Are Stoics Happy? Stoic Week 2016 Report part 2 (of 4) by Tim LeBon

“For what prevents us from saying that the happy life is to have a mind that is independent, elevated, fearless, and unshakeable, a mind that exists beyond the reach of fear and of desire, that regards honour as the only good and infamy as the only evil, and everything else as a trivial collection of things, which come and go, neither subtracting anything from the happy life nor adding anything to it, and do not increase or diminish the highest good? It is inevitable that a man with such a grounding, whether he wills it or not, will be accompanied by continuous cheerfulness and a profound happiness that comes from deep inside him, since he is one who takes pleasure in his own resources and wishes for no joys greater than those of his own heart.”
– Seneca, On the Happy Life 4. (translated J. Davie)

“‘I wonder if I might draw your attention to an observation of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius? [Jeeves] said. “Does anything befall you? It is good. It is part of the destiny of the universe ordained for you from the beginning. All that befalls you is part of the great web.’”
I breathed a bit stertorously. ‘He said that, did he?’
‘Yes, sir.’
‘Well, you can tell him from me he’s an ass.’”
– P.G. Wodehouse The Mating Season

 

Introduction

Are Stoics happy? When reading Seneca, you may become convinced that a profound happiness must accompany anyone who has developed the independent, elevated and fearless mind of a Stoic. The novelist P.G Wodehouse provides a different perspective. Who is right? Armchair philosophising cannot provide the answer. It is an empirical matter and in the twenty-first century we have access to methods of investigation that were not available to the Roman Stoics. For several years the Stoicism Today project has been working on this question – this article provides an update on some of the latest findings.

The focus in this article is what we can learn from the results of the questionnaires given to participants at the start of the Stoic Week that took place between Oct 17th and 23rd, 2016. Stoic Week has become an annual event in which anyone with access to the internet is invited to “live like a Stoic” for a week. To do this participants download and read a free booklet and audio materials carry out Stoic exercises daily and, if they are kind, help us with our research by filling in questionnaires at the start and end of the week.

This year participants completed the SABS scale (the Stoic Attitudes and Behaviours scale v3.0), a measure designed by the Stoicism Today team to measure someone’s level of Stoicism and three validated well-being scales which measure Satisfaction with Life, Flourishing and Positive and Negative emotions respectively. In this way it is possible, by using the statistical method of correlation, to ascertain whether Stoic attitudes and behaviours go with happiness, as Seneca would have us believe – or perhaps not, as P.G. Wodehouse implies.

 

Your questions answered

This year the main findings are being presented as answers to questions people have asked in past years. Detailed facts and figures can be found in the appendices at the end.

Q: Are Stoics happy?
A: Our analysis suggests that in general the more Stoic one is the happier one is too.

Taking an average of the 3 well-being scales, there is a correlation coefficient of .4 between Stoicism and well-being. Given the size of the sample (nearly two thousand), the chances of this association being accidental is less than one in a million.

Of course, correlation does not necessarily imply causation. It could be that the association exists because the happier one is, the more Stoic one is, or possibly something else (such as income) could be driving both higher levels of happiness and Stoicism. However, once this strong correlation between well-being and Stoicism at the start of Stoic Week and a significant increase in well-being during Stoic Week (which has been found to be the case in previous years, this years findings will be reported in part 3 of this report) , it would not be unreasonable to infer some causation going in the direction of practising Stoicism and being somewhat happier. This seems to be true however we define happiness, though we should also note that the association is stronger for flourishing (happiness in the round) than for life satisfaction.

Seneca 1 P.G Wodehouse 0?

 

Q: Hold on, Isn’t Stoicism all about being virtuous and not about happiness? Don’t Stoics go so far as to say that happiness is a “preferred indifferent”. So why are you bothering to do this research?
A: It’s true, the convinced Stoic would say that this finding itself is a preferred indifferent. They would doubtless be pleased that Stoicism goes with happiness, but would argue that this isn’t the main reason you should be Stoic.

However this is not the whole story. We have the testament of Seneca (quoted above) as well as Epictetus who often pointed out that Stoicism leads to greater happiness and more tranquillity. They realised that many of their audience were not convinced Stoics. Practical wisdom necessitated pointing to Stoicism’s positive side-effects (happiness and tranquillity) to win over converts. I would argue that   today we are in much the same situation as the Roman Stoics. Most of our audience are not convinced Stoics either. But their interest may be piqued when by learning that Stoicism may make you happier. Certainly they will also be reassured by learning that Stoicism is unlikely to make you miserable or emotionless. If we would like Stoicism to be promoted in companies, government and within the NHS, these findings about the relationship between Stoicism and well-being become all the more important.

