The Timeless Wisdom of the Stoics

Ancient philosophy is a timeless and infinite teacher … if only we would listen.

The problem is when people think about philosophy, they often imagine esoteric thought experiments, logical conundrums and deep questions that can’t possibly be answered. But one school of thought, Stoicism, was far more grounded in its approach, offering a practical framework for the good life. In fact, in a world filled with chaos and uncertainty, winding back the clock a few millennia might just be the key to finding our footing.  

Stoicism has moral excellence as its aim – living a life of flourishing, for lack of a better word. That’s because the Greek term used way back when, eudaimonia, has no direct translation, and ‘happiness’ just doesn’t cut it. At the heart of Stoicism is the belief that our thoughts about events, rather than the events themselves, elicit a negative emotional response that causes all sorts of problems. According to the Stoics, we can control our thoughts and emotions and remain calm, even in the face of life’s ongoing challenges. But how?

Well, a good start is to focus on things that are within our reach. Why waste precious time and energy worrying about things beyond our control, like the weather and other people’s opinions, or getting older? Instead, the Stoics urge us to focus on, and rejig, our thoughts, actions and attitudes. By accepting that external factors are outside our influence, we can free ourselves from unnecessary stress and find peace in the face of adversity.

Stoicism also teaches us to embrace the power of acceptance when it comes to the inevitable ups and downs of life. Rather than resist the natural flow, the Stoics were all about cultivating a mindset of resilience and adaptability. By accepting life as it unfolds, we can find inner peace and learn to meet challenges with grace and equanimity. That’s the theory, at least.

The Stoics firmly believed that life happens in the here and now, not in the past (regret) or the future (worry). In a sense, they were proponents of mindfulness long before it became trendy. Fully immersing ourselves in the present can be transformative, the Stoics thought, allowing us to savour life’s simple joys, appreciate the beauty around us and let go of our anxieties.

This sounds all well and good, you may be saying, but how can I incorporate Stoicism into my life? Well, here are five ways. (Who said philosophy can’t be made simple?)  

  1. Control what you can, let go of the rest – Don’t waste your energy focusing on issues beyond your control.
  2. Embrace the present moment – Live in the here and now.
  3. Adapt, adapt, adapt – Life throws us curveballs when we least expect it so stay flexible, roll with whatever comes your way and bounce back stronger.
  4. Find joy in simplicity – Appreciate and find contentment in life’s little pleasures like laughter, a walk in the woods, playing with a puppy or diving into a good book.
  5. Embrace adversity with a smile – Reframe obstacles and setbacks into stepping-stones to become your best self.

What skills do we need to incorporate this ancient wisdom into our lives today? For starters, we can practise mindfulness, cultivate self-discipline, practise gratitude, learn to manage emotions, broaden our perspective, embrace adversity and act with authenticity and integrity. Of course, this won’t happen overnight but it’s definitely achievable with a bit of practice. (If I can do it, anyone can…)

What have I been doing lately, other than thinking about the Stoics? Quite a few things that may seem disjointed, random even, but all fall under my growing arts umbrella. I recently finished a stint on a deliberative democracy forum, convened by Federal MP, Alicia Payne – researching, learning, analysing, discussing, debating and formulating policy recommendations over a six-month period to respond to Australia’s housing crisis. The song Stay (by The Profit ft Sophia Marzano) has just been released, a creative collaboration two years in the making. The song is based on my monologue, Now You See Me from Fragments and explores mental health issues, urging people experiencing despair to reach out and stay to fight another day. Working with the mega-talented Evan Broskies (aka The Profit) and the fearless Victoria (Fi) Hopkins has been a journey like no other. I’m so proud, and honoured, to have been part of this powerful work. You can stream the song on Spotify or check out the YouTube video here. I’ve been wading through galleys for a new picture book that I’m very excited about (out early next year) and putting the finishing touches on a few more manuscripts before submitting to publishers. And meanwhile, I’ve been ploughing away at my arts therapy qualifications – only two modules to go! 🎨