Stoicism: Two Authors Tout As Psychological Remedy

If you’ve ever suffered from anxiety, or even depression, you might find some relief in the ancient philosophy of Stoicism. Wait: It’s probably not what you think, if you think of stoics as people who hide their emotions. Susan K. Perry, PhD, Psychology Today

Stoicism, understood properly, is a cure for a disease. The disease in question is the anxiety, grief, fear, and various other negative emotions that plague humans and prevent them from experiencing a joyful existence. William B. Irvine, A Guide to the Good Life

Two modern thinkers who advocate elements of Stoicism as a way of achieving better living are William B. Irvine, author of A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy (2008), and Jules Evans, author of Philosophy for Life and Other Dangerous Situations: Ancient Philosophy for Modern Problems (2013).

According to Irvine, for the Stoics Step #1 relates to tranquility, “a psychological state marked by the absence of negative emotions, such as grief, anger, and anxiety, and the presence of positive emotions, such as joy.”

Not so unusual. But Step #2, how to achieve it, is what may differ from other philosophies. The Stoics’ recommendations include the use of “negative visualization: we should allow ourselves to have flickering thoughts about how our life could be worse.” Such a practice, in fact, eventually leads to optimism, says Irvine. “After expressing his appreciation that his glass is half full rather than being completely empty, he will go on to express his delight in even having a glass: It could, after all, have been broken or stolen.”

More useful ideas about Stoicism from Irvine’s book:

“By contemplating the impermanence of everything in the world, we are forced to recognize that every time we do something could be the last time we do it, and this recognition can invest the things we do with a significance and intensity that would otherwise be absent.”

“Around the world and throughout the millennia, those who have thought carefully about the workings of desire have recognized this—that the easiest way for us to gain happiness is to learn how to want the things we already have.”

Susan K. Perry, PhD (Psychology Today), quotes Jules Evans regarding ways Stoicism can improve our lives. Some of his thoughts:

“The Stoics thought we could transform emotions by understanding how they’re connected to our beliefs and attitudes. Often what causes us suffering is not a particular adverse event, but our opinion about it.”

“One of the exercises the Stoics practiced was called the View From Above: If you’re feeling stressed by some niggling annoyances, project your imagination into space and imagine the vastness of the universe. From that cosmic perspective, the annoyance doesn’t seem that important anymore—you’ve made a molehill out of a mountain.”

“Another technique the Stoics used (along with Buddhists and Epicureans) was bringing their attention back to the present moment if they felt they were worrying too much about the future or ruminating over the past.”

“It might be useful to talk about the Stoic technique of the maxim, how they’d encapsulate their ideas into brief memorizable phrases or proverbs—’Everything in moderation’ or ‘The best revenge is not to be like that’—which they would repeat to themselves when needed. Stoics also carried around little handbooks with some of their favorite maxims.”

“Seneca said: ‘The Stoic sees all adversity as training.'”

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One thought on “Stoicism: Two Authors Tout As Psychological Remedy

  1. Good post. I actually think Stoicism helps with resiliency because when bad things happen I often think “well, it could be much worse” as a way to move ahead. It also helps me with the fortitude needed to get going, i.e. Well, I just need to get through this and this, and then I will figure out the next steps when I get to it. The hard part for me is wishing other people would become more stoic so they can deal with solutions and get some peace. But I need to recognize that it doesn’t work for everyone.

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