For several years human beings have been questioning happiness, feeling complete and navigating life in its most pleasurable way, however everyone’s journey is also composed of chaos, entropy and pain.
Since the Greeks and Romans the concept of a lifestyle that conduces us to a healthier wellbeing has been comprised of many “Pillars”. They were always concerned of their body, emotions, how they feed and leisure time or time to reflect about their life or how to calm their mind (what nowadays we could call meditation).
On the other hand our modern world is now changing so fast and we’re seeing so much disconnection of many of these kind of practices that is not a surprise to encounter the rocketing statistics in chronic illnesses, mental illness, cancer, autoimmune diseases which all are a reflection of a poor wellbeing style that people are constantly choosing due to the “amount of time” that they now have, which has been the most popular excuse since the digital era started.
One of the Philosophic Ancient Schools is the Stoicism which is a school of Hellenistic philosophy founded by Zeno of Citium in Athens in the early 3rd century BC. Stoicism is a philosophy of personal ethics informed by its system of logic and its views on the natural world. According to its teachings, as social beings, the path to eudaimonia (happiness) for humans is found in accepting the moment as it presents itself, by not allowing oneself to be controlled by the desire for pleasure or fear of pain, by using one's mind to understand the world and to do one's part in nature's plan, and by working together and treating others fairly and justly (1).
The Stoics are especially known for teaching that "virtue is the only good" for human beings, and that external things—such as health, wealth, and pleasure—are not good or bad in themselves (adiaphora), but have value as "material for virtue to act upon". Alongside Aristotelian ethics, the Stoic tradition forms one of the major founding approaches to Western virtue ethics.
The Stoics also held that certain destructive emotions resulted from errors of judgment, and they believed people should aim to maintain a will (called prohairesis) that is "in accord with nature". Because of this, the Stoics thought the best indication of an individual's philosophy was not what a person said, but how a person behaved. To live a good life, one had to understand the rules of the natural order since they thought everything was rooted in nature.
For a Stoic, virtue alone is said to be necessary and sufficient. It is tied in a causal way to eudaimonia because, unlike any externals (health, material goods, pleasure, power, reputation and societal position), it can in and of itself bring about the highest level of fulfillment. It is something that always and necessarily benefits humanity and, thus, its absence is the only guarantee of unhappiness and a lack of wellbeing, through an unhealthy (non-virtuous) state of mind. This may seem strong, or even counter-intuitive but, as has been frequently noted by Stoics, wealth, health and absence of war do not necessarily constitute wellbeing, in the sense that one can be rich, free of disease and living at a time of a peace and still be utterly miserable (wretched) and unfulfilled.
“Consequently, and according to Clark (3), mature Stoics recognise that external goods are illusions and incapable of directly contributing to eudaimonia. Although they can support appropriate action they may also distract from the four Stoic virtues: justice, courage, self-control/moderation (temperance) and practical wisdom (prudence)—all of which are interconnected, obtainable and must be expressed in the physical” (1).
We have heard this kind of philosophy nowadays and it sounds very similar to what is evolving again with the wellness and happiness movement which encloses many of these paths to achieve a greater state of being and feel. Additionally nowadays science and religion are coming together to give answers pointing out a clearer path which is the growth of our inner self, focusing more in ourselves, in the inner production of emotions, chemicals, thoughts, patterns that will allow us to live a more meaningful life, one where we expand compassion, love, empathy, tolerance, peace, joy, contribution and we are able to create a community that takes care of resources, nature, and of course where we are able to see each other as an expansion of our inner energy.
We are the same energy, we come from the same source, and we inhabit the same planet therefore we should share more our knowledge, our strengths, our abilities to construct a different kind of mindset.
“The embodiment of this tenet, amongst other things, has traditionally been and continues to be a “commitment to public life and the engagement with society”(1). This is because a Stoic is publicly committed “to being useful, to helping others, to take care, not only of ourselves, but of everyone in general and of each one in particular”
(Seneca, On Clemency 3.3) (1).
The psychoecocultural perspective approaches the study of the human experience and behavior as manifestations of the ongoing transactions within and between interconnected psychobiological (“psycho”), ecosystemic (“eco”), and multicultural (“cultural”) processes. The psychoecocultural perspective is best exemplified in the areas of multicultural psychology and community psychology, distinct disciplines which share a common emphasis on human diversity, social justice, and attention to the role of contextual factors in human behavior (5).
