Saturday, February 18, 2017

Highlights from Dubai World Government Summit and Global Happiness Dialogue

I felt very honoured to be invited to  take part in the Global Dialogue for Happiness in Dubai, UAE, Saturday 11th February. It was a most inspiring occasion and  I promise to  share my thoughts about it and the World Global Summit that followed soon

Some of the best talks are now available, so today I will share a few favourites ,,,

1) Visionary Tesla and SpaceX Entrepreneur predicts the future


"When AI gets much smarter than the smartest human on earth that's dangerous.We need to be very careful in how we adopt Artificial Intelligence. We need to make sure researchers  don’t get carried away. Sometimes what happens is that  scientists gets so engrossed in their work they don’t  realise the ramifications of what they are doing. 


2) The  Prime Minister of Bhutan,  Tshering Tobgay,

 on how governments should be thinking 

about Gross National Happiness more than 

Gross National Product







“Happiness is important so why don’t  governments  take it seriously. Why not  make happiness  a public good rather than relegating it to an individual pursuit....If the government cannot create happiness for its people there is no purpose for the government to exist ..."




Saturday, January 21, 2017

The nightmare has come true - can heaven - or philosophy - help us?


"Your Stoic nightmare has come true... heaven help us! "  was one good friend's response to Donald Trump's inauguration as the 45th President of the United States of America. 


                                                                   Copyright: frizio / 123RF Stock Photo


Regular readers might recall my personal journey  - after Brexit in Juneconcern about Trump  winning, a visit to New York and the Stoic Negative Visualisation about Trump becoming President workshop  in October  and then the article on the Stoic response to Trump once he was  elected in November. 

Just  writing those words "Donald Trump the 45th President of the United States of America" leads to a visceral sinking feeling  in my heart.  Maybe you have a similar reaction? Today,  let's see if we can work together on moving beyond this.

Can I be totally candid with you for one moment? Yesterday, during Trump's inauguration, I escaped into La La Land, quite literally. Whilst my wife was playing Trump's speech to the family, I did the equivalent of putting my fingers in my ear and shouting "La La La" by going to the next room, closing the door and watching this charming clip from La La Land. 



That's the  dilemma - blissful escapism or active engagement?

Faced with  leaders like Caligula, Caesar, Nero,  the ancients faced a similar dilemma, and Roman philosophers split into two opposing camps.

First, let's examine the Stoic response. Real Stoics, as opposed to cartoon Stoics, don't stiffen their upper lip, grin or bear it.   As Lindsay Varnum  suggests, Stoicism can be a good philosophy for passionate people. Professor Chris Gill  goes further pointing to examples like Cato the younger  of  Stoics political activists.

The Stoic response to Trump becoming President  is to  first reflect deeply about how to respond virtuously and wisely to such a difficult notion.   Stoic mindfulness  requires you to vigilantly challenge catastrophising and defeatist thinking alike. You then use Serenity Prayer wisdom to  distinguish what is in your control and what is not.  
"Trump's President, can't control that - but how I respond - I can control that!"

According to the Stoic you should respond with self-control, compassion, justice, courage and wisdom.  One Stoic American  political commentator,  Carrie Sheffield, argues for philosophical reflection and political activism as a response , quoting  approvingly the words of former the second US president John Adams

“I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce, and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain.”


John Adams 2nd President of the USA
Picture souce: Wiki commons

So the Stoic response to Trump is to get busy.   Work hard at reflecting on what you should do . This  might well mean becoming  involved in campaigns to limit the damage that Trump may cause.  You could well become  part of the effective opposition. 


A word of clarification is required here. As Philosophy for Life and other Dangerous Situations author Jules Evans has observed, some alt-right Americans have identified themselves as Stoics  - and  they are quite probably rejoicing . But as Evans writes  " ..there’s ... an aspect of alt-right neo-masculinity that is less drawn to virtue ethics and more to a sort of primitive tribalism or gang-culture". If Donald Trump is a good Stoic then I'm Caligula's horse.

But Stoicism is not the only possible philosophical response to turbulent times.  Epicureans decided the best response was to insulate themselves and form a community of like-minded friends away from the cares of the world.  As with the Stoics, popular culture  provides mainly misinformation.  Epicureans  did not advocate a lavish lifestyle. "Send me a pot of cheese so I can have a feast when I care to" wrote Epicurus  to a friend. So whilst "cartoon Epicureanism" consists of  sex and drugs and rock'n'roll, if you wanted to live like a true Epicurean you would
  • spend a lot of time with like-minded friends
  • live a simple life optimising your long-term happiness
  • think rationally about anything that made you anxious to help dispel your anxieties
  • turn off the news
In other words, you'd be  like I was yesterday and be turning off the Trump inauguration speech and watching La La Land.



