Stoic Week 2016 Report part 3 (of 4) – Impact on Well-Being by Tim LeBon

This report forms the third part of the report on Stoic Week 2016, which took place in first week of November.

Nearly two thousand participants took three established well-being questionnaires as well as the Stoic Attitudes and Behaviours scale. [i] Well-being and the degree of Stoicism were measured before and after Stoic Week, allowing us to assess the impact of doing Stoic Week on self-reports on well-being and on levels of Stoicism.

Overall Findings 

In terms of improvements in well-being over Stoic Week, the results were remarkably similar to those of Stoic Week 2015 and 2014, with increases in well-being ranging from 10-15% in the week depending on the scale being used. This replication of previous findings gives us further increased confidence in the reliability of the findings. Table 1 below shows the overall outcome results.

Stoic Week

2016

Stoic Week

2015

Stoic Week 2014
No of participants 1803 2503 1953
Increase in Flourishing 10% 10% 10%
Increase in Satisfaction with Life 15% 15% 16%
Increase in Positive Emotions 10% 10% 11%
Reduction in Negative Emotions 14% 14% 16%
Increase In Stoic Attitudes and Behaviours 11% 13% 12%
Completion Rate 15% 29% 29%

Table 1: Overall Findings

Impact on Flourishing

Participants reported on average a 10% overall increase in Flourishing.[ii] Table 2 below shows the impact of Stoic which on each element of Flourishing. 

Flourishing Scale Item 2016

%

2015

%

2014

%

2013

%

Theme
1. I lead a purposeful and meaningful life. 15 16 14 10 Purpose and meaning
7. I am optimistic about my future. 10 12 11 18 Optimism
2. My social relationships are supportive and rewarding. 13 11 11 10 Relationships
3. I am engaged and interested in my daily activities. 8 10 10 10 Engagement in activities
4. I actively contribute to the happiness and well-being of others. 10 10 8 8 Benevolent
6. I am a good person and live a good life. 8 8 9 8 Ethically Good
8. People respect me. 9 7 7 5 Respected
5. I am competent and capable in the activities that are important to me 6 7 8 5 Competent

 Table 2: Impact on Flourishing

As in previous years, results suggest Stoicism has a particularly large positive impact on purpose and meaning (item 1), with social relationships (item 2) also showing particularly significant improvement.

Impact on Satisfaction with Life

Participants reported an average 15% increase in satisfaction with life overall as measured by the Satisfaction with Life Scale.[iii].

Table 3 below shows which aspects of Satisfaction with Life increased the most. As one might anticipate given Stoicism’s teachings, the theme of acceptance (question 5) showed by far the biggest increase – 24%.

Percentage change by each question 2016 % increase 2015 % increase

 

2014 %
increase
2013 % increase Theme
1. In most ways my life is close to my ideal 10 20 15 18 Life is ideal
5. If I could live my life over, I would change almost nothing 24 20 17 17 Acceptance
4. I am satisfied with my life 13 14 15 17 Satisfaction
2.The conditions of my life are excellent 13 13 15 11 Externals met
3. So far I have got the important things I want in life. 10 13 13 11 Needs met

Table 3: Impact on Satisfaction with Life

Impact on Emotions

There was a substantial increase in positive emotions and decrease in negative emotions as reported by participants who took part in Stoic Week. There was a greater shift in negative emotions than positive emotions (14% as opposed to 10%) as measured by the SPANE.[iv] The positive emotions that showed the biggest changes in 2016 were “contented “(15%) followed by “joyful” (12%). All the negative emotions showed a significant reduction of between 14 and17%. Tables 4 and 5 below shows the impact of Stoic Week on positive and negative emotions.