Both multicultural psychology and community psychology have a strong tradition of identifying and promoting strengths, as well as a core commitment to a non-pathologizing position. A strengths-based orientation is indeed central to the identity of both fields. There is tremendous potential for the cross-fertilization envisioned for positive psychology to more meaningfully include fields consistent with a psychoecocultural perspective on human experience (5).
Whether we change the name of the discipline, whether a particular science field evolves and involves now more tools and information that has been recently discovered, the basis of them remains the same.
We as human beings are designed to achieve virtue, to expand our potential and to help others along the way.
Mature Stoics recognise that external goods are illusions and incapable of directly contributing to eudaimonia. Although they can support appropriate action they may also distract from the four Stoic virtues: justice, courage, self-control/moderation (temperance) and practical wisdom (prudence)—all of which are interconnected, obtainable and must be expressed in the physical. The latter point is an especially important consideration under a Stoic framework, for one cannot, according to Daws, confess to be a follower of Stoicism (prokoptontes meaning a “progressor”, which is typically used in the plural, prokopton) if one does not demonstrate their adherence to such virtues. For example, in order to be considered just, a Stoic must uphold a moral and legal sense of justice and be just in their distribution of good and rights. On an individual level, they should be able to demonstrate progress towards virtue, and through both their thoughts and actions keep virtue as a target in mind, even if they are not ultimately able to hit it (fully achieve virtue) (1).
Cultivating our virtues as mentioned above and our family values is the key to start redirecting the unconsciousness and lack of compassion that nowadays we are experimenting. There’s no rocket science, there’s no trick or magic formula, as well as there isn’t a hacking remedie or shortcut as to be aligned to your discipline to the creation of your own habits, applying many of the things you have learned throughout your life is the only key to open almost every door that comes in your way.
It is also clear that we will have challenges, that we will experience sadness, frustration, maybe some suffering but it is all part of the process to evolve. As Thich Nhat Hanh said “We need the mud in order to make the Lotus”, we all need hardship, we all need some challenging situations, we all need obstacles …
Why do we need them?
Very simple because it is part of the fertilizer to become a better version, all experiences in your life have a meaning, all of your experiences had a lesson, of course is up to you to see them, to be evolved and mature to accept them, to be humble and grateful to grow from them.
As it is mentioned in a previous article “Are we a Reflection of Our Inner Reality”, (6) we are the creators of the things we want to see in our lives. We gotta be willing to give the effort, the time and the commitment to become an agent of change, to be a better version of what we want others to emulate as well and more importantly as part of a community we should be willing to help others during our journey.
“Treat nothing as a matter of private profit . . . if they (the hand or foot, as the metaphor for human individuals) had the faculty of reason and understood the constitution of nature, they would never exercise choice or desire in any other way but by reference to the whole.”
Consequently, whilst Stoicism may not fully demand (in the way a religious doctrine might) a sense of shared community and civic responsibility, it does strongly call its followers to participate as active members of society. It does state the moral obligation to express virtue towards others and to act upon concerns held towards animals, plants and the wider environment in recognition of the fact that humankind is not the highest entity of the universe, just perhaps the most rational. This understanding results from the Stoic concept of oikeiôsis, which describes humanity’s affinity/appropriation with Nature, as first dictated by a self-preserving instinct and later refined through reason (2).
For Sen, the ability to live such an existence is viewed through the lens of an individual’s ability to freely succeed in doing what they chose to do, being who they choose to be and pursuing what he or she could have done, according to their own idiosyncrasies. Under Sen’s framework the personal freedom to positively choose one’s lifestyle and preferences is an integral part of achieving eudaimonia, which is in itself only one component of a person’s life goals and commitments, some of which are not related to personal wellbeing at all.
The School and Perspective of the Peripatetics (Aristotle), predicated that “Virtue as a necessary but not sufficient component for the eudaimonic life. One must also be well-educated, possess wealth, health, and even be reasonably good looking to pursue the excellence required to attain eudaimonia. Women and male members outside of elite circles can never hope to
This Ancient philosophy can now be complemented and enriched by the mature stoicism that will allow us a sustainable wellbeing as: “Virtue, gained through knowledge, is a key component for the attainment of sustainable ideals. That said, not only the elite should or could be involved in the building of a virtuous society and progress towards societal wellbeing and sustainable development. Anyone and everyone, committed to acting more virtuously can play a part in bringing sustainable policy and practice into fruition. In fact, they have a moral obligation to do so” (2).