Q: I can believe that Stoics are less unhappy, but you’re not claiming that Stoicism actually goes with positive emotions too, are you?
A: Actually our analysis suggests that Stoicism does go with positive emotions as much as with the reduction of negative emotions.

The SPANE scale allows us to measure the relationship of Stoicism with various emotions, positive and negative. Table 1 shows the correlation coefficient[i] between emotions and Stoicism.

Emotion Correlation with Stoic Attitudes and Behaviours
Contented 0.35
Good 0.32
Positive 0.31
Pleasant 0.30
Negative -0.29
Bad -0.28
Happy 0.28
Sad -0.26
Joyful 0.26
Afraid -0.26
Unpleasant -0.24
Angry -0.24

Table 1 : Correlation of SABS 3.0 scores and SPANE items

So perhaps Seneca is exaggerating only a little when he says that Stoicism leads to “continuous cheerfulness and a profound happiness”

Seneca 2 P.G Wodehouse 0?

 

Q: Are those who know a lot about Stoicism (without practising it) happier?
A: No. There is only a weak association between stated knowledge of Stoicism and average well-being (a correlation co-efficient of about .1) , whereas it’s nearly four times higher for people who practise Stoicism. 

Q: Which has more impact on happiness, Stoic behaviours or attitudes?
A: Behaviours are significantly more impactful – a coefficient of .38 as opposed to.29 for attitudes.

Q: You previously published a report on the demographics of Stoic Week 2016. Can you now tell us anything about which groups are most and least Stoic?
A: Yes, absolutely, what would you like to know?

Q: Do you get more or less Stoic as you get older?
A: Interestingly, there seems to be quite a strong relationship between age and Stoicism. The under 18s (admittedly a very small group) were by far the least Stoic. The over 55s were the most Stoic and in general the older people are, the more Stoic they are. The average SABS scores for each age group are as follows:

Age Average SABS score
over 55 168.6
46-55 165.3
36-45 165.3
26-35 162.10
18-25 159.00
Under 18 148.50

Table 2: Relationship between Age and degree of Stoicism

 

Q: Which area of the world is most Stoic?
A: The Americas win . The UK (stiff upper lip notwithstanding) trails the field.

Region Average SABS score
USA 165.9
South America 165.4
Canada 163.7
Europe 162.1
Australia 161.5
Africa 161.2
Asia 160.1
UK 158.7

 Table 3: Relationship between geographic region and degree of Stoicism

 

Q: Are men or women more Stoic?
A: Our data suggests that men are marginally more Stoic, averaging 164.5 on the SABS scale as opposed to 161.5 for women.

Q: In what ways are people most Stoic?
A: The items which score highest are given in table 4 below.

No. SABS Item Average score (0-7)
5 Peace of mind comes from abandoning fears and desires about things outside our control. 5.97
8 The only things truly under our control in life are our judgements and voluntary actions 5.78
2 It doesn’t really matter what other people think about me as long as I do the right thing 5.65
10 Virtue (or human excellence) consists in perfecting our rational nature, through cultivating wisdom 5.59

Table 4:  The ways in which participants are most Stoic

 

Q: If you had to ask one question to find out if someone was Stoic that didn’t mention the word “Stoic” what should it be?
A: Surprisingly, I should ask them whether they believe that “Recognising that only virtue matters enables me to face life’s transience and my approaching death” (item 26). This has a correlation coefficient of .6 with the SABS scale as a whole, higher than any other SABS item.

Q: Surely PG. Wodehouse was right about something? You have to agree that there are some parts of Stoicism which seem pretty implausible these days – like destiny and “the great web”. Does your research shed any light on this?
A: It is indeed possible to dig deeper and find the associations between specific elements of Stoicism and well-being. Table 5 below shows the items most associated with well-being.

