How to be happy? Live like the ancient Greeks!

Life of virtue: Epictetus, a leading Stoic thinker, was born a slave in modern-day Turkey around AD 55.

Should we all live like Stoics? Thinkers like Marcus Aurelius believed that the key to happiness lies in disciplining yourself to handle the best and worst of life with a balanced mind.

“You have power over your mind — not outside events. Realise this, and you will find strength.”

These words from Marcus Aurelius sum up Stoicism, a school of thought that originated in ancient Greece and is now experiencing a revival.

The Stoics recognised that most of the things that make us unhappy are completely outside of our control. We cannot make people behave the way we want, or stop our bodies from getting ill or old, but we have complete control over how we react to these things.

Rather than expecting the universe to give us what we want, we should train our minds to embrace events as they happen with rationality and balance. This is the key to a happy life.

Stoicism was founded in Athens by Zeno of Citium around 300 BC, at a time of great instability following the unexpected death of Alexander the Great. The philosophy offered a way of finding calm amid war and crisis.

By the first century AD, Stoicism had spread to Rome where it found three figureheads in the philosophers Epictetus, Seneca and Marcus Aurelius.

Should we all live like the Stoics?

The good life

Absolutely, say some. Our society is in the midst of a crisis of depression and anxiety, but Stoicism offers us a way to cope with the fear of losing material things, love and careers. On a smaller scale, we spend so much time indulging ourselves by being stressing about things that don’t matter in the long run. Stoicism is the perfect antidote.

It’s impractical to just “let go” of the bad things in life, respond others. Stoicism is a lot easier said than done. Even if we succeeded in steeling ourselves against bad things, we’d also sacrifice the joy of a life lived passionately. To succeed in the world, you have to turn up and throw yourself in or be left behind.

You Decide

  1. Do you think it is easy or hard to be happy?

Activities

  1. What is the biggest benefit and the biggest flaw of Stoic philosophy? Sum each up in one sentence and discuss your answers in a group.

Some People Say...

“The soul becomes dyed with the colour of its thoughts.”

Marcus Aurelius

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Stoicism was founded around 300 BC by the Greek philosopher Zeno of Citium who believed that we can develop wisdom by moderating our emotions and desires with reason.
What do we not know?
Why Stoicism is currently seeing a resurgence — several books promoting it have been published recently. Perhaps it is an antidote to the modern dependence on material possessions and external achievements.

Word Watch

Marcus Aurelius
He was Roman emperor from 161 to 180 AD. His death ended a period of peace in the Roman Empire known as the Pax Romana, and would eventually lead to its fall. His writings, known as Meditations, are key texts in Stoic philosophy.
Happy life
They sought to live a simple life based on reason and justice.
Alexander the Great
Ruler of the ancient Greek kingdom of Macedon who died in 323 BC.
Seneca
A Roman senator and tutor to Emperor Nero. In 65 AD, Nero forced him to commit suicide over an assassination plot.