Wes has developed a new course called The Stoic Guide to Happiness, available from Himalaya Learning. Use promo code STOIC for a 14-day free trial: himalaya.com/stoic.
Can Stoicism actually make us happier? Isn't it just an injunction to ignore our emotional distress, develop a stiff upper lip, and relate to life as robotic, Spock-like logicians?
The truth is, Ancient Greek Stoicism actually has useful insights into developing greater peace of mind, not by repressing our emotions but by developing healthier emotional responses to external circumstances. Stoics believe we can do this by changing the way we think about the world, in particular how we think about the relative value of our fortunes and our character.
Character includes our habits and hang-ups, virtues and vices, and our inner capacities for managing our thoughts, feelings, and behavior in response to external events. To have a good character is enough to be happy, according to the Stoics, in part because it means resilience in the face of the misfortunes that inevitably are part of our lives. We lose sight of this -- and undermine our capacity for resilience and happiness -- when we operate under the assumption that our happiness is dependent on external circumstances. And importantly, we have a kind of power over our own inner lives -- and so the development of psychical resources for dealing with misfortunes -- that we could ever have over these misfortunes themselves. We are more empowered -- and happier -- when we truly understand this.
It's true that the ancient Stoics focus on rationality as the key to improving our character and developing a more resilient relationship to the world, and it's well known that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy has its origins in Stoicism. But it's less well understood that there are important commonalities between Stoicism and other contemporary approaches to psychotherapy. For instance, Stoicism seems to be suggesting that we tease apart the kind of ordinary suffering that we do in life that is inevitable, and the kind that we do because our pride is wounded (i.e., because we have experienced "narcissistic injury"). The latter is a much greater component of our suffering than we might think, and while we don't have control over ordinary suffering, we can work on reducing the amount of suffering we inflict on ourselves.
Learn more and get a 14-day free trial using the promo code STOIC when you check out at himalaya.com/stoic.
The Stoic Guide to Happiness is available now, exclusively on Himalaya Learning.
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