Positive Emotions 2016 % change 2015 % comparison 2014 % comparison 2013 % comparison
Overall positive 10 10 11  

9

Contented 15 14 14 12
Joyful 12 13 13 12
Happy 7 11 9 9
Good 8 9 10 7
Pleasant 9 9 10 8
Positive 10 8 13 8

Table 4: Impact on Positive Emotions

 

Negative   Emotions 2016 %
change
2015 % comparison 2014 %
comparison
2013 %
comparison
Overall negative -14 -14 -16 -11
Unpleasant -17 -16 -17 -8
Bad -12 -15 -17 -11
Negative -16 -14 -17 -12
Angry -13 -14 -15 -13
Afraid -13 -12 -14 -10
Sad -14 -12 -14 -10

Table 5: Impact on Negative Emotions

 

Impact on Stoic Attitudes and Behaviours (SABS)

Comparisons in SABS scores before and after Stoic Week allow us to assess whether participants changed with respect to being Stoic taking part in Stoic Week. It also enables us to see in which ways they became more Stoic.

Table 6 below gives the changes in average scores for each item between the beginning and end of Stoic Week for 2016. Overall there was an 11% increase in assenting to Stoic attitudes and behaviours. [v]

Item number SABS item wording

Those items in italics have been reversed scored, so a high score still indicates a more Stoic attitude or behaviour.

% Change Average Score at start of Stoic week (completers only) Average score at end of Stoic Week
1 As long as you have the right attitude,  you can lead a good life  even in the worst of conditions, such as being tortured or being held prisoner 8 5.3 5.7
2 It doesn’t really matter what other people think about me as long as I do the right thing 10 5.7 6.3
3 It can sometimes be a good thing to get angry when people are really rude, selfish or inconsiderate 15 4.2 4.8
4 It’s  more important to feel good than to do good. 7 5.4 5.8
5 Peace of mind comes from abandoning fears and desires about things outside our control. 7 6.0 6.5
6 If bad things happen to you, you are bound to feel upset 16 4.0 4.6
7 What is called “morally right” and “morally wrong” is in reality just a matter of personal or cultural 5 4.2 4.4
8 The only things truly under our control in life are our judgements and voluntary actions 9 5.9 6.4
9 You should go wherever your emotions leads you 2 5.7 5.8
10 Virtue (or human excellence) consists in perfecting our rational nature, through cultivating wisdom 9 5.7 6.2
11 I think about my life as an ongoing project in ethical development 13 5.5 6.2
12 To flourish as a human being all you need is rationality and a good character; things like money, status, health and good luck are not essential 15 4.9 5.7
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. 8 5.5 5.9
14 The cosmos is a  single, wise, living  thing 11 3.9 4.3
15 I  try to anticipate future misfortunes and  rehearse rising above them 16 4.9 5.6
16 I often contemplate the smallness and transience of human life in relation to the totality of space and time. 6 5.4 5.7
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 15 3.4 4.0
18 I am good at controlling my urges and impulses when that’s better for me in the long run [this item is excluded from SABS total as items 32 and 33 better measure a specifically Stoic concept of self-control] 14 4.3 4.9
19 I try to contemplate what the ideal wise and good person would do when faced with various misfortunes in life. 17 4.7 5.5
20 It is possible to control how other people behave towards you 13 4.9 5.5
21 I treat everybody fairly even those I don’t like or don’t know very well 10 5.1 5.6
22 I spend quite a lot of time dwelling on what’s gone wrong the past or worrying about the future 24 3.6 4.4
23 I make an effort to pay continual attention to the nature of my judgments and actions. 13 5.2 5.8
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 28 4.2 5.3
25 Viewing other people as fellow-members of the brotherhood of humankind helps me to avoid feeling anger and resentment 17 4.8 5.6
26 Recognising that only virtue matters enables me to face life’s transience and my approaching death 20 4.5 5.4
27 I do the right thing even when I feel afraid. 13 4.7 5.3
28 I care about the suffering of others and take active steps to reduce this 8 5.2 5.6
29 Happiness depends on things going well for me and my family 11 3.8 4.2
30 We have to accept that some things that matter a lot for our happiness are outside our control 17 2.9 3.4
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. 12 5.0 5.6
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 6 5.2 5.5
33 My beliefs about what is best determine my wishes and motives 9 5.1 5.6
34 When making an important decision I try to predict the consequences of my actions and aim to balance the long-term happiness of myself and others -12 2.6 2.3
35 My good name and what other people think about me matters a lot. 20 3.5 4.2
36 I am upset when I hear of the suffering of others 6 2.5 2.6
37 There’s no overall plan to the universe. 12 3.2 3.6

Table 6: Impact of taking part in Stoic Week 2016 on Stoic attitudes and behaviours

 

The SABS items that showed the biggest increases are both strongly related to improved mental health.

