8 unexpected life hacks I learnt from bingeing philosophy.

It was deep into lockdown, and while my friends were bingeing on sourdough, cocktails and Tiger King, I was bingeing on philosophy from Ancient times. 

Could the philosophy of the Greek and Roman Stoics provide some advice on how to tackle today’s complex problems; everything from the climate crisis, to the pandemic, to not getting a pay rise? 

Yes! Yes, it could.

Although the Stoics lived thousands of years ago - and their lives seem very remote from ours today, they had the most incredible guidelines for life, that I now use everyday.

While you're here watch: 5 Lifestyle hacks to help with your anxiety. Story continues below.

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Here are some of my main Stoic hacks.

1. Work out what you can and can’t control.

Things within your control are your character, actions and reactions and how you treat others. Everything else including money, reputation and health can be influenced by you, but are not within your complete control. For example - if you have a dispute with a friend or your child, you cannot control their reaction. But you can control your reaction to their reaction. When you realise how much is actually out of your control, you can stop putting your energy into places where it's not going to count. 


2. Be aware that you are mortal and one day you will die. 

The great Roman Stoic, Seneca said, “we are dying every day”. If you remember this, you will be more likely to treasure the time that you have and cherish your friends and family. So many of us squander time, acting as if we’re going to live forever and wasting time on unimportant things. We suffer intense grief when loved ones die - but the Stoics wondered how much of this grief is guilt and sadness that we didn't make the most of the loved one while they were still around.

3. Your own perceptions can create your mood, not outside events.

“Today I escaped anxiety. Or no, I discarded it, because it was within me, in my own perceptions - not outside,” wrote Marcus Aurelius, the great Roman Stoic philosopher emperor. The Stoics advised that you examine your judgements, holding them up to the light of reason, before acting rashly, fearfully or unthinkingly on something that may not objectively be true.

Listen to Mamamia's wellness podcast, Fill My Cup, on how to find meaning outside of work. Story continues after audio. 

4. The most important thing is tranquillity. 

The Stoics strove to maximise enjoyment and minimise suffering. They saw that a lot of suffering comes from strong emotion - so they tried to maintain a tranquil baseline state. Called ataraxia - meaning a state of serene calmness - they maintained their chill. So when bad things happened they just rolled with it. Being tranquil meant the Stoics were less likely to feel swamped by emotion and overwhelmed when upsetting things happened. 

5. Money, reputation and health come and go - learn to live with it. 

Upsetting things can happen to anyone, at any time. Loss is an inevitable part of life. You can suffer loss of a relationship, a friend, a family member - either through conflict, drift or death - and it can rock you. But if you accept that in life there will be losses, you will be more tranquil when loss comes your way. And you are less likely to suffer twice - that is the first time when you actually lose the thing itself - and a second time when you suffer, sometimes for years, after the loss. 


6. Anger is to be avoided at all costs.

Part of maintaining tranquillity and chill is avoiding anger. The Stoics had many hacks that are still useful today in avoiding getting angry. (Check out De Ira (or On Anger) by Seneca for some of the tips or buy my book.)

They saw anger as having the potential to not only disrupt your own contentment but to spread discontent and bad vibes to others. Part of your role as a member of a community and a society was to take responsibility for your emotions and not infect others with anger or resentment. 

7. To live a good life and be a good person, practice these four things.

The four Stoic virtues are wisdom, temperance (just another word for moderation), justice and courage. They believed all these virtues were within our control to cultivate - and that if we had the capacity to reason (i.e. use our heads) we could develop these character traits. Cultivating these virtues not only makes suffering easier to bear but helps create strong communities where people take care of one another.

8. We are made to be in community with each other. 

“What is good for the hive is good for the bees,” wrote Marcus Aurelius in his journal Meditations

People think Stoicism is a very individual philosophy - and while you can’t change others or control other people - the practice of Stoicism will allow you to live more in harmony with others, by not seeking to dominate or change others but instead accepting and letting go of the things you can't control. 


Brigid Delaney’s Reasons Not to Worry (Allen and Unwin, $24.99) is out now.

Image: Reasons Not to Worry by Brigid Delaney.  

Feature Image: Supplied.

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