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.