Stoicism Meaning: Here’s What It Means and How to Use It

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Stoicism is a word with philosophical origins that packs quite a punch. The history behind this word is rich (and can seem never-ending). As we learn about the meaning of stoicism, we will also learn about stoic philosophy, the stoic view, Roman emperors, Ancient Greeks, and the Roman Empire. 

Get comfortable — we’re here with an all-you-need-to-know guide on the word stoicism. 

What Does Stoicism Mean? 

The definition of stoicism is the ability to endure pain and hardship without showing emotion and without complaint or grievance. There was a theory that guilt or emotions were present after doing something wrong not because of actual remorse but the judgment the act itself could cause. 

The objective behind this philosophy is to live an ethical life by living per nature. Someone who lives a stoic lifestyle does not let external events affect their peace of mind. The path to eudaimonia is a life spent practicing the cardinal virtues; this was the road to living an ethical and stoic lifestyle. 

There are four cardinal virtues: Wisdom, Temperance, Courage, and Justice. 

The word stoicism originated when an ancient Greek school that taught philosophy and a guide

to “the good life” was made. The school’s teachings were structured around the philosophy that virtue is based on knowledge — to live a fulfilled and virtuous life, you must learn and obtain as much knowledge as possible. 

The idea was that the wise would live in harmony with the divine reason that governs all of nature. This philosophy of life would lead you to be indifferent to change in the future, pleasure, and pain. Zeno of Citium founded this school in Athens in the 3rd century BC. 

What Is the History of Stoicism?

Stoicism was a school of Hellenistic philosophy or “practical philosophy” that taught the stoic view and the art of living a virtuous life. Practical philosophy was considered one of the newer views of philosophy. 

The name is derived from the painted porch (stoa poikilê) in the Agora at Athens; this porch was decorated with mural paintings. Zeno of Citium felt this colorful scene painted the perfect picture for him and other stoic philosophers to learn and strive for. Some famous stoic philosophers were Lucius Annaeus Seneca the younger, and Epictetus. 

To encapsulate the stoic lifestyle you would exemplify self-control. The goal was never to succumb to worldly temptation or heartache. Stoicism teaching was designed to make everyone more resilient, wise, and virtuous — as a result, followers would become a better person, parent, spouse, or friend, and an overall good human being.

Many great names practiced the ancient philosophy of stoicism. Marcus Aurelius (an emperor of Rome), Frederick the Great, Montaigne, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill, Theodore Roosevelt, and General James Mattis all were influenced by stoic teachings. Artists, emperors, presidents, and more all felt that stoicism could help them meet self-actualization.  

People today still practice and believe in stoicism. You can do certain practices and routines to help you possess a more stoic lifestyle. Some findings show that stoic spiritual exercises have parallels to other cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).  

Modern stoic practices consist of journaling, mediation, and visualization. Many authors like Ryan Holiday wrote about stoicism and the ancient philosophers that practiced this way of life. 

What Is the Origin of Stoicism?

The origin of stoicism happened by accident. In 304 BC, a merchant named Zeno suffered a shipwreck; with all of his belongings sunken in the depths of the sea, Zeno made his way to Athens, Greece. Here, he was introduced to ancient philosophies like Cynic philosopher Crates and the Megarian philosopher Stilpo — these philosophers changed his life. 

With this newfound knowledge Zeno developed a new desire for his way of life, Zeno took his knowledge and formulated his take on philosophy and what he believed would lead him (and others) to the most virtuous life possible.

This school of philosophy or “school of thought”, “The painted porch” or “Stoa Poikile,” where he and other ancient stoics gathered, is still visible today. 

While stoicism had some differences from the psychological theory from the very beginning of philosophy, it still fits within the main idea of Greek ethical theory passed down from Aristotle and Plato. Stoicism was one of the main opponents of Epicureanism philosophy. The epicureanism philosophy was founded in 307 BC and was based upon the teachings of the ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus. 

How Can You Use Stoicism (or Stoic)? 

Stoicism (or stoic) isn’t a word that’s heard often, which is why we’re giving some examples on how to use the word stoicism in sentences. 

She endured criticism for her usual stoicism

Some are candids—showing a more voluntary side to a woman known for her stoicism.

This is known for his virtuous way of living —he practices stoicism daily. 

He isn’t as stoic as his brother, James. 

She is interested in stoicism and practices daily journaling to help stay disciplined. 

The Takeaway 

Stoicism is an ancient Greek philosophy that was founded by Zeno of Citium and was practiced by many very powerful and prominent people of the Roman time (and recent years). The objective behind the teachings of this type of philosophy is that living a fulfilled and virtuous life consists of practicing the four cardinal rules. 


Eudaimonia – Oxford Reference


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