As we can see, many of this ancient philosophies, proposed a sense of integrity in human beings which composed the ability to first construct a strong sense of yourself as an entity with not just one facet, but with multiple “pillars” that you would have to strengthen, cultivate and be willing to challenge them towards your evolution to in the end contribute to the wellbeing of the community,
That is why many of these ancient empires sustain through time, of course as humans we have always been attracted to the easier pathway, to minimize efforts, to see also the attractiveness and commodities of the material things and in the exaggeration of comfort we have fall into the trap of thinking everything has to be instantaneous, easy and comfortable.
Three characteristics that have ironically made us a society focused on the outside and forgetting about the inside gifts that we all have.
We have the abilities, we have the teachings, we have now more tools to aid a new comeback to free ourselves from the attractiveness and commodities that we know we can have, but that we also know that in excess will lead us to sedentary, artificial, empty and unfulfilled lives, which most of the time are guided by what someone else is trying to manipulate you to do and if you don’t know yourself enough or If you have had an empty life for a while the danger is that you’re an easy prey of people that will do more harm than good or worst you will fall in the trap of the so called “influencers” that just have a verbal and psychological set of tools to manipulate you into buying their things with the promise that they will uplift, change and give you the life that you have not been able to shape. And the hilarious side of this story, which many people is falling as you read, is that these “puppeteers” don’t even have a fulfilled life, don’t even have walked the miles that you have, and don’t even have probably the knowledge that you have ..but you believe in them because they are good to sell, because they are good to manipulate the mind of the weak and mostly because they offer you an easy, quick, painless fix to your problems and life.
So be aware that the only path to growth, to happiness, to thrive and to find the peace you’ve been looking for is only in one place, inside of you.
You are the owner of all the gifts that God or the Universe has made available for everyone, the only password to find them and use them wisely is that you have the will, the discipline, the determination, the endurance to stand a path that will have turns, will have stones, will be misleading sometimes, will be uphill in other times, but it will hace the sights, the learnings and the most beautiful insights if you are brave enough to walk through it.
“Stoicism is about developing the tools to deal as effectively as humanly possible, with the ensuing conflicts, it does not demand perfection and does not provide specific answers: those are for fools, who think the world is black and white, good versus evil, where it is always possible to clearly tell the good guys from the bad guys. That is not the world we live in, and to pretend otherwise is more than a bit dangerous and not all wise”, (8).
— Pigliucci M.
So, if Stoics are not charged with offering a specific solution, how can their philosophy contribute to the sustainable development discourse?
Apart from actively progressing towards virtue, a practice that certainly does not preclude a person from making difficult and somewhat inconvenient choices, a student of Stoicism is also called to “follow nature” or to study “physics”. To paraphrase Becker (9), they are obliged to investigate the nature of reality and those facts that determine an individual’s physical existence and mental representation of the world.
Probably with all the information of a Stoic point of view, we can have more tools to integrate that into the new knowledge of the world that we have obtained and design a new philosophy to guide us.
On the other hand probably we don’t need one specific philosophy and most likely there won’t be one of course that fits all, that is the beauty of everyone’s life.
You are the only one that will decide what to follow or who to follow in order to make your life “easier” more fulfilled and find meaning, joy and freedom in what you do.
In the end is all about having fun, laughing, enjoying, LIVING with all your senses applied and trained to be submerged in different kinds of paths.
My only advice would be, go deep, analyze, question, and investigate what you’re getting into before you take a decision and GUIDE YOUR DECISION WITH CONSCIOUSNESS AND LETTING YOU GUIDE WITH YOUR HEART IN THAT WAY YOU WILL PROBABLY DECIDE FOR THE BEST !!.
Sharpe, Matthew. "Stoic Virtue Ethics." Handbook of Virtue Ethics, 2013, 28–41.
Whiting, K.; Konstantakos, L.; Carrasco, A.; Carmona, L.G. Sustainable Development, Wellbeing and Material Consumption: A Stoic Perspective. Sustainability 2018, 10, 474.
Clark, S.J. How now, Horatio? The Stoic Joy of Nature and Friendship. In Stoicism Today: Selected Writings; Ussher, P., Ed.; Stoicism Today: Exeter, UK, 2014; Volume 2, ISBN 1-5024-0192-4
Withington, P. (2016). Utopia, health, and happiness. The Lancet, 387(10033), 2084–2085.
Harrell, Shelly. (2014). A Psychoecocultural Perspective on Positive Psychology and Well-Being. The California Psychologist. 47. 8-10.
Sen, A. Commodities and Capabilities; Oxford University Press: Oxford, UK, 1999.