We all go through stressful and overwhelming times in our lives.
Sometimes, even our day-to-day interactions, commitments, and responsibilities can feel like they’re too much to handle. These mental ups and downs have always been part of the human experience, which is why the writings of Stoic philosophers still ring true to this day.
What is Stoicism?
Stoicism is a form of ancient Greek philosophy founded in Athens in c. 300 B.C.E. and has been practiced throughout the centuries by kings, artists, thinkers, presidents, and entrepreneurs.
Influential people like Adam Smith, George Washington, Theodore Rosevelt, and Ralph Waldo Emerson were all influenced by Stoic philosophy and the writings of the philosophers (generally referred to as “the Stoics”) like Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, and Epictetus, to name a few.
Stoicism is a philosophy guided by practical frameworks and perspectives designed to increase resilience, manage adversity, and “stand ready and firm to meet sudden and unexpected onsets” as Marcus Aurelius stated.
The Four Virtues of Stoicism
Stoicism is founded on four virtues, which are:
- Courage. The world is full of difficult situations, and Stoicism teaches us to frame these experiences as opportunities to learn and better ourselves.
When speaking about courage and standing up against injustice, Seneca said “[if] you have passed through life without an opponent, no one can ever know what you are capable of, not even you.”
- Temperance. Being brave can sometimes lead to recklessness, which is why the Stoics advocate for doing nothing in excess.
Epictitus said “if we want to be happy, if we want to be successful, if we want to be great, we have to develop the capability, we have to develop the day-to-day habits that allow this to ensue.”
- Justice. Above all else, the Stoics revered the act of doing the right thing.
Marcus Aurelius said that justice is “the source of all other virtues.”
- Wisdom. The Stoics were lifelong learners who were never afraid to admit that there was more to know, or an area where they could deepen their understanding.
When speaking about keeping an open mind, Epicitus said: “you cannot learn that which you think you already know.”
These are the essential components of Stoic philosophy.
10 Stoic Quotations to Build Resilience
Here are 10 quotations from ancient Stoic philosophers to remind you of what you’re capable of:
1. “We are more often frightened than hurt; and we suffer more in imagination than in reality.” — Seneca
We wanted to start with this quotation because it reflects the reality that most of what we worry about is in our head.
We spend our time having imaginary arguments, mapping out situations that never take place, and worrying about risks and challenges that never happen.
All we do is cause ourselves to suffer.
Stoic tip for resilience: pay attention to your thoughts and the things you worry about day-to-day and ask “are these real problems, or just my imagination?”
2. “If you are pained by any external thing, it is not this thing that disturbs you, but your own judgment about it. And it is in your power to wipe out this judgment now.” — Marcus Aurelius
What Marcus Aurelius means is what happens to us is not the source of our problems — it’s how we choose to frame them in our own heads that’s the challenge.
Situations and challenges happen and are neither good nor bad, and often we can’t do much about them other than manage how we think about and react to them.
No one stops us from changing our perspective and adopting a more optimistic approach but ourselves.
3. “If you want something good, get it from yourself.” — Epictetus
This is a version of the adage “be the change you want to see in the world.”
If you catch yourself complaining about something, reflect on what you can do to make the situation better for yourself and others.
You’re the only person with the power to improve your life, so take control and accept responsibility for your thoughts and actions by not expecting anything from other people.
4. “Don’t hope that events will turn out the way you want, welcome events in whichever way they happen: this is the path to peace.” — Epictetus
Learning to roll with the punches and accept that the only thing we can control is what takes place within our own minds is one of the pillars of Stoic philosophy.
Life is inevitably going to throw us curve balls and challenges as we navigate our personal and professional lives, and the key to a calm, peaceful life is learning to accept things as they come and focus only on how we react to them.
5. “It isn’t the things themselves that disturb people, but the judgements that they form about them.” — Epictetus
Similar to Marcus Aurelus’ point earlier, the situations that frustrate us are not inherently negative or frustrating — it’s the perspective that we apply to them that causes us to perceive them in this way.
For example, if you’re stuck in traffic you might get frustrated at your situation, but “traffic” itself is neither good nor bad; it’s your perception of the situation that makes it positive or negative.
6. “How does it help…to make troubles heavier by bemoaning them?” — Seneca
Raise your hand if you’ve ever done this!
Most of us are guilty of holding onto things that are bothering us and complaining about them to anyone who will listen, but the Stoics advise against voicing your thoughts when you feel stressed or upset.
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t look for supports and tools to build your resilience if you need them. The Stoics are specifically against wallowing in self-pity and blaming the world for bad things happening to you and advocate taking action and reframing your thoughts instead.
7. “Don’t explain your philosophy. Embody it.” — Epictetus
Adding more resiliency tools to our toolkit by reading books and essays, listening to podcasts, and investing in training is important.
However, as Epictitus points out, reading and discussing what you’ve learned is just part of the puzzle. We also need to practice what we preach and “walk the talk” to model positive and resilient behaviour for others.
8. “Do everything as if it were the last thing you were doing in your life.” — Marcus Aurelius
The Stoics ask: if you died tomorrow, would you be satisfied with how you lived your last day on Earth?
Can you be confident that you were kind, acted with grace and compassion, and that you gave 100% to everything you did?
Living by this philosophy is how the Stoics put their daily lives and the emotions that ruled them into perspective.
9. “No man is more unhappy than he who never faces adversity. For he is not permitted to prove himself.” — Seneca
Think back to a difficult time that helped shape a part of who you are today. Maybe that was losing a loved one, a conflict with a friend or colleague, or getting turned down for a job or promotion that you were sure you deserved.
Whatever it was, that challenge provided an opportunity for you to reflect and learn, making you into a better version of yourself.
This is what Seneca was talking about: though hard times may feel overwhelming, by framing them as opportunities to learn we become happier and more complete versions of ourselves.
10. “Wherever there is a human being, there is an opportunity for a kindness.” — Seneca
At the end of the day, how we’re remembered is defined by how we treat others as we move through the world.
We need to accept that other people react to stress and change differently and react with compassion, understanding, and grace.
By keeping ourselves accountable to how we react to others and manage our emotions we can have a positive impact on the world around us and act as role models for others.
Resilience is the Key to Happiness
There’s a reason why Stoic philosophy has persisted all these centuries: because the advice and perspectives they shared still ring true today.
From CEOs to small business owners, to the teams they manage and inspire, everyone can benefit from developing their resilience and taking these Stoic quotations to heart.
To learn more about building your resilience, click here.