The stoicism, a philosophy born three centuries before Christ, can provide constructive answers to the challenges of contemporary life. We are talking, just to be clear, of the thought of Seneca and of the emperor Marcus Aurelius who teaches us to make better use of reason and to be emotionally tenacious. Today it attracts more and more people, who join the ranks of modern stoicism, a movement which includes publications, blogs, online courses, congresses such as the Stoicon and experiential gatherings such as the International stoic week. “The revival of stoicism is not the first for two thousand years and it shouldn’t come as a surprise,” he comments Fabio Lungophilosopher and journalist.
«This current of thought – or, better, the nucleus of its ethics – tends to make a comeback in periods like ours, characterized by social instability, collapse of references and collective bewilderment. The reason? It clearly aims at reduce anxietiesit helps to be firm within oneself and projects one into a state of calm serenity».
Here are its key points.
1. Use your head
“According to the Stoics, we are first and foremost thinking creaturestherefore we have a duty to protect and correctly use that powerful yet fragile gift which is reason», explains Donald Robertson, cognitive psychotherapist, soul of Modern stoicism and author of the essay Ten steps from happiness. The Stoics’ lessons for a wise life (Piemme). An assumption that has surprising consequences: by reasoning, in fact, we realize that we have no control over world events or over the thoughts and actions of others.
“After this awareness, it no longer makes sense to worry about everything outside our domain, starting from how others judge us up to the fate of objects, which make us so damned because first we desire them ardently and then, when we have conquered them, we are terrified of losing them», says Fabio Luongo. «Thus we have the possibility of reaching a tranquil serenity, a state that this school of life identifies with happiness. Not only that: training ourselves to keep a certain emotional distance compared to the fears that condition us, we become more adaptable or – according to such a fashionable term – resilient, that is, capable of facing difficulties without breaking down».
2. Look into your heart
After what has been said, one might think that stoicism is an invitation to resignation and passivity, while it is the exact opposite: one it spurs us to take responsibility for the only things we have control over, which is our emotionspassions, desires.
«According to the Stoics, we cannot choose what to live, but “only” how to live it», confirms Luongo. «In this regard, we must deny the cliché according to which this philosophy preaches coldness and insensitivity. In reality, the Stoics neither ignore nor suppress emotions. Simply, they recognize that some of them, in certain situations, are unhealthy (that is, they do more harm than good), therefore they should be transformed into healthy emotions. How? Using reason to question the beliefs that gave rise to them».
3. Transform obstacles
An example can help us better understand this passage: let’s say that a colleague of ours presents a fantastic project, with which he earns compliments from his boss. We could experience frustration, irritation, even anger: legitimate emotions, which, however, would easily backfire, perhaps sinking into apathy (“What am I committed to doing, I’ll never be so brilliant”), or orienting us towards risky attitudes (“It’s succeeded in cheating me, I will make him pay”).
By thinking with a cool head, however, we would have the opportunity to understand that the colleague only worked hard and certainly did not want to overshadow us. We could then convert our dysfunctional moods into something beneficial such as admiration, curiosity and the desire to emulate, becoming those “beings endowed with reason” who, in the words of Marcus Aurelius, “can make every obstacle a subject of their work and take advantage of it”.