                                             Epicurean Living - chilling out with friends
                                                        Copyright: IKO / 123RF Stock Photo

So which is it to be? Stoicism or Epicureanism? Active engagement or blissful escapism?  Perhaps turning to two other well-known philosophies to help decide. 

Utilitarianism tells us to maximise universal happiness.  
"[A} ctions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness.
wrote John Stuart Mill, a well-known Victorian proponent of utilitarianism.

A utilitarian response would look a lot more like Stoicism then Epicureanism.  Its universal happiness you are supposed to maximise. If anything, the utilitarian will become even more actively involved than the Stoic. Utilitarians prioritise benevolence as a virtue, and active contemporary utilitarians like Peter Singer commit  to political activism and donate a good portion of their salaries to worthy causes. Unless there really was nothing that could be done to help those who might lose out or be threatened by Trump -  women, minorities, non-Americans - then Utilitarians would be skeptical about the Epicurean response.  A utilitarian might well agree with the first three pieces of Epicurean advice - but they might say that retreating into La La Land  sounds too much like  fiddling whilst Rome burns. 


Peter Singer, a contemporary utilitarian
Picture Source: Wiki commons

A fourth philosophy, Existentialism suggests a still different response.


Viktor Frankl, author of Man's Search for MeaningPicture source: Wiki Commons

Existentialist concentration camp survivor Frankl  proposed that everyone has their own specific vocation or mission in life to carry out. Your  task is to work out what the meaning of your life should be. Given your skills, talents and resources (including money), what could the meaning of your life be?
On the other hand existentialists like Jean-Paul Sartre tell us to invent our own meaning in life and be the author of our own lives. The existentialist would say there is no objective answer to whether active engagement or blissful escapism is best.  This thought experiment might help you decide your existentialist response to this dilemma. Imagine sitting in your rocking chair towards the end of your life. Now imagine two different versions of your life. Version one has you being actively involved in doing all you can to set the worlds to rights despite Trump. In version two you focus on your own enjoyment and do your best to ignore politics. Which version of yourself do you choose?

Jean-Paul Sartre, existentialistPicture source: Wiki commons

In the end you do have to choose what sort of person you are going to be - and not choosing is still making a choice.

Four philosophies, four (or was it five?) different answers. But perhaps there is a way to incorporate the best of all these philosophies.

  • As the Stoics suggest, work out what you can change and what you can't and focus on the only on what you can change
  •  Stoics and Epicureans both urge you to use your rationality to avoid any unhelpful  anxiety or depression 
  • Epicureans and Utilitarians agree that your happiness matters, so when you are not what you can to improve the world, enjoy yourself
  • If you can change the world, then Stoics and Utilitarians urge you to behave  compassionately and benevolently towards helping others
  • Recalling Frankl's advice, think about  your unique skills, resources and talents  and how you can  make a positive difference to the world
  • As Jean-Paul Sartre would say, be the author of your own life and decide what sort of person you want to be and live accordingly
I'll say this, for Trump, at least he's got us thinking.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Why you don't have to be in La La Land to believe you can fulfil your potential


If you haven't seen La La Land yet, then go see it! You will be  transported into another world.  Two hours later you will leave the cinema with a smile on your face and  a spring in your step.

La La Land  can also act as a prompt for reflecting on the relative importance of achievement versus love, but let's leave that discussion for another time -  no spoilers here!

So today I want to talk about the real life achievement of Ryan Gosling in learning to play the piano like a virtuoso in just 3 months. This is how good he got ...



How did Gosling achieve such a level of performance in just over 3 months?  Here's the story.




There are 3 lessons we can all take from Ryan Gosling

1) You can achieve more than you think.
You might think that to learn to play the piano like that you have to start at the age of 3 or have musical parents. Gosling shows that this is just not true. You may or may not want to play the piano well. The point is, whatever you want, don't assume that it's too late.

2) You have to put in the practice
A positive attitude is a good start, however you can't just think your way to success. Gosling put in 3 to 4 hours every day for 3 to 4 months. To achieve what is important to you, you will have to put some time and effort in too. Anders Ericsson is famous for the 10000 hours of  "deliberate practice" rule.


