Mar 27

Stoicism: “Reasons Not to Worry” and Other Books

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

In Reasons Not to Worry: How to be Stoic in Chaotic Times (2023), Australian author Brigid Delaney details the results of her attempts to live Stoically.

Sample quote: “The Stoics also articulated the mood that we should aspire to as our default setting—ataraxia (literally, ‘without disturbance’)—a carefully calibrated state of tranquillity that is not happiness, or joy, or any of the ecstatic states found in religious or mystical experiences, or in the more modern highs of falling in love or taking cocaine. Instead, ataraxia is a state of contentment or peace where the world can be falling in around your ears, but your equilibrium is undisturbed.”

Her article in The Guardian lists “10 tools of ancient philosophy that improved my life.” These are presented below with excerpts.

1. Work out what’s in your control–“Essentially, our field of control consists of our own actions and reactions, our desires, our character and how we treat others. The rest – including our bodies, the actions of others, our reputation and our fortunes (personal and financial) – are out of our control.”

2. You don’t need to judge everything–“If we treat most events in a neutral way we are less likely to get upset by things that happen.”

3. Money, health and reputation are out of your control–“…(I)t’s better to practise indifference to what you have in the first place.”

4. Practise the conditions that you fear–“Often it’s not as bad as we fear – and we are stronger than we think.”

5. Practise imagining death–“The Stoics believed you should grieve your loved ones while they are still living. In fact, they advised you to think of their death frequently while they are still alive in order to prepare…The same goes for our own death…”

6. Don’t worry about others’ reactions–“You can try to persuade or influence them, but ultimately their actions and reactions are up to them.”

7. Moderation is a virtue–“A Stoic would treat alcohol, particularly expensive wine, with indifference. She would be aware that addiction is dangerous because it impairs reason. She would also be aware that banging on about abstaining is boring.”

8. Give without expecting a return–“It’s better to give freely, without conditions or caveats, and without expecting anything in return. That way I won’t be disappointed if a favour is never repaid.”

9. Say no to Fomo–“Say you didn’t get tickets to a sold-out festival; think about what you have gained instead. Perhaps you will have another experience that weekend – certainly you’ll have an extra $200 to play with.”

10. Try to relax–“’Never let the future disturb you,’ wrote Aurelius. ‘You will meet it, if you have to, with the same weapons of reason which today arm you against the present’.”

Several other relatively contemporary books advocate elements of Stoicism. For instance, in A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy (2008), William B. Irvine states, “Stoicism, understood properly, is a cure for a disease.” He means such emotions as anxiety, grief, fear, and whatever else impedes your ability to enjoy life.

From Jules Evans‘s Philosophy for Life and Other Dangerous Situations: Ancient Philosophy for Modern Problems (2013) is this Stoicism exercise, 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.”

The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance, and the Art of Living (2016) by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman features insights and exercises for every day of the year and emphasizes three basic “spiritual exercises” used by the Stoics:

  1. Practice misfortune.
  2. Train perception to avoid good and bad.
  3. Remember—it’s all ephemeral.