No SABS Item

(non-Stoic items in italics, these are reverse scored)

 

 

Theme

Correlation with average well-being
22 I spend quite a lot of time dwelling on what’s gone wrong the past or worrying about the future Non-Stoic Rumination and worry (reverse scored) 0.47
27 I do the right thing even when I feel afraid Stoic Courage 0.31
24 When an upsetting thought enters my mind the first thing I do is remind myself it’s just an impression in my mind and not the thing it claims to represent Cognitive Distancing 0.29
31 When making a significant decision I ask myself “What really matters here?” and then look for the option that a good and wise person would choose Stoic Practical Wisdom 0.26
19 I try to contemplate what the ideal wise and good person would do when faced with various misfortunes in life Ideal Stoic Advisor 0.24
13 I consider myself to be a part of the human race, in the same way that a limb is a part of the human body. It is my duty to contribute to its welfare Stoic Humanity Connected 0.24
25 Viewing other people as fellow-members of the brotherhood of humankind helps me to avoid feeling anger and resentment Stoic Brotherhood on Humankind 0.24
11 I think about my life as an ongoing project in ethical development Stoic Ethical Development 0.23
28 I care about the suffering of others and take active steps to reduce this ( Stoic Compassion 0.23
23 I make an effort to pay continual attention to the nature of my judgments and actions Stoic Mindfulness 0.22
17 If I was honest I’d have to admit that I  often do what is enjoyable and comfortable rather than doing what I believe to be the right thing Non-Stoic Short- term hedonism (reverse scored) 0.22
26 Recognising that only virtue matters enables me to face life’s transience and my approaching death Stoic coping with death 0.21
32 I sometimes have thoughts or urges it would be unwise to act on, but I usually realise this and do not act on them Stoic Self Control 0.20
6 If bad things happen to you, you are bound to feel upset Non-Stoic Upset is Inevitable (reverse scored) 0.20
21 I treat everybody fairly even those I don’t like or don’t know very well Stoic Fairness 0.20

Table 5:   SABS 3.0 Items most associated with well-being
As in previous years, the SABS with by far the strongest association with well-being (however it is measured) item 22 , asking about ruminating and worrying. Stoic virtues also do very well, with courage, practical wisdom , compassion, self-control and fairness all scoring highly. Cognitive distancing (item 24) scores well, as does using the Stoic Ideal Advisor and items to do with seeing humanity as connected and Stoic Cosmopolitanism.

No SABS Item

(non-Stoic items in italics, these are reverse scored)

Theme Correlation with average well-being
16 I often contemplate the smallness and transience of human life in relation to the totality of space and time View from Above 0.09
10 Virtue (or human excellence) consists in perfecting our rational nature, through cultivating wisdom Virtue is Wisdom 0.10
8 The only things truly under our control in life are our judgements and voluntary actions What we can control 0.11
5 Peace of mind comes from abandoning fears and desires about things outside our control Focussing on what we can control 0.13
14 The cosmos is a  single, wise, living  thing Wise Cosmos 0.13

Table 6: SABS 3.0 Items least associated with well-being

 

The above 5 items all have a positive association with well-being, but it is fairly weak relationship. Contemplating the smallness and transience of human life in relation to the totality of space and time (item 16) as in the View from Above is not especially associated with well-being, despite the popularity of the View from Above meditation. Item 14, “The Cosmos is a single, wise living thing” most closely resembles the Stoic idea satirised by PG. Wodehouse. To be fair to Wodehouse it is one of the least strong predictors of well-being, although it is still a positive association. Perhaps on this one point, we should concede a tie.

The final score – Seneca 3 PG. Wodehouse 1

[i] A correlation coefficient of 1 would indicate a perfect relationship, 0 no relationship at all – a negative number indicates an inverse relationship

For a PDF file of the full report, including appendices, click here.

Tim LeBon can be contacted via email on tim@timlebon.com. His website is http://www.timlebon.com

What can we learn from Stoic Week 2015? by Tim LeBon

What can we learn from Stoic Week 2015?

by Tim LeBon

This, the  final part of the report, summarises key findings from Stoic Week 2015 as well as reporting on participant feedback of their experience.

Key findings

Participating in Stoic Week led to a significant increase in flourishing, life satisfaction and a balance of positive over negative emotions for most people.

Participants who at the start of Stoic week had more Stoic attitudes and behaviours also had higher levels of flourishing, satisfaction with life, and a balance of positive over negative emotions.

Whilst more tightly controlled research is required, the above two findings strongly suggest that Stoicism is positively associated with happiness, well-being and flourishing.

