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My father has always been drawn to the teachings of Stoicism. An avid reader and philosopher, he calls on Stoic values for guidance in a variety of situations. Growing up, I was often picking up one Stoic book or another, catching small thoughts here and there. It was only a few years ago that I started to learn more about Stoic philosophy and become interested in my own right. I respect my father a lot and I admire how he is able to take meaningful lessons from Stoic philosophers and implement the ones that he sees fit into his own life. While I know that it requires a great deal of mental strength and discipline to do so, he seems to apply those lessons so easily. It has been a lot harder for me, to say the least. Even though it has been difficult, I still try to remember Stoic wisdom and use its teachings to strengthen my character.

I have compiled a list of four basic Stoic teachings that I am working on implementing in my own life and provided commentary on my experience with each lesson. 

  1. Live every day as if it is your last.

While I have often used this adage to explain daring choices, I find that it is harder to live by in my day-to-day life. Especially being a college student, a great deal of my life at the moment is spent planning for the future and making sacrifices now to reap future benefits. While it is certainly smart to focus on academics, it is not ideal to become fully consumed by things that distract you from the present moment. Living every day as if it is our last can be difficult if we are so preoccupied with the future. In a realistic sense, I think that implementing this belief can simply look like sharing moments with family and friends, making choices that you are proud of, and allowing yourself time within the day to appreciate something you find enjoyment in. 

  1. The only thing you have control over is your own mind.

We only have control over our own thoughts (and how we act on them) and we do not have control over anything outside of that realm. Many times in my life, I have created unnecessary anxieties or frustrations over things that are simply outside of my ability to control and influence. While it can be difficult to “let go” of these things, it became slightly easier for me after I realized that there was actually nothing to let go of because I never “had” it in the first place. Several years ago, I came to understand that I am a lot happier when I give my best efforts to influence what I do have control over, which is my mind and how I think about things. If I am able to frame my attitude around something in the way that best serves me at that moment, I can be content with “waiting out” those factors that I have no control over – most of the time, that is. 

  1. Wisdom is seeing things as they are and not how we wish they would be. 

I think that a lot of people may relate to struggling with this teaching. In my experience, it can be quite difficult to assess the true facts of a situation, especially if that reality makes you feel vulnerable or fearful. Being wise in this manner requires relinquishing control in certain ways. In these situations, it is helpful to lean into the discomfort that wisdom brings because the outcome is better understanding yourself, your situation, and your path forward. This teaching has been difficult for me to work on in the past because seeing things as they are is not always pleasant, especially if what is being brought to light involves personal character defects. I have benefitted a lot from trying to be wiser and more authentic in how I view myself, the people around me, and the world in general.

  1. Goodness is determined by what you do, not what you say.

This teaching is important to many people and permeates codes of ethics in all cultures. It is so important because, at our cores, we all assign more value to actions rather than words. Growing up, my mother always said to me that “actions speak louder than words.” This adage is relevant to Stoicism because it is our actions that make us virtuous people and the things we say do not hold much weight in our virtue. I do not think it is conjecture to say that people want to be good. Most of us hope to be good and do good in our lives. This teaching reminds me to show, not tell, the goodness I have within me. When I find that I believe in someone or something, it is important that I act on my beliefs instead of just speaking about them. 

I struggle with exemplifying Stoicism in my life but I see a lot of merit in continuing to try. These four simple teachings do not even begin to skim the surface of what the philosophy of Stoicism has to offer. If you are at all interested in Stoic teachings, I recommend looking into some of the main Stoic philosophers like Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, and Epictetus. Additionally, www.dailystoic.com offers creative insights for applying Stoic principles to our daily lives. 

Elizabeth is a Texas native now living in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and is excited to be a first-year student at Denison. She is majoring in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics and looks forward to studying abroad. Elizabeth most enjoys spending time outdoors, camping with friends, and scuba diving. A big fan of The Grateful Dead, you can find her always listening to music or playing the guitar.
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