Stoic, noun

  1. a person who can endure pain or hardship without showing their feelings or complaining.
  2. a member of the ancient philosophical school of Stoicism.

Stoic. What does this word conjure for you?

I’m not quite sure why it conjures this for me in particular, but: the image of WW2 London, the stiff upper-lips and clenched jaws of men, women and children bravely bearing wartime hardship amongst the rubbled city.

But stoicism is not just a word to describe the endurance of pain and dismay with a brace face. It was, once upon a time in the ancient Greek and Roman worlds, a bone fide religion, with its own sort-of-saints and pretty-much-holy texts, its own litany of sacred rites and rituals.

Here, I give you a timely recital of one such stoic ritual. Hopefully, I won’t do the Stoics a disservice by condensing it as much as I have, and do more of a service by rendering it accessible to you the reader.

Things could be worse.

That’s it, a sacred Stoic rite, in a sentence of but four holy syllables.

The whole Stoic religious experience revolved around recognising life for what it is, and not what you would like it to be, or think it should be, or hope it will one day become.

Life is what it is.

Yes, things could be better. But this sort of naive optimism creates unmet expectations, unsatisfied desires, resentment and disappointment.

Things could be worse.

This is informed pessimism, preparing you for worst case scenarios, whilst making room for exceeded expectations – so happiness!

Happiness is not a word that hangs with stoic, ordinarily, but Stoic practice can be simple access to happiness.

Stoics don’t focus on the bad, they meditate on the endless possibilities of things becoming worse, and are grateful for the good fortune that things are better than that.

A Stoic is pleasantly pessimistic: prepared for the worst and pleasantly surprised it hasn’t arrived

As tough times befall our little island, the likes of which we’ve not encountered since WW2, we should say a Stoic prayer.

Things can get worse, things will get worse, yet however bad things get, I have some small ability to make them better.

2 thoughts on “Stoicism

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