The following six Stoic attitudes and behaviours have a strong association with well-being and also increased significantly during Stoic Week and so may have been the most “active ingredients” in helping improve well-being for participants:

o    22. I spend quite a lot of time dwelling on what’s gone wrong the past or worrying about the future  [reverse-scored i.e. the opposite of this is Stoic]

o    24. When an upsetting thought enters my mind the first thing I do is remind myself it’s just an impression in my mind and not the thing it claims to represent

o    18. I am good at controlling my urges and impulses when that’s better for me in the long run

o    25. Viewing other people as fellow-members of the brotherhood of humankind helps me to avoid feeling anger and resentment

o    15. I  try to anticipate future misfortunes and  rehearse rising above them

o    19. I try to contemplate what the ideal wise and good person would do when faced with various misfortunes in life

Significantly more people took part in Stoic Week 2015 compared with Stoic Week 2014.  There were similar completion rates and improvements in well-being as in previous years.

Basing the materials on Marcus’s Aurelius’s Meditations rather than Epictetus’s Enchiridion appeared to have neither a positive nor a detrimental effect on the benefits of participating in Stoic Week.

Most of the participants had not participated in Stoic Week before and just under a half rated themselves as a “Novice” Stoics or knowing no Stoicism at all at the start of Stoic Week.

All of the Audio recordings of Stoic Meditations received a rating of 4 or more (out of 5) from the 724 respondents to this question. The Early Morning Meditation was the most listened to, the View from Above the highest rated.

All the activities recommended in the Stoic Week Handbook had a high approval rating (3.8 or more out of 5).  The activities which had the highest rating and were also the most popular  were Tuesday – What is in our control and Wednesday – Stoic Mindfulness.

Stoic Week achieved an 80% usefulness rating overall (4/5).  “Knowledge of Stoicism” was the area where it was rated as most useful, for participants, followed closely by “becoming wiser” and “becoming a better person.”

On average participants spent 36 minutes per day on Stoic activities during Stoic Week.  Most people used the pdf version of the booklet.  A significant number of people said they would find a Stoic App (Android or IOS) useful.

The positive results from Stoic Week 2015 suggest further value in conducting future Stoic weeks as outreach, as well as for conducting more sophisticated research as recommended in the report from Stoic Week 2014, in order to further establish the evidence base for Stoicism.

For the full report click here.

For the three previous reports on Stoic Week 2015 see

Tim LeBon can be contacted via email on tim@timlebon.com. His website is http://www.timlebon.com

'Does Stoicism make you Happier?' by Tim LeBon

Does Stoicism make you Happier?

by Tim LeBon

We might well envy the Romans for being able to attend Epictetus’ lectures and having a ruler as wise as Marcus Aurelius. But we have at least one advantage over them – the internet.  Modern technology enables the Stoicism Today project to connect thousands of people and carry out large-scale research on Stoicism and its effectiveness.  In November 2015 over two and a half thousand participants filled in questionnaires at the start of Stoic Week asking them 31 questions relating to their level of Stoicism and 25 questions about their well-being. By using statistical analysis (another innovation not available to the ancients) we can infer whether being Stoic is associated with well-being – or not. Furthermore we can start to tell which Stoic attitudes and behaviours appear to be the most “active ingredients”

You can read the full report here. Here are some headlines:

  • The vast majority of Stoic attitudes and behaviours are strongly associated with well-being.  This is true however you measure well-being – whether as satisfaction with life, flourishing, or the balance of positive over negative emotions
  • The Stoic attitudes and behaviours most strongly associated with well-being include the cardinal virtues (self-control, practical wisdom, courage and justice), Stoic mindfulness and cognitive distancing.  You can see how each of the 31 items fared here.
  • Some (but not all) plausible anti-Stoic attitudes turn out to be negatively associated with well-being.
  • We asked some experts on Stoicism for their predictions as to which items would be the most “active ingredients”. Although their predictions were generally good, the connection between well-being and the cardinal virtues was significantly under-estimated.

These findings need to be qualified in a number of ways. Participants were self-selecting, correlation does not imply causation, and the questionnaire we have developed to measure levels of Stoicism (the SABS scale) requires further psychometric validation. Further research is clearly needed,  yet taken with the other findings from Stoic Week – including the fact that doing Stoic Week increases well-being for most participants– the indications all point towards Stoicism making you happier.

The fourth and final report from Stoic Week will appear on this site in a few weeks time.

Tim LeBon is a BABCP accredited CBT psychoptherapist and UKCP registered existential therapist, an APPA and SPP registered philosophical counsellor and is also trained as a life coach and integrative counsellor. He is a past Chair of the Society for Philosophy in Practice (SPP) and the founding editor of Practical Philosophy. He is  the author of Wise Therapy (Sage, 2001) and Achieve your Potential with Positive Psychology (Hodder Teach Yourself Books, 2014). You can read more about Tim’s work on his blog, Socrates Satisfied, and his website.

