Life lessons from ancient Greece: the growing popularity of stoicism

Rowland Manthorpe in More Intelligent Life:

After Helen Rudd sustained traumatic injuries in a traffic accident, she lay in a coma for three weeks. “I had to learn everything again. I had to learn to read and write,” says Rudd. Her life had changed completely and she needed a different outlook. When she heard about an event in which people attempted to live like ancient stoics for a week, the idea struck a chord. In 2014, Rudd was one of almost 2,000 people to take part in Stoic Week. “Stoicism has helped me concentrate on the good things,” she says. Over two millennia after it first came to prominence, stoicism is having a moment. It’s on the internet, of course: the stoicism subreddit, the largest meeting place for stoics online, has over 28,000 subscribers, many times the number of erstwhile rival Epicureanism (around 4,000). But it is also infiltrating real life, even in its toughest forms. The Navy Seals teach stoic insights to new recruits; throughout the NFL, players and coaches are devouring Ryan Holiday’s guide to stoicism, “The Obstacle Is the Way”. Tim Ferriss, a start-up guru, extols the benefits of Stoicism at firms such as Google. “For entrepreneurs,” says Ferriss, “it’s a godsend.”

Even in antiquity, stoicism was noted for its practicality. Ancient Greek and Roman stoics wrote about theology, logic and metaphysics, but their focus was on the “hic et nunc”, the here and now. “Stoicism tells you what in life is worth having and gives you a way to get there,” says William Irvine, the author of the stoic handbook, “A Guide to the Good Life”. The key is learning to be satisfied with what you’ve got. “Some things are up to us and others are not,” taught Epictetus. “Up to us are opinion, impulse, desire…Not up to us are body, property, reputation, office, in a word, whatever is not our own action.” This indifference to everyday comforts has left stoicism with a reputation for coldness. In reality, its defenders argue, it is simply a rational approach to managing expectations. The central insight of stoicism is that life is tough and changeable, so prepare for difficulty.

More here.