The ninth annual Stoic Week took place in October 2021. This year’s theme was: Stoicism and Wellbeing. Stoic Week 2021 was written and facilitated by Tim LeBon and Eve Riches, with support from the Modern Stoicism team and a group of volunteers. This report summarises the findings from Stoic Week 2021 in terms of its contribution to Stoic research. To read or download the full report in PDF form, including the appendices, click this link.
Previous Stoic Weeks have demonstrated that a week of Stoicism appears to have significant benefits. This year, we were particularly interested in building on this research to answer the following three questions.
- Does Stoicism improve wellbeing as it is measured by the World Health Organization?
- Can we improve wellbeing more by tailoring Stoic materials to focus on wellbeing?
- In 2020, we already introduced some enhancements intended to increase the number of people who completed the course. Could we further improve retention rates?
This report provides answers to these three questions. Details of the course contents, measures used and further statistical findings are provided in the appendices.
1) Does Stoicism improve wellbeing as measured by the World Health Organization?
The 5-item World Health Organization Well-Being Index (WHO-5) is one of the most widely used questionnaires for assessing subjective psychological well-being. It has the advantage of being very short, consisting of just 5 questions. It is also valid screening tool for depression and has been widely used as an outcome measure in many clinical trials. We were interested in finding out if there was a strong positive association between wellbeing as measured by the WHO-5 and the SABS 5.0 (Stoic Attitudes and Behaviour Scale) which measures an individual’s degree of Stoicism
|#||Question||Average item score||SABS correlation|
|1||I have felt cheerful in good spirits||2.7||0.5|
|2||I have felt calm and relaxed||2.6||0.54|
|3||I have felt active and vigorous||2.5||0.42|
|4||I woke up feeling fresh and rested||2.2||0.4|
|5||My daily life has been filled with things that interest me||2.9||0.47|
Table 1 –Correlations between WHO-5 items and SABS at the start of Stoic Week 2021
As can be seen from table 1, the SABS as a whole had a .57 correlation with WHO-5 as a whole -which, given that the sample was large (1369 participants filled in the questionnaires at the start of Stoic Week) means that the chances of this correlation being by chance is infinitesimal. There was also a high and significant correlation[i] for each WHO-5 item with the SABS-5. These findings provide further evidence that Stoicism is associated with wellbeing, however wellbeing is measured.
We were also interested in learning whether wellbeing as measured by the WHO-5 increased after participants “lived like Stoics for a week” as instructed in Stoic Week.
|1||I have felt cheerful in good spirits||2.8||3.4||12.5%|
|2||I have felt calm and relaxed||2.7||3.4||25.5%|
|3||I woke up feeling fresh and rested||2.6||3.1||18.5%|
|4||I have felt active and vigorous||2.3||3.3||40.3%|
|5||My daily life has been filled with things that interest me||3.1||3.7||20.2%|
Table 2 – Changes in WHO-5 items during Stoic Week
As shown in table 2 above, there were significant improvements in the wellbeing of participants over the course of Stoic Week. Of particular note is the 40% increase in item 4 “I have felt active and vigorous” This finding supports previous research which has shown a strong relationship between Stoicism and zest.
2) Is wellbeing increased more by tailoring Stoic materials to focus on wellbeing?
In 2021 the theme of Stoic Week was wellbeing, and to some extent the materials were tailored to increase wellbeing, as opposed, for example to focusing on resilience, virtue, or community (though these are other topics were covered). It was not anticipated that any increase in wellbeing compared to previous years would be large, since there is a significant overlap between each of these concepts and wellbeing – for example if Stoic Week one year were to focus purely on virtue, we would certainly expect wellbeing to increase as well as virtue.
|Stoic Week 2021||Stoic Week 2020
|Stoic Week 2019
|Stoic Week 2018||Stoic Week
|Stoic Week 2014|
|Increase in Flourishing||11.5%||11%||7.5%||8%||10%||10%||10%||10%|
|Increase in Satisfaction with Life||14.5%||13%||11.5%||12%||14%||15%||15%||16%|
|Increase in Positive Emotions||13%||11%||9.5%||9.5%||11%||10%||10%||11%|
|Reduction in Negative Emotions||21%||19%||17%||14%||14%||14%||14%||16%|
|Increase In Stoic Attitudes and Behaviours||11%||9%||8%||10%||9%||11%||13%||12%|
Table 3 – Overall Findings Stoic Week 2021 – Impact of taking part in Stoic Week
Table 3 above shows the comparative increases in wellbeing and other measures for the last 8 Stoic Weeks. Subjective wellbeing is defined by psychologists in a very specific way – wellbeing equals life satisfaction plus positive emotions minus negative emotions. As can be seen from rows 3, 4 and 5 in table 3, participants experienced a significant increase in each of these measures compared to the start of Stoic Week, and a marked increase compared to that experienced in Stoic Week 2020.
Although the conditions created by COVID-19 may be partially responsible for the increased impact of Stoicism and wellbeing, this would also have applied to Stoic Week 2020, which also took place during the Covid-19 pandemic. We would therefore tentatively conclude that the focus on wellbeing may have had led to Stoic Week having a greater impact on wellbeing. [ii]
3) Could we further increase the percentage of participants who completed Stoic Week
Stoic Week has always had a relatively high completion rate compared to other free, internet-based programmes -the average retention rate for Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCS) being 15%[iii] and Stoic Week completion rates range from the lowest, 15% in 2016 to 30% in 2020%
In the previous Stoic Week, 2020, we aimed to increase the retention rate by sending a daily email prompt and including short videos to each day from a variety of Stoic experts. These two enhancements may be partly responsible for the improved completion rates in 2020 (from 24% to 30%) lthough it is possible that Stoic Week 2020 taking place during lockdown may also have been partially responsible.
We aimed to increase the retention rate further in 2021 by retaining the two enhancements from 2020 and in addition
- simplified the language used in the handbook
- offered for the first time the handbook as an editable pdf,
- provided an audio version of the handbook
- included a “lunchtime card” which summarised a Stoic quotation or idea to replace the longer lunchtime exercise which some participants had indicated was hard to fit in to their work schedule.
- Expanded the range of videos provided
- Stoics from Germany and Spain provided translations of Stoic Week in their languages (thank you Christian Barth and Kellys Rodríguez!)
See Appendix A for further details of course content
|Stoic Week 2021||Stoic Week 2020
|Stoic Week 2019
|Stoic Week 2018||Stoic Week
|Stoic Week 2014|
|No of participants at start
|Valid questionnaires completed at end||459||527||416||852||689||270||726||566|
Table 4 – Comparison of completion rates in Stoic Weeks over time
As can be seen from table 4 above, the completion rate increased from 30% to 33%. It is impossible to be certain which of the factors mentioned contributed most to this, or the extent to which COVID-19 again played a part. However, it was very positive to note that deliberate effort did seem to have an impact in improving completion rates for the course.
4) Other findings of note
If you wanted to ask one question to find out how Stoic someone was what question do you think you would ask?
One way to determine this – and a shortcut to administering the whole 60 item SABS – is to calculate the correlation between individual SABS questions and the SABS as a whole and pick the question with the highest correlations
The answer is not – “how much Stoicism do you know?” The correlