This post is brought to you by Benny Voncken from thestoicpadawan.com, a blog about stoicism and how to use this philosophy to improve daily life.
Let’s take a moment and explore how well-being and Stoicism relate. Better said, how Stoicism can improve your well-being. There are many facets of this ancient philosophy, which are still relevant today. We’ll first look at a brief introduction of what Stoicism is and then we will examine the Stoics’ view on how control can help us improve our well-being.
What is under our control?
What Stoicism comes down to is living a life in accordance with nature. By living a life of virtue, we can reduce our worries and anxieties and live a peaceful and good life. Although there is a lot more to it, we will focus on Epictetus’ first entry in his Enchiridion, his handbook: the dichotomy of control.
What Epictetus meant with this and why it was so important to him, was to show us where we need to focus our thoughts and energy. All things external are not under our control and all things internal are. What he considered as internal are your thoughts, opinions, impulses, desires, and aversions. To sum it up, what we control are our own actions. How can this then improve our well-being?
The little soul and the corpse
We can start with how it can help us physically. Because the body is under our control, right? What we can control is how healthy we live, because this involves our actions. We choose what types of food we eat, or whether we exercise on a regular basis. And all this can help us lead a better life because our body is what carries around our soul. Even Marcus Aurelius quotes Epictetus here:
Thou art a little soul bearing about a corpse, as Epictetus used to say.Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 4.41
The word corpse doesn’t make it sound very nice, but it does show the relationship between the two. Take good care of your body and your soul will flourish.
The parts we can’t control are illness, injury, or death. These happen to us indiscriminately. We can soften their blows by making sure we are physically strong, but we can’t eliminate them completely. That’s why we should not worry about them. When they happen, we will deal with them.
Stoicism can increase our well-being on an emotional level. The Stoics tend to be seen as emotionless beings. But that’s hardly the case. The focus lies on the emotions that are beneficial and working on the harmful ones to have a smaller impact.
Emotions are often triggered by external events, which are outside of our control. People around us act in certain ways or things happen that affect our emotions. The Stoics would then ask themselves if there is something they can do about it. If yes, then act according to your nature. If not, then why worry about it.
Don’t feel harmed
Psychologically the Stoics can help you understand yourself better. If you understand what you can control, you’ll learn to know yourself a lot better. And you can be better protected from what the world throws at you. With some practice it allows you to judge situations for what they are. You’ll be able to pause yourself, absorb the initial response, and then apply reason to act justly. You’ll find yourself more balanced and at peace.
Some situations affect us, which is normal, but it is our perception of the event that causes this harm. According to the Stoics, external events are neither good nor bad, that’s a label we give them. As Marcus Aurelius said, it’s up to you to decide whether you are harmed by something. Don’t feel harmed – and you haven’t been.
Control takes practice
This is easier said than done and can’t be achieved overnight. It requires practice, but the good thing is that you can start today. Journaling is an excellent way to examine your day and see how you reacted to what happened to you. Try to write down what was under your control and what wasn’t. This helps you to recognize these moments easier when you deal with them again. And when you do feel yourself become stressed or anxious; take a deep breath and remind yourself that you have choices. Because that’s what is under your control and your well-being will benefit from it.
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Stoics seem to give great lifestyle advice. In a quick recent research, I discovered that Marcus Aurelius used to follow and suggest a set of behaviours and activities that are meant to generate stillness and promote both body and mind awareness. Altogether, these aspects contribute to a greater capacity to be virtuous and act accordingly. Below, you will find seven of Marcus Aurelius’ routine recommendations to achieve success.Keep reading