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  • Writer's pictureDavid Nagai

Stoic Philosophy for Modern Life

Updated: Oct 25, 2022

Do you ever feel overwhelmed by crazy modern life? Do you feel pressured because you need to keep up, get more, do more, or be more?

Modern life can be overwhelming, but actually, people faced similar stress a couple thousand years ago as well!

I’d like to share four pieces of wisdom from ancient Stoic philosophy that can improve your life and happiness in modern times.

I’ll share simplified quotations so it’s easy to understand and remember.

I have a friend who’s a doctor, owns two fancy cars and a house, and runs his own successful business. Oh, and he has great muscles, too! If I don’t practice gratitude, or thankfulness, it’s easy for me to look at his life and compare it to mine.

I also have friends with much less than me, yet they’re often really happy. Why are they happy? Because instead of comparing themselves with others, they’re grateful for what they have – family, friends, food, a home. I also want to be grateful for these fundamental things that make life beautiful.

Actually, according to research, gratitude improves your happiness, blood pressure, creativity, and sleep. Sounds nice, right?

Here’s an exercise the Stoic philosophers recommend. Think about the things you already have – your family, friends, home, job, health, freedom. Now imagine that you lose those things. It would be hard, right? So instead of complaining or comparing, we should be grateful for what we have.

One message we pick up from society is to be good, be better, be perfect. Instagram photos are flawless. Advertisements are photoshopped. If you don’t dress well or wear makeup, you’re considered unacceptable. Our companies expect 100% perfection and overtime work.

But no matter how hard we try we can never be perfect! Trying to be perfect always ends in disappointment! Instead of aiming for perfection, aim for progress. I love the Japanese word kaizen. This idea of steady, step-by-step, incremental improvement is so beautiful. By definition, this means that we are not yet perfect. It means that there is always room to slowly improve. Perfection is not the goal. So don’t be perfect – practice kaizen!

Did you know that on average, you see more than 6,000 advertisements each day? That’s a lot of brainwashing!

As companies spend billions of dollars to make us think a certain way or buy a particular product, we should remember to think for ourselves. Because if we don’t, other people will control our minds.

Don’t waste your time on what you cannot control. Instead, focus on what you can control. If your boss says something negative, you can’t control it. However, you can control how you perceive what was said. You can control your response.

On a larger scale, think of all the things that are outside of your control.

You can’t control the weather, but you can pack your umbrella.

You can’t control the economy, but you can decide to save money.

You can’t control climate change, but you can choose to use less CO2 in daily life.

You can’t control what you did in the past or what will happen in the future, but you can choose how to live in this present moment.

So, be grateful – not envious.

Don’t try to be perfect – make progress.

Don’t let other people control your mind – think for yourself.

And, instead of wasting time on what you cannot control, focus on what you can control.

These pieces of Stoic wisdom have improved peoples’ lives and happiness since ancient times and are freely available to us today. But only you can choose your mindset. It’s your choice.

(All quotations have been summarized from the book The Daily Stoic, 2016.)


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