Pithy Insights from the Best Books on Stoicism and Philosophy

Stoicism is a school of Hellenistic philosophy that was established by Zeno of Citium in the early 3rd century BC. It is a simple approach to overcome destructive emotions and act with reason.

The Stoic philosophy is predominantly about living ethically by practicing reason and logic. Also, it emphasizes on living in accordance with nature. Later Stoic philosophers such as Seneca and Epictetus gave importance to cultivating virtues as they are sufficient to bring happiness to us and the people around us. The main premise was to shun all the moral corruption and be inspired to live like a Stoic Sage.

This philosophy has been practiced by both historical and modern men, including artists, kings, presidents, authors, and entrepreneurs. Stoicism provides useful tools and practical strategies to navigate through everyday problems and living a more meaningful and happy life.

In this essay, I would like to share with you the most important takeaways that I have gathered from the best books on Stoicism and Philosophy. Through these Pithy Insights, my intention for you is to develop a Stoic mindset that will help you in navigating through the complexities that come with modern living.  When internalized, they will guide you in your quest to living a virtuous and happy life. The fundamentals of attaining practical wisdom and living a good life will never change and that’s why Stoicism has proven to be such an indispensable philosophy to learn the art of living.

Without further ado, here are the insights:

  1. The foundation of Stoicism is built on three essential disciplines: The discipline of perception (how we see and perceive the world around us), the discipline of action (the decisions and actions we take – and to what end), and the discipline of will (how we deal with the things we cannot change, attain clear and convincing judgment, and come to a true understanding of our place in the world).
  2.  The teachings of Marcus Aurelius and other ancient philosophers were built around the central aspect of logos. Logos can be considered as an underlying master plan that orchestrates all the events that happen in this world, whether they are good or bad. We should have faith that all the things happening in our lives are happening for the best.
  3.  When we complain, we disrespect and disregard the logos and that brings more pain and suffering to us. Instead, we should accept things the way they are and move on.
  4.  The secret to living a good life, enriched with fulfillment is to learn the art of living through philosophy. Having a philosophy is analogous to having a roadmap; it helps us navigate through the ups and downs of life and find treasures that hold the deepest meaning to us.
  5.  The path of Stoicism is that of moderation. It neither endorses life of misery and poverty nor a life of luxury and hedonism.
  6.  The Stoics had two primary goals: virtue and tranquility. They considered these as the foundational pillars of living a good life.
  7. The Stoics always believed that a mind that is calm and free of negativity can tackle any kind of obstacles that come up on the way.
  8. Any obstacle can be converted into an advantage when we approach it through the eyes of a Stoic.
  9.  We need to detach from the obstacle and look at it objectively. We will never be able to turn obstacles into opportunities unless we control our emotions. By changing the lens through which we see an obstacle, we start appreciating it and become aware of the hidden advantages that come with it.
  10.  Preparing ourselves in advance for the worse case scenarios helps us remain calm when the circumstances are not in our favor and things don’t go our way.
  11.  Once we understand that bigger obstacles also come with bigger weaknesses, we can learn how to turn obstacles against themselves.
  12.  The most essential ingredient that can make all the difference in the world is your will. Unless you have an unwavering faith in yourself and trust your capabilities, you will have a hard time overcoming obstacles.
  13.  The ancient Stoic philosophers exercised their will by focusing on the question:  What things are in my control and what are not?
  14.  Through a focused will, we are able to unlock our true potential and break through the barriers of human possibility.
  15.  A true Stoic is someone who is committed and dedicated to cultivating a self-reliant mindset, mastering philosophy and achieving long-lasting happiness.
  16.  Countless situations may arise in our daily lives where we may feel lost and need advice.  In those cases, we can look up to philosophy and cultivate wisdom so that we make better decisions.
  17.  Philosophy is meant for education and implementation, not for entertainment.
  18.  Instead of setting unrealistic expectations from other people, we need to make sure that our expectations and judgments are reasonable. We need to make sure that our desires are in the realm of our power.
  19.  Stoic philosophers referred to human beings as citizens of the world, and unlike other living beings, we have duties to perform. We have the capability to discern the purpose behind the divine orchestration of events and connect the dots.
  20.  It’s a prerogative for us human beings to understand “the connection of things” and hence it’s our duty to live a life that aligns with this truth.
  21.  With right thinking and perspective, we can see things in the right light and appreciate their positive aspects rather than focusing on the negative ones. Being logical and having a right mindset can be a lifesaver in difficult situations.
  22.  True happiness can only be secured when you let go of the frustrating pursuit of things that we have no control over.
  23.  To become a Stoic, we need to practice virtue and excellence in our lives and let them be our guide in the roller coaster journey of life.
  24.  Stoicism is not only about learning how to take the right actions but also about how we can tap into the correct moral and psychological dimension before we act.