  • Cognitive Distancing (item 24). This is important because it allows people to take a step back, not automatically assenting to unhelpful judgements.
  • Reducing rumination (item 22). Dwelling on negative thoughts for a long time is strongly associated with depression.

All SABS items moved in the expected direction with the exception item 34, an item added in SABS v3.0 which measures a utilitarian concept of practical wisdom. Perhaps the reason for this item not changing in the expected direction is that the utilitarian concept of practical wisdom incorporates some ideals to which Stoics would assent  – such as reflection and benevolence.

The 11% change in Stoic Attitudes and Behaviours overall is significant in that it supports the view that it is changes in level of Stoicism that is mediating the change in well-being rather than other variables, such as the placebo effect.

The hypotheses that it is a change in Stoicism that mediates the change in well-being was further tested by examining the differences in well-being changes for those 100 participants who changed most according to the SABS against the 100 who changed least in SABS score. If it is the level of Stoicism that is causing the change in well-being, one would expect significantly more improvements in well-being in the group who have experienced most SABS change. This turned out to be the case. The 100 participants who experienced the most changes in SABS score and hence the biggest changes in being Stoic increased in Satisfaction with Life by 20% and in Flourishing by 13%. The 100 participants who experienced the least changes in SABS scores showed increases of only 10% and 5% in Satisfaction with Life and flourishing respectively.

The SABS analysis also allows us to see which areas of Stoicism participants were most and least Stoic in at the end of Stoic week.

By the end of Stoic Week, the items whereby people were most Stoic were:

  • Item 5: Peace of mind comes from abandoning fears and desires about things outside our control.
  • Item 8: The only things truly under our control in life are our judgements and voluntary actions

The items where participants scored lowest in SABS scores were:-

  • Item 34: When making an important decision I try to predict the consequences of my actions and aim to balance the long-term happiness of myself and others  (utilitarian practical wisdom)
  • Item 36: I am upset when I hear of the suffering of others

Both these items are non-Stoic and for many people not intuitively wrong or unethical i.e. many people would agree with them. Perhaps there is room for the Stoic Week materials to clarify exactly why these items are not in accord with Stoicism.

Completion Rate

The completion rate in 2016 was significantly lower than in previous years, being only 15% compared to 29%. The reason for this is unclear. The same technology was used as in 2016 and the materials were very similar. Whilst there were still a large enough completers for the findings to be statistically significant, it is obviously a cause for concern that this figure reduced so significantly. A further discussion about how to increase the number of people completing Stoic Week will be in part 4 of this report.

Conclusions

For the fourth year running, taking part in Stoic Week led to a significant increase in well-being on all measures. The results were remarkably similar to 2015. The SABS items that showed the biggest increase, cognitive distancing and reducing rumination, are both significantly related to improvements in mental health as well as well-being. Additional analysis this year, comparing changes in well-being of those who changed in Stoicism most with those who changed least, further supports the hypothesis that the change in well-being is largely attributable to participant’s being more Stoic. One cause for concern is the reduced number of participants completing the questionnaire after Stoic Week.

[i] Details of these four questionnaires are given in Appendices A-D.

[ii] See Appendix A for a description of the Flourishing Scale.

[iii] See Appendix B.

[iv] See Appendix C.

[v] See Appendix D for details of the SABS 3.0.

For a downloadable version of this report, complete with appendices, Click Here.

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

Author: Gregory Sadler

Editor of Stoicism Today

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