 On average, it has been found one  needs ten thousand hours of  deliberate practice to become an expert.This usually takes 10 years. Clearly Ryan Gosling found a shortcut!
 (By my calculation if he did 4 hours practice for 100 days, thats just 400 hours. But that's still a lot of practice, and if Gosling had wanted to learn how to play all pieces well, not just the pieces in the film, he would need to keep practicing.)

Former table tennis Matthew Syed  and author of Bounce: The Myth of Practice and the Power of Practice speaks of the need for "purposeful practice". It's not just the hours you put in, its what you do with the hours.



3) You have to learn the right skills

In any sphere, there are certain skills you need to learn to achieve greatness or even competence. If you struggle with something, maybe it's not about you,, its just that you need to learn the right skills.

Betty Edwards  runs a course for adults where she can turn anyone into a competent artist after just five days. How does she do this? By breaking down the steps into manageable and learnable chunks.


If you put these three things together they will help you develop a growth mindset

Developing a growth mindset can help with passing  exams, sporting success  and many other benefits.

In my book Achieve Your Potential with Positive Psychology  I explain numerous tools to help you achieve your potential, including  developing a growth mindset as well step by step planning and overcoming emotional obstacles to success using CBT. These can help you towards achieving a long-cherished ambition as well as being happy and more successful.

Much as I enjoyed writing the book, it's even more satisfying to work face to face, coaching people and helping them to fulfill their dreams. A  few weekly meetings to kick start your creative process followed by regular monthly meetings to track progress and maintain motivation can make a huge  positive difference.

Why not make 2017 the year you achieve your own potential? I'd love to help you.


Thursday, November 10, 2016

A Stoic Response to Trump becoming President

“I’m trying to use the Stoic disciplines now, Tim, I really am. But I can't yet get any traction on dealing with the anxiety, anger, and downright fear I feel after last night's result. Thoughts? “ (Derek, posted the day after Donald Trump's election).

 

It’s no longer just a negative visualisation  - Donald Trump really is  going to be the next President of the United States.  How exactly can Stoicism help Derek and others who finds the result hard to stomach?

Let’s start with a quick mindfulness exercise. Derek mentions anxiety, anger and downright fear. What are you experiencing? Feeling down, sad, upset or  shocked are amongst some other possibilities …

Have you ever noticed that when you  - and others - feel  “negative” emotions, we sometimes  (not always) behave in rather unhelpful ways?  What has the election result made you feel like doing? Would all those things be smart and wise things to do?

I recently facilitated workshops in New York and London where we imagined our responses  to a Trump victory precisely in order to develop more helpful Stoic responses. I’m wondering whether sharing those responses might help now.

 

This is how some people imagined they would feel the day a Trump victory was announced …

 

Reaction 1: “Feeling anxious, frozen like a deer in headlights. I feel like drinking, taking tranquillizers or finding some way to distract myself”

Reaction 2: “Feeling angry, arguing with everyone and going on a tirade”

 

Reaction 3: “Feeling depressed and wanting to hide in bed - or emigrate!”

In order to change how you feel,  you can change how you think (a smart tip from CBT 101!). So what were people thinking that made them feel so upset?

 

Reaction 1: Anxious thoughts


“Women, minorities and immigrants will be marginalised  and oppressed”
 “Other countries will have a very negative view of America. It will make us vulnerable to our enemies.”
“The stock market will plummet, economic depression with follow”
 “Supreme Court Justices will be appointed who will destroy our American values and democracy”

Reaction 2: Angry thoughts
“How can so many people not see the truth?”

Reaction 3: Depressing thoughts
“Trump represents everything I disagree with”

 

What thoughts go with the difficult emotions you are experiencing around Trump becoming President?
When doing Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) with clients, this would be the point where we get to test out these thoughts in terms of their realism and helpfulness. We might come up with :-
 “I can’t be sure that Trump will be as bad as I fear. For example,  there are checks and balances on Presidential power.”.
“Although I feel angry, it’s not helpful to vent it"
“Although I am feeling depressed, I need to act according to my goals rather than my mood”.

This can be really helpful especially if followed up appropriate action. The Stoic response incorporates all of these CBT ideas, since challenging unhelpful and unrealistic thoughts and planning helpful behaviours is a crucial part of the virtue of  practical wisdom. However Stoicism takes things further in a way which makes Stoicism a much more comprehensive and philosophical response.