  25.  The four cardinal virtues of Stoicism are:
    • Practical Wisdom
    • Courage
    • Justice
    • Temperance
  26. The Stoics advise us to distinguish between things that we can control and things that we cannot. We should let go and accept the things that are not under our control and focus on doing actions and the variables that we can control.
  27. When we act with virtues of Stoicism and embrace the tranquility inside us even if there are disturbances, obstacles or chaos around us, we become the beacon of hope and happiness.
  28.  Instead of considering ourselves as a know-it-all, it’s much better to humble ourselves. We should always consider ourselves as a learner; someone who’s improving every day in his or her craft.
  29.  To become a perennial performer, we need to let go of our pride and ego and not let them affect our success.
  30.  Our goal should be a life of meaning and purpose, not one inclined to pursuing luxuries.
  31.  Through a close observation of Marcus Aurelius’ meditations, we can distill down three dogmas that can help us in navigating pragmatically in our own experiences without losing our calm. These dogmas are:  being content with whatever happens, being just and accepting of others, and being able to apply rules of discernment to our own inner representations of external circumstances. When we live by them, we strengthen our inner fortress and develop the inner attitudes of acceptance to the divine orchestration, justice, serving others and detachment by being objective.
  32.  Epictetus’ teachings can be summed up into three core ideas: knowing what we can control and mastering our desires, performing our duties and doing the right actions, and learning to think clearly about ourselves, our relationships and our role within the larger community of humanity.
  33.  A clear analogy can be observed between ancient Stoic philosophy and modern CBT as there are various concepts and techniques that overlap between the two.
  34.  It is a common misconception that Stoicism is an intellectualized philosophical approach that doesn’t count emotional responses. In reality, it encourages us to cultivate an attitude of indifference towards things and events that we don’t have control over so that we can avoid unnecessary emotional discomfort and pain.
  35.  Stoicism not only accommodates emotions but it also encourages to cultivate a rational love towards humanity and the existence as a whole.
  36.  Our emotions are our own and we have absolute voluntary control over them.
  37.  The concept of antifragility applies to things that benefit from harm caused by volatile and adverse circumstances. Unlike fragile things that break under stress, antifragile things gain advantage and become better.
  38.  We can train both our body and mind to be antifragile.
  39.  The quality of an antifragile system is that it not only strengthens you when you face stresses or shockers but also prepares you for any future possible adversities. This happens by the principle of overcompensation, which is the hallmark of antifragility: Strength develops by overcompensating against adversities.
  40.  If you want to achieve and maintain extraordinary success in this ever-changing and unpredictable world then antifragility is the most useful skill that you can develop
  41.  The Stoics explain that there are different causes of our emotions and some of them include our misaligned beliefs.
  42.  Beliefs are patterns that we have cultivated over time and because our emotions are driven by our beliefs, we are responsible for them.
  43.  While modern therapies focus on a short-term fix, adopting ancient philosophy is a lifestyle: a life-long discipline to be cultivated and practiced every day.
  44.  The Stoics placed huge importance on being in harmony with the Universe and the way it works. They firmly believed in the rational intelligence that permeates everything. Hence, in order to live a happy and peaceful life, they believed it was their duty to act rationally with reason and logic so that they can be better aligned with the Universe.
  45.  Plato explained that the foundation of living an extraordinary life is to improve our reasoning consistently and questioning and contemplating the beliefs that we have harbored and accepted.
  46.  When we get on the trail of asking deeper questions about life, humanity, meaning, and purpose, we start creating a life that is not only happy and fulfilling but extraordinary in every aspect.
  47.  Philosophy can be a wonderful antidote and soothe us whenever we encounter fading humanity.
  48.  There are some brilliant takeaways from the ancient Stoic philosophy that can add the depth that we need in our fast-paced lives. The teachings of ethics and relying on practical tools and strategies rather than moral theory are indispensable in today’s society.
  49.  The movement of reductive materialism or minimalism can be a lifesaver and has parallels with the Stoic philosophy. Decluttering our spaces and our minds can start churning the engines of a meaningful life and bringing more purpose and clarity to us.
  50.  The Stoics discouraged to get into unwanted and irrelevant emotional trains of thoughts caused by misunderstandings and our inappropriate reactions. Instead, they encouraged to cultivate eupatheiai or “good emotional states”.
  51.  We human beings are rational creatures. Our ethical judgments are initiated by ‘impressions’, which are basically the perceptions that we harbor towards objects around us. Based on our ‘assents’ to impressions, we form beliefs in our minds. These beliefs dictate how we see the world and our opinions towards things objects and events.
  52.  Our success and happiness are much dictated by our internal belief system. In order to live an extraordinary life and fight mediocrity, it is crucial that we first decimate all of our limiting beliefs.

If you enjoyed reading this essay, you’ll love this book:

Meditations for the Learning Mind: Stoic Life – 21 Daily Meditations Inspired by the Best Books on Stoicism and Philosophy


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