Stoic Week 2015 – The Results (Part 2)

Stoic Week 2015 Report Part 2: Impact on well-being

by Tim LeBon

This report forms the second part of the report on Stoic Week 2015, which took place in first week of  November. The previously published part 1 reported on the  demographics, part 3  will provide an analysis of the association between well-being and Stoic Attitudes and Behaviours (SABS scale analysis) and  part 4 will provide an analysis  of qualitative feedback.

Over two and a half thousand participants took three established well-being questionnaires as well as the Stoic Attitudes and Behaviours scale. Well-being was measured before and after Stoic Week, allowing us to assess the impact of doing Stoic Week on self-reports on well-being.

Click here to download the PDF of the full report 

 

Post Stoic Week 2015 Questionnaires

Post Stoic Week 2015 Questionnaires

For all those who participate in Stoic Week 2015, here is a link to the post Stoic Week Questionnaires, as constructed by Tim LeBon:

Stoic Week 2015: Post-Week Questionnaires

You will have reached the end of the questionnaire when you see a screen totalling your scores. Also, please use the same email address or pseudonym that you used when you took the pre Stoic Week Questionnaires.

Please take the time to fill this out, even if you haven’t been able to devote lots of time to Stoic Week. The results are extremely helpful for us, and we would really appreciate every filled out form.

The Stoicism Today Team

Stoic Week 2015 Demographics Report

Stoic  Week 2015 Demographics Report 

by Tim LeBon

Thank you all for completing the preliminary questionnaires. We had a massive 2503 valid completed questionnaires – an increase of about 66% over 2014.

In  a sentence: the  typical Stoic week follower is an American male aged between 26 and 35 who has never participated in Stoic week before and knows a bit about Stoicism (not a complete novice).

In more depth:

  • The ratio of males to females is 65% to 35%
  • There is an upside down U distribution of ages, with it peaking at 26-35 closed followed by 36-45
  • Over 41% of respondents are from USA, but in terms of per capita Canada is top (well done Donald!) and then the UK. There is scope for much more uptake in Asia, Africa and South America.
  • The majority of respondents have never participated in Stoic week before, about 22% have participated before
  • There is an upside-down U distribution of self-rated knowledge of Stoicism, with “know a bit about Stoicism” being most frequent.

Here are 5 tables summarising all the facts and figures.

Table 1: Stoic Week 2015 by gender

Gender

Total

%

Male 1616 64.6
Female 868 34.7
didn’t say 19 0.8

Table 2: Stoic Week 2015 by age

Age Total %
over 55 416 16.6
46-55 446 17.8
36-45 565 22.6
26-35 618 24.7
18-25 406 16.2
Under 18 45 1.8
didn’t say 7 0.3

 Table 3: Stoic Week 2015 by geographic location

Location Total %
USA 1048 41.9
Australasia 126 5.0
Canada 398 15.9
Europe (outside UK)) 362 14.5
UK 412 16.5
Africa 18 0.7
Asia 56 2.2
South & Central America 34 1.4
Other 49 2.0

 Table 4: Stoic Week 2015 : Previous participation

Number of times participated in Stoic Weeks previously Total %
0 1941 77.5
1 402 16.1
2 111 4.4
3 43 1.7
Other 6 0.2

Table 5: Stoic Week 2015 : Self-rating of knowledge of Stoicism

Knowledge  of Stoicism Total %
None 328 13.1
Novice 788 31.5
I know  a bit 961 38.4
I know quite a bit but not an  expert 403 16.1
expert 23 0.9

An analysis of the relationship between Stoicism and well-being that can be gleaned from the preliminary questionnaires will be published next week.

I can be contacted on tim@timebon.com (http://www.timlebon.com)

Stoic Week Participants: Please Fill in the Questionnaires As Soon As You Can

Stoic Week 2015 Questionnaires 

If you intend to take part in Stoic week, please can you spend a few minutes (less than 15) helping us by filling in the questionnaires. 

This is important to us because it helps us research the effect being Stoic has on people. This year the SABS scale, which gives an indication of how Stoic you are, has been enhanced. We intend to give everyone who fills in the questionnaires both before and after Stoic week individualised feedback about their final scores in the SABS scale.

To complete the questionnaires visit:
http://tinyurl.com/StoicWeek2015Q
or
http://timlebon.checkboxonline.com/StoicWeek2015.aspx

Your help is  much appreciated

With kind regards
The Stoicism Today Project Team