Before moving on to  describing this Stoic response, we need to say a little bit about Stoicism’s view of eudaimonia or “flourishing”. For the Stoics,  flourishing coincides with living as an excellent human being would, living virtuously or, in Larry Becker’s felicitous phrase, becoming a virtuoso at living. For the Stoics, the main virtues were wisdom, courage, self-control (or temperance) and justice (which we need to interpret broadly to include a love of all humanity).

Wisdom  means using our faculty of reason firstly to understand theoretically how to live well and then to use practical wisdom to decide what to do right now, in the situation we find ourselves.   
Chris Gill  has provided us with a nice summary of what the Stoics mean by the other virtues.
Professor Gill writes that :-
 “[Courage]  is knowing how to act and feel correctly in situations of danger, in facing things seen as fearful (above all, death and other ‘disasters’)
[S]elf-control knowing how to act and feel well in situations arousing other emotions such as desire, appetite, lust;
[J]ustice knowing how to act and feel well in our relationships with other people, at individual, family or communal level, knowing how to act generously and with positive benevolence, with friendship and affection.”

We are now coming to the point where we can outline the Stoic response and see what it adds to CBT.

Faced with Trump’s election, a Stoic asks themselves
“How, in this current situation, can I best act  according to the virtues, how can I be a virtuoso at living, how can I act with wisdom, courage, self-control and justice?”

Firstly,  we apply Serenity Prayer Wisdom, by asking

What aspects of the situation aren’t in my power, what can’t I change?
It’s clear a lot of people’s concerns are about things not in our power – things  such as the economy, what other countries think and what Trump’s plans for example in his appointment of Supreme Court judges. If these are truly not in your control it’s a waste of energy to focus on them – but of course if we decide through the use of practical wisdom that we can change them, then we should.

What aspects are of the situation can I change?
Whilst you can’t change the result of the election, you can change how you respond to it. More fundamentally, the Stoics would argue that you can and should respond by putting the virtues into practice. Acting virtuously is one of the things under your control and so that is the focus of the Stoic’s thoughts and behaviours. “What would the fully virtuous person, the sage, do in this situation?” 

·       We need courage and the related virtue of persistence to stand up for what we believe in, even in the face of difficulty, unpopularity or danger.
·       We need self-control so we don’t  lash out angrily at those  who do not share our views. We need self-control to moderate trains of  thought that lead  to self-pity or despair. More specifically, self-control will help us manage ruminating about what the Clinton or the Democrats might have done differently. It might also  help some of us refrain from angry tweeting!
·       The role of justice and  love of humanity  cuts two ways.  Clearly justice and love of  humanity means doing what is in our power to help those most threatened by a Trump presidency – minorities, women and immigrants. But also, as Jules Evans has argued on Twitter (9/11/2016)
“We can either re-draw party lines, middle-class party for globalization / free trade / social liberalism, working-class party against. Or. ..think very hard about how to appeal to those left behind by globalization, particularly white working class. Dont just dismiss as bigots.”
           A similar point is made by Tim Antiss  writing in the Compassionate Mind Forum [compassionatemind@googlegroups.com posted 9/11/2016]
“White males without college education, living in the rust belt of the US, voted for Trump. He connected with their pain and offered them hope where the Republican Party and the Democratic party did not. He identified wealthy, entitled politicians as part of the problem, and promised to drain the swamp and end disconnected government, to make government act in the interests of working people. He helped them feel listened too, understood, sympathised with, and not blamed for their predicament. Global trade agreements, jobs leaving the US to lower wage countries, immigrants, etc led to the loss of industries and jobs and communities.”
         
          From a Stoic as well as a compassionate mind perspective, love of humanity means listening to the concerns of the disenchanted and providing a viable alternative to Trump [or Brexit] to address them.  

Last  but by no means least comes practical wisdom. Having reflected on the situation through the lens of the specific Stoic virtues of Serenity Prayer wisdom, courage, self-control and justice, we need to think about how to best satisfy these in practice. We have already alluded to one part of practical wisdom when discussing the CBT approach and coming up with more balanced and realistic thoughts. We are now a position to apply the specifically Stoic take on practical wisdom -taking the original thoughts that led to anxiety, fear, anger, depression and their ilk and reflecting on the Stoic virtues and how they can lead to a different perspective.

This is what happened when  the New York workshop participants tried this.

