Stoic Week 2017 Report (part 2) by Tim Lebon

A strong positive relationship between Stoicism and well-being has been documented in previous Stoic Week reports.   This year the emphasis has shifted to quantifying the relationship between Stoicism and positive character traits. To this end we asked the thousands of people who took part in Stoic Week to complete the CIVIC character scale in addition to the four scales previously used.

2860 people filled in questionnaires measuring degree of Stoicism (SABS 3.0), Life Satisfaction, Positive and Negative Emotions and Flourishing. In addition, 820 people filled in the CIVIC questionnaire which gave us a large enough sample to draw meaningful conclusions.

This article excerpts from the findings derived from analysing questionnaires from the start of Stoic week. Upcoming reports will discuss the effect of taking part in Stoic Week (part 3), summarise participant feedback and suggest future directions of research.

If you’d like to read the full 27-page version of the Stoic Week 2017 report (part 2), you can click here to download the report.

Stoicism and Positive Character Traits

If you are a Stoic, you would certainly hope that there is a strong relationship between being a Stoic and having positive character traits. For the Stoics, eudaimonia is based on possessing core positive character traits called “virtues”, particularly the four cardinal virtues of wisdom, courage, justice and self-control (or moderation).

If you are a Stoic you might well also expect there to be a strong relationship between being Stoic and having the virtues. However, to my knowledge this is the first time anyone has tried to show that this is actually the case.

We chose to use the CIVIC scale (discussed in the full report) for our research this year and are grateful to its co-author, Vincent Ng for his co-operation and assistance. The CIVIC Scale identifies 29 positive character traits (similar to Peterson and Seligman’’s “strengths”) and 8 character cores (similar to virtues).

Before you go any further, please take a moment to consider these 3 questions.

  1. How many of these 29 character traits do you think are positively associated with Stoicism?
  2. Which of these 29 traits do you think is most positively associated with Stoicism?
  3. Which of the 29 traits do you think is most negatively associated with Stoicism?

I asked a number of experts on Stoicism these 3 questions. The consensus was as follows:-

  1. Most if not all of these character traits will be positively associated with Stoicism.
  2. Emotional Awareness is likely to be most positively associated with Stoicism. Fairness, Self-Control, Perspective-Taking, Gratitude, Bravery, Meaning/purpose and Persistence should also feature well.
  3. Probably none are negatively related to Stoicism, though perhaps spirituality and humour might not be so closely linked as others.

In examining the data from Stoic Week, we found that

  1. All of 29 positive character traits in CIVIC are positively associated with Stoicism
  2. Zest is the character trait most positively associated with Stoicism
  3. Trick question, they are all positively associated! Humour is the least positively associated, but note that even the lowest ranking trait is still positively associated. This means that the caricature of the Stoic as dour and humourless is not supported. The more Stoic you are, the more humorous you are likely to be.

Stoic “Zest”?

So the Stoic experts got it right, mostly. . . . Stoics are likely to possess more than the average person of all of these positive traits, and emotional awareness is amongst those most highly correlated with being Stoic.  However none of the experts suggested “zest” would be strongly associated with Stoicism. This finding merits closer examination.

What exactly is meant by  “zest”? The dictionary defines zest as “great enthusiasm and energy”. The CIVIC scale identifies zestful individuals using these 12 questions or prompts:

  • I typically look forward to each new day.
  • I feel excited to start each day.
  • I am brimming with excitement about life.
  • I always look forward to what the day brings.
  • I have great enthusiasm for life.
  • I eagerly anticipate each day’s activities.
  • I try to live each day to the fullest.
  • I typically feel ready to take on what life has in store for me.
  • I hardly ever feel half-hearted about my activities.
  • I typically don’t dread starting my daily activities.
  • I generally approach my daily activities with energy.
  • I have enthusiasm for my daily activities.

These seem to capture very well both enthusiasm and energy, perhaps with a touch of joy and resilience thrown into the mix. Significantly, zest has been identified as one of the more important character traits, being positively associated with life satisfaction, positive emotion, engagement and flow and meaning (LeBon (2014), p. 71).

We have, of course, identified a correlation, rather than a causal connection, so we cannot say whether being Stoic causes great enthusiasm and energy, or vice-versa, or perhaps something else causes both Stoicism and zest. The next report, on the impact of Stoic week, may shed some light on whether Stoicism plays a causal role in increasing zest. If so, this would be a significant and novel finding.

Stoicism and the Virtues

CIVIC also measures 8 broader character qualities, which they call “character cores”, which have a number of constituent character traits.

