we are leaving our happiness in the control of external forces. Even though we can take actions to aid us to be successful in the categories above, we ultimately cannot control whether a partner loves us, whether a company hires us, whether possessions remain in our possession, and whether the body remains healthy. So make your goal simply to do the best you can.
Another tenet of the Stoic philosophy is how to deal with adversity in one’s life. Stoics believed that adversity is the stimulus that is needed to develop as a person, and that life wasn’t complete without facing any difficulties – that would be the real misfortune! Even so, the Stoics remind us not to seek out adversity and drama for the sake of it, it will happily come naturally in the timeline of our lives.
The Stoic philosophers practiced a technique called the premeditation of future evils. They thought about all the possible bad things that could happen in their lives – the death of a family member, loss of reputation and riches, loss of health etc. This may seem like a negative thing to do, but the Stoics found that when people avoided thinking of these setbacks, they were ill-equipped to deal with the reality of it when the time came. Entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk frequently thinks about what he would do if he found out his mother had died in a car accident – not only does it prepare for the probable event that his mother will die before him, it realigns him to what is truly important in his life.
Read more about Stoicism in some of Seneca’s most revered essays: On Tranquility of Mind, Consolation to Helvia, and On the Shortness of Life.