Sat. Apr 20th, 2024

“The Daily Stoic”: Aurelius, Seneca, and Epictetus

By Esra Sahin Jan14,2024

Sometimes you may hear claims from people around you or the media, suggesting that powerful changes can occur in the flow of life with a magical touch, either from those around you or from inspirational stories in the media. I cannot say that Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman’s “The Daily Stoic” provide you with a magical wand to fix the flaws in your life because change begins within, not externally. However, for those interested in philosophy or just starting to explore it, I can guarantee that it contains information presented in a simple and understandable style that can bring healing to your soul.

In the book, they discuss how to attain happiness, the most effective way to control anger, the true measure of success, and how to overcome our destiny and add meaning to our lives. These answers to deeply rooted issues in our minds form the foundation of Stoic philosophy. The philosophy also emphasizes that we have control over our emotions. For instance, assuming a year has 365 days, someone who might live up to 100 years could experience a maximum of 36,500 days. Subtracting your current age from this total can give you an idea of how much time you have left in this world. While contemplating death may seem frightening to some, acknowledging the limited time we have can help us assign appropriate value to everything in our lives and rescue us from being overwhelmed by the difficulties we encounter.

From artists to activists, emperors to war heroes, people have planned for tomorrow and departed from this world. Life is undoubtedly short, but making it meaningful and livable is undoubtedly within our control. Over centuries, many individuals embracing Stoic principles have shown positive effects on both their social lives and inner worlds. These valuable insights, transcending the concept of time, can still assist people in coping with life’s challenges even after 2000 years.

One of the principles Stoicism emphasizes is focusing on what we can change in life instead of what we cannot. Adjusting the direction of our perspective can help defeat the sorrow stemming from times when things don’t go as planned. To overcome the sadness arising from difficulties, reflect on what you have materially and spiritually in life, close your eyes, and imagine removing one or more of those aspects. Such thoughts can be saddening and painful. Now, open your eyes, take a deep breath, and the mere realization that it was just an assumption brings relief. Delving into a sea of thoughts about the beauties we possess can lift the negative breeze of sadness, allowing us to focus on the present, increase our productivity, and contribute to a clearer, more peaceful mind.

Although technological advancements have eased our physical daily lives from ancient times to the present, preserving moral norms that define humanity has remained crucial. Therefore, the Stoic philosophy that developed in ancient times continues to attract interest from many people today. The foundation of this philosophy was laid when Zeno, a Phoenician merchant, lost his entire wealth in a shipwreck but did not lose himself in despair. Turning to philosophy afterward, he was influenced by Xenophon’s work “Memorabilia,” focusing on Socratic teachings. Thus, the transition from Zeno’s life as a merchant to becoming a philosopher marked the beginning of Stoicism, which became one of the most important philosophical schools in ancient times. Stoicism’s emphasis on living in accordance with virtue, reason, and nature left a lasting impact on Western philosophical thought.

Later, historical figures like Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, and Epictetus left their marks as significant philosophers in ancient Rome. Their teachings have reached us today, and examining their lives is worthwhile. Firstly, Seneca, a Roman thinker and statesman known for his Stoic moral views, emphasized that the foundation of ethics lies in living in harmony with nature. He described a wise person as self-sufficient, indifferent to both pleasure and pain, fearless, and unafraid of death—a person whose virtue is the result of free will. Seneca pointed out that true virtue and value exist within us, not externally, and emphasized that wealth does not bring happiness. Despite being called to educate Nero, the son of an emperor, and taking charge of his entire education, Seneca, who even inspired Shakespeare, was unfortunately sentenced to death by Nero despite wanting to donate all his possessions to the state and go away. Looking at Seneca’s life may seem tragic, but despite facing his student’s ingratitude and hardships, Seneca is remembered for years, and his teachings continue to inspire. This shows that despite appearances, humans throughout history, driven by ambition and desire, live in pleasure and luxury but are deprived of the true happiness of a captive soul.

Additionally, in his work “The Republic,” Plato states, “If philosophers were kings or kings were philosophers, cities would shine with a radiant light.” Marcus Aurelius, considered one of the “Five Good Emperors” of the Roman Empire, is another rare ruler who based his life on the principles of wisdom and virtue. Raised under the influence of Stoic philosophy, Marcus, with his work “Meditations,” provides profound thoughts on life’s challenges, personal moral values, and coping with fate that can be read and contemplated repeatedly.

Another Stoic philosopher, Epictetus, was born in Hierapolis, which is now in the city of Pamukkale in Turkey. Spending his early years as a slave, he was later freed by Musonius Rufus, a Stoic philosopher who noticed his love for learning. Epictetus went on to establish his own school and became one of the significant teachers of the ancient era. His most crucial teaching emphasizes that we should focus only on what is under our control. He expressed it as, “We cannot choose our external circumstances, but we can always choose how we respond to them.” Epictetus acknowledges that we may not have control over events in our lives but emphasizes that we always have the will to choose how to respond to these situations.

In the book “The Daily Stoic” Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman share daily quotes from Emperor Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, and Epictetus, offering readers understandable and effective insights on how to apply Stoic philosophy in modern life. These historical anecdotes from ancient Greek culture to the present day allow us to better understand the essence of Stoic philosophy and offer constructive solutions to navigate the challenges of modern life while experiencing the positive impact of maintaining a peaceful and clear mind.

Moreover, the authors elaborate on the three critical discipline principles of Stoicism each day, explaining them through selected ideas. These disciplines include the perception (how we see the world), action (decisions and actions we take), and will (coping with the uncontrollable). Mastering these disciplines aims to encourage progress on the path of wisdom, fostering resilience, purpose, and tranquility when facing life’s uncertainties.

In conclusion, one of the most important practical applications of Stoic philosophy is an individual’s ability to distinguish their own behaviors and changeable elements in life when facing challenges. Guided by Reinhold Niebuhr’s prayer, “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference,” we can avoid complaining when confronted with life’s difficulties, maintain a critical perspective, and lead a more positive, productive, and peaceful life.

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Esra Sahin

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