Stoic Wisdom for Times of Chaos

A photo of a sculpture of a man on a horse (presumably a Greek philosopher).
A photo of a sculpture of a man on a horse (presumably a Greek philosopher).
Photo: Karl Allen Lugmayer/Adobe Stock

WeWe often think of philosophy as a bookish pursuit or perhaps as the lifestyle choice of bearded old men living ascetically in caves. But Stoicism — an ancient school of philosophy famously practiced by the likes of Seneca, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius — is for the real world, and as we face the coronavirus pandemic, its teachings feel distinctly relevant right now.

When the future is scary and we don’t know what’s next, we can find comfort in the wisdom of those before us, those who’ve endured famine, plague, and natural disasters. Here are some ideas from Stoic philosophy that can help us in times of chaos:

Worry only about the things under your control

It is not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters. — Epictetus

The weather, the actions of others, the way your parents treated you as a child, or viral outbreaks are things that are out of your control. Save your focus and resources for what you can influence.

Understand that you are the sole source of your emotions

The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts. — Marcus Aurelius

Events don’t create your emotions — it’s the stories you tell yourself about those events that determine your outlook. All conflict begins internally.

Get things done

It’s not that we have little time, but that we waste a good deal of it. — Seneca

The Stoics believed in being productive over being comfortable. Logically decide what needs to be done and get those things done. Keep your emotions in check and take care of your business. Be aware of time and avoiding wasting it.

Be present

The whole future lies in uncertainty: live immediately. — Seneca

The Stoics were against living in your head. We live in a time of great distractions. We’re also good at reliving the past and projecting ourselves into the future. Stoics were adamant about dealing with reality right here and right now. What have you ever accomplished by dwelling on the past or fixating on the future?

Keep your expectations reasonable

How ridiculous and how strange to be surprised at anything which happens in life. — Marcus Aurelius

The great Stoics of the past believed it was absurd to be surprised by anything. Frustration is often the result of unreasonable expectations. For example, if you made $10,000 this year, it’s unlikely that you’ll make $1 million next year.

Be virtuous

Waste no more time arguing about what a good man should be. Be one. — Marcus Aurelius

The greatest accomplishment for a Stoic was living a virtuous life regardless of the circumstances. Stick to your values, even when life is most challenging.

The obstacle is the path

The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way. — Marcus Aurelius

Obstacles will always lie in the most direct path to success. They aren’t something to be avoided but are instead meant to be conquered. Whenever you reach an obstacle, you can know you’re about to make great progress.

Be grateful

Nothing is more honorable than a grateful heart. — Seneca

Avoid focusing on the things you lack. Instead, be happy with your blessings. To a Stoic, this is a sign of wisdom.

I come from a land down under | Manners will take you where money won’t | HR Consultant | OHS Specialist | Personal Trainer

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