Some of these CIVIC character cores clearly bear some resemblance to the Stoic cardinal virtues, though this resemblance should not be overstated. All of these character cores were found to be quite strongly and positively with Stoicism

Rank CIVIC Character Core Association with Stoicism
1 EMPATHY 0.51
2 FORTITUDE 0.48
3 TEMPERANCE 0.46
4 SINCERITY 0.43
5 APPRECIATION 0.39
6 INTERPERSONAL CONSIDERATION 0.37
7 TRANSCENDENCE 0.35
8 INTELLECTUAL ENGAGEMENT 0.34

Stoicism, then appears strongly positively associated with each positive character traits as well as every broader character cores (virtue). There remains the question of whether Stoicism is strongly linked with virtues in general.

A correlation coefficient of .6 was found to exist between SABS scores (measuring the degree of Stoicism) and an overall measure of character or virtue (as measured by adding up a participant’s CIVIC item scores). This compares favourably with the  correlation coefficients for life satisfaction, emotions and flourishing, which in past years have been found to be .37, .42 and .46 respectively.

Stoicism and Well-Being

The relationship between Stoicism and well-being has been well documented in previous reports. This section summarises the findings and answers questions that interested readers are likely to ask.

Q: In the past you’ve found significant correlations between Stoicism (as measured by SABS) and the various well-being measures. Has this been replicated?

A: Yes, indeed it has.

  Flourishing Emotions (SPANE) Life Satisfaction (SWL) Average well-being
STOIC ATTITUDES AND BEHAVIOURS 0.47 (.46) 0.43 (.42) 0.36 (.37) 0.48 (.42)

Table 6 Overall association of Stoic Attitudes and Behaviours with various scales

Table 6 above gives the overall correlations between total SABS scores and the various well-being scales (2016 results are in brackets). This result has now been replicated with large samples over 4 years.

Q: OK, so that looks like a solid finding, at least for the sort of people who take part in Stoic Week.  Stoics are still happy. I remember that in previous years you also listed how Stoicism was associated with particular emotions, as measured in the SPANE scale. What were these results this year?

A: As in 2016, there is a significant positive association between Stoicism and each positive emotion and a negative correlation between every negative emotion and Stoicism. There is some variation between this year and last in terms of the relative size of the correlation for each emotion, so we should not be too confident in saying which emotions are most associated with Stoicism, though it seems pretty clear that the association is large for contentment and relatively small for fear.

Q:  All this talk of correlation coefficients is a bit confusing for me. Can you just tell me how much difference it makes to my happiness whether I am Stoic or not?

A: Remember that these findings do not necessarily imply causation, so we can’t say that being more Stoic makes you more happy. However we can look at the group of people who are in the top and bottom 10% in terms of Stoicism and compare their well-being scores on the various scales.  

Q: Last year you found quite a strong relationship between age and Stoicism – the under 18s were by far the least Stoic and Stoicism increased gradually with age, with the over-55s being the most Stoic. Has this been replicated?

A:  This relationship has been repeated in 2017, although the under 18s are not quite as un-Stoic as they were last year, as illustrated in Table 9 below.

This year we also looked at the average well-being of each age group. A similar pattern emerges, with the over-55s being the happiest and the under 18s being the least happy.

Q:  Last year the USA proved to be the most Stoic and the UK least. Is this still true in 2017?

A: Once again the Americas proved to be the most Stoic, though (admittedly from a small sample) South America took over No. 1 spot from USA.  The UK and Europe is a few points behind. To put this into context, the difference between regions is not that great, as shown in table 10.

Region Average SABS score 2016 Comparison % Average well-being
South America 170 165 2 23
USA 166 166 44 22
Canada 165 164 10 23
Australia 166 161 5 23
Europe 162 162 19 22
Africa 162 161 1 21
UK 161 159 15 22
Asia 159 160 3 20

 Table 10: Relationship between geographic region and degree of Stoicism

Q: Have gender differences changed at all?

A: Data from 2016 suggested that men were marginally more Stoic, averaging 164.5 on the SABS scale as opposed to 161.5 for women. In 2016 this gap of 3 points had reduced to 2 – the figures in 2017 were 165 and 163 respectively

Q: Finally, in the past you’ve told provided a big table suggestive of the “active ingredients” of Stoicism. Did you do that again?

A: Yes, the full details are in Appendix E.  These are the most active Stoic ingredients in terms of correlation with average well-being.

Conclusions

These findings replicate previous research about the relationship between Stoicism, life satisfaction, flourishing and the emotions. For the first time we can also say that there is evidence to support the view that Stoicism is associated with virtues and positive character traits, as measured on a validated contemporary scale, the CIVIC.  A surprising, but very positive, result is that zest turns out to be the character trait most associated with being Stoic.

Tim LeBon is the author of Wise Therapy and Activate Your Potential With Positive Psychology.  He can be contacted via email at tim@timlebon.com.  His website is  http://www.timlebon.com

Author: Gregory Sadler

Editor of Stoicism Today

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