Pre-Stoic Reaction 1: Anxious thoughts


“Women, minorities and immigrants will be marginalised  and oppressed”
 “Other countries will have a very negative view of America. It will make us vulnerable to our enemies.”
“The stock market will plummet, economic depression with follow”
 “Supreme Court Justices will be appointed who will destroy our American values and democracy”

Stoic response
“It may not be as bad as I imagine. I may be overestimating how much difference  a President can make. I can make a difference - I can be a grassroots activist for causes I care about – I need courage & practical wisdom.  I now feel more tranquil and determined”

Reaction 2: Angry thoughts
“How can so many people not see the truth?”
Stoic Response
“People have their reasons and concerns which I need to understand. I also need to work at helping more people understand my view. I now feel more empathy for my opponents and calm acceptance of aspects of the situation I cannot change”

Reaction 3: Depressing thoughts
“Trump represents everything I disagree with”
Stoic Response
“I accept the fact that he is President, I will do what I can to mitigate the damage. I now feel strength that I can handle the situation”

As well as clarifying the difference between a Stoic and CBT response, I hope this article also illustrates how a true Stoic answer differs from that of the “cartoon Stoic” often assumed in popular but ill-informed discussions of Stoicism. The “cartoon Stoic” would employ their “stiff upper lip”, repress any emotion and say to themselves “I can’t do anything about it so I need to accept it”.  The true Stoic aims to act virtuously, which also means looking  at aspects of the situation they can change. The Stoic would say that there are things we can all do.

I have previously alluded to John Sellars’ argument that Stoics should actually welcome  adversities as a chance to develop and prove themselves. I would like  to finish today by connecting this with Viktor Frankl’s idea that meaning in life emerges when we  detect doing something of value in the intersection between our life circumstances and our talents and skills. If you are passing a drowning woman and can swim, the meaning in your life right then is pretty apparent – you jump in and save her. Given Trump’s victory and your own concerns about it, life situation, talents and  skills ,  what can you do that might be of value? Adapting the words from the inaugural address of a very different US President to Trump, we might say to ourselves:
 "Do not ask what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for you humanity."

Friday, October 28, 2016

Stoicism made Simple

Stoicism Made Simple

Yesterday I suggested that one reason for  Stoicism’s continuing appeal  is that it is greater than the sum of its parts. In this article I will explain why I think this is the case.


Part 1: “Serenity Prayer” Wisdom

Would you agree that trying to change the unchangeable is one way to lead  a life of frustration and misery? And that if instead you  focus on what you can and should change, that's a better path to a good life,  achievement and serenity? I written elsewhere about how the Serenity Prayer  can help a lot  in all sorts of situations, like losing your wallet or being stuck in traffic.
The Stoics take Serenity Prayer wisdom a step further.  They assert that there are really only two things you have control over – what you think and what you do.


Part 2: Look after your thinking


“It's not events that upset you but how you interpret them” Epictetus, Enchiridion

You are walking down the road and a friend ignores you. How would you feel?


The answer is: it depends on your thinking. If you think “How dare she ignore me!” you will most likely feel angry.

However, if after reflection you instead think “I don’t know why she ignored me. Perhaps she is distracted. Or perhaps I have upset her. I should give her a call”  you will feel concerned rather than angry.

As Epictetus told us, it’s not the event that matters, but how you interpret it. In the first case, you are focussing on her reaction, which is now in the past so you can’t change. This type of thinking fails the Serenity Prayer test. The second response, however, focuses on what you can control – finding out whether she was upset with you and responding appropriately. So the lesson here is to watch our thinking and reflect only on those aspects of the situation under our control.

The Stoics advise us to be vigilant, putting each thought and judgement (“impression” in their jargon) to the test of whether it relates to something within or outside our control.

"Be not swept off your feet, I beseech you, by the vividness of the impression, but say 'Wait for me a little, O impression; allow me to see who you are, and what you are the impression of; allow me to put you to the test.” Epictetus, Discourses, 2:19
   
The Stoicism Today team (with a particular debt to Donald Robertson) calls this skill “Stoic Mindfulness”. Practising it enables you to get less caught up in unhelpful thinking. Donald has developed a  Stoic self-monitoring record sheet to help you develop this skill.

Part 3: Live like an excellent human being

As well as being able to control your thinking, the Stoics argue that you can control what you do, how you live. But how should we should live? The Stoics argue that we should live “according to (human) nature”. Whilst there is much debate over what this boils down to in practice, the most plausible interpretation is that it means living according to human nature at its best, which for the Stoics meant living according to the virtues.

