How Stoicism Can Improve Your Well-being & Mental Health

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.

Some things are up to us, and others are not.

Epictetus, enchiridion 1

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.  

Why worry?

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.

Choose not to be harmed – and you won’t feel harmed. Don’t feel harmed – and you haven’t been.

marcus aurelius, meditations 4.7

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.

Other blogs you may like to read:

A Stoic Evening Routine For Success

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.

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16 Comments

  1. This is a really thought provoking piece. I am such an over-thinker that this practice seems so ideal, but hard to achieve. I feel like it’s important to keep in mind that some things are out of our control and that what we can control is our reactions to those things. Thank you for sharing this! I’m going to be taking time to reflect on these ideas 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Riyah Speaks says:

      This is such a thought-provoking post. I tend to be a very overly emotional person because sometimes I forget there are things I cannot control and that is something definitely to work on.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I get it, I also struggle with that, and learning more about stoic ideals has helped to figure out a lot. Benny has more articles on it on his website if you want to learn more about it 💚

        Like

    2. Yes, indeed! It’s like Benny wrote, it really does take practice (and patience!). I’m glad these ideas were useful. I also agree with you – learning what we can and cannot control is likely the lesson I cherish the most in stoicism 💚

      Like

  2. Benny’s post is so informative and much needed; working on our well-being should be a priority for us all but we often put it aside. Thanks for sharing their work!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. So true! Today more than ever we need to see clearly what matters most 💚

      Like

  3. Since being introduced to Ryan Holiday and his thoughts on stoicism I have always wanted to learn more about it and the benefits it can have. Thank you for the great post on this topic.

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    1. How awesome, I read a few pages of his book too. I’m glad you liked this one. Benny has more articles on stoicism on his website, you might like to visit it 💚

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  4. I totally agree that control takes practice and we need to keep doing it every day. Keep ourselves trained for it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, sometimes a l-o-t of practice 😄 Thanks for reading 💚

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  5. This is truly beautiful. I’ve been in such a conflicting place of trying to control external things + shape them to how I want them. I took some time away + really discovered that the less I try to force/fight, the more things flow. Reading this feels like sign I am on the right path. Thanks for this wonderful piece. You never seize to amazing!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh yes 💚 The more we try to control/manipulate externals, the more entropy we create. We can only act on what’s internal. Sometimes we’re so busy, stressed, and overwhelmed that we stop being able to stop the difference. That’s when rest and a break are very welcome, I’m glad you gave that to yourself 💚

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Thanks for this topic, Vanessa!
    We can increase our wellbeing by viewing our life from the perspective of what we can and cannot control.
    Many Blessings,
    Lisa

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Lisa! You’re welcome, I’m glad you enjoyed Benny’s article. It can be really mind-changing ❤️

      Like

  7. This is a great post and it makes total sense to think like this and live a simple more care free life. I’d love to be able to think like this, but I really struggle with my emotions at times and thinking patterns. Journaling definitely helps, like Benny has mentioned in his post. Thanks for sharing. Jade

    Like

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