Stoicism: A philosophy of inevitable death and joy along the way.
Written by Jessica Song
“Stoicism,” an ancient Greek philosophy developed in Athens, has been practiced by everyone from Seneca to Marcus Aurelius. The philosophy is considered a “way of life,” and teaches the development of inner control and self-discipline as a way of overcoming life’s inevitable challenges.
Though two thousand years old, it is astonishingly applicable to our modern lives. According to its teachings, we should embrace a moment as it appears, not allowing ourselves to be controlled by fear of pain or desire for pleasure.
The exact ethics, principles, and reasons behind Stoicism are not as important as its practices that we can learn from. As students, there are two lessons from Stoicism we can gather and use in our daily lives:
Image source: “What Is Stoicism? The Goals of Life and Philosophy Explained.” Practical Stoicism, practicalstoicism.com/what-is-stoicism/.
1. Embrace the Chaos
We are constantly told to “think positive.” While yes, there are science-backed benefits of optimism to a degree, the Stoics believed that this practice of perpetual positivity invited passiveness into our lives. It encourages us to simply “hope for the best” rather than take concrete action to achieve the best.
Rather than hoping for the best, this Stoic practice embraced harsh realities of life in an exercise known as premeditatio malorum, or “premeditation of evils.”
It’s simple: Imagine the worst that could happen. It could be anything from failing that test to being rejected in the coldest way. Then, ask:
“What would it look like if the worst scenario happened?”
“How would I cope with this?”
“How can I take measures to preventing my worst-case scenario from happening?”
This exercise allowed the Stoics to come to terms with all possibilities that may occur in life. We should be brutally honest with ourselves so as not to be met with a cruel slap of reality. Not being afraid of the worst that could happen will allow us to weather life’s storms and persist in spite of failure.
2. We Will Die
Death is an inevitability of life. But reflecting on your own morality is only depressing if you make it so. Rather, we can contemplate death to create productivity and meaning in our lives. The truth is, we never really know when our time will be cut.
The Stoics used the phrase memento mori, “remember you will die,” to constantly live life to the fullest — to treat the time we have as a gift, one that cannot be wasted on the trivial or pointless.
One powerful exercise is to say to yourself, “if I died tomorrow, would I be happy with how I lived today?”
If yes, that’s great to hear. But if not, think: “how could I improve what I did so that I’d be proud of my last day?”
Again, by reminding yourself of death, you will realize how trivial most things in life are. You’ll be able to experience an enriched and far more meaningful life, knowing that death comes for all eventually.
For the insightful light it sheds upon living the best possible life, Stoicism has remained relevant even after two thousand years. Two practices we can learn from this powerful philosophy are that suffering and death are both unavoidable. By realizing this, we can overcome challenges and ultimately lead more fulfilling lives.