“Virtue” is a problematic term, conjuring up  all sorts of unhelpful connotations– but what it meant for the Ancient Greeks and Romans was living like an excellent human being. Larry Becker compares it with living life in an excellent way like an excellent conductor of an orchestra conducts – like a virtuoso at living.

So how in practice can we live like an excellent human being or like a virtuouso at living?  A starting point for the Stoics are the cardinal virtues – wisdom, courage, self-control and justice.

Wisdom  means using our faculty of reason firstly to understand how to live  in general and then to use it in practice. This will knowing how and when to use Serenity Prayer Wisdom and Watching Your Thinking According to Professor Chris Gill, the other Stoic cardinal virtues are really all varieties of wisdom, knowing how to act and feel in various situations.
Gill writes that :-

 “[Courage]  is knowing how to act and feel correctly in situations of danger, in facing things seen as fearful (above all, death and other ‘disasters’); self-control knowing how to act and feel well in situations arousing other emotions such as desire, appetite, lust; justice)knowing how to act and feel well in our relationships with other people, at individual, family or communal level, knowing how to act generously and with positive benevolence, with friendship and affection.”


Let’s now see how these three parts of Stoicism fit together.

A friend appears to snub us in the street. We use Serenity Prayer wisdom to not dwell on what we can’t control and instead focus on what we can – our thinking and our deeds. Which virtues are relevant? Maybe self-control not to send an angry text, courage to ask if anything is the matter and justice to make amends if we have done anything wrong – and wisdom to know all of this. Or consider a political issue – for example Brexit. 

Original thought: "I am worried that I or my friends or loved ones won't be able to stay in the UK" 
Pre-Stoic emotion: Anxiety
What I can't control: Decisions made by government
What I can control: How I relate to my friends or loved ones
Stoic reframe: "I can't control what happens with regards to employment law though I could try to influence it by campaigning. More immediately, I can be as supportive as possible to those I care about, being a rock for them to lean on, helping them emotionally and in practice ways."
Stoic emotion: Concern and full of purpose

Other examples, which I have written  about elsewhere (follow the links if curious) are how a Stoic would have advised Basil Fawlty to respond when his car would not start and how to respond in advance  to the possibility that Donald Trump could be elected president.


These three parts of Stoicism form a logical and helpful framework for living. Of course what I have presented here is Stoicism Made Simple – there are lots of other parts of Stoicism you can explore – but I hope that even this very simplified version of Stoicism can be useful

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Stoicism - Why all the Fuss?

Are you at all surprised by upsurge of interest in Stoicism? Hundreds of people attending the New York Stoicon, a third annual London Stoicon, over two thousand people “living like a Stoic for a week”, articles in the Huffington Post and new books coming out seemingly every week ….  Why all the fuss?


There are at least three good reasons why Stoicism is very much alive and well.

1  1)    Stoicism is a very practical philosophy. Stoic provides  helpful techniques - "life hacks" -  that aren’t too difficult to put into practice.  You can try these out for yourself by downloading the Stoic Week 2016 Handbook  (free, requires registration at the time of writing) or the Stoic Week 2015 Handbook  (free, no registration required).

2) Although much of the  the great Stoic works have unfortunately been lost, what has survived is of great value.  The  beautiful prose of Seneca's classic Letters  also gives  sage advice to his friend Lucillius - and also speaks to the modern reader. The Stoic Emperor Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations  gives us an insight into the mind of a very wise and thoughtful man struggling with life's challenges. Epictetus’s Handbook are essentially lecture notes, ideal for trainee Stoics of all ages.   Seneca, Marcus Aurelius and Epictetus provide very different ways in to Stoicism –  part of the journey is finding out which you prefer. My favourite has always been Epictetus.

3) Stoicism isn’t just a set of practical exercises or a collection of books. It  represents a serious and systematic attempt to understand the human condition and how to respond to it.  What is in our power and what is not? What is our place in the universe?  How can we live a good life?  As I shall argue in tomorrow’s article Stoicism Made Simple  Stoicism is more than the sum of its parts. Taken together, Stoicism provides  a  framework for leading a good life.

I could go on. I could mention the empirical evidence for Stoicism being helpful or  the idea that Stoicism can help with resilience as well as well-being. If you are interested, have a look at the Stoicism Today site for a lot of free articles giving many perspectives of why people are interested in Stoicism. Perhaps the surprise is not that Stoicism is getting as much attention as it is but that it isn’t getting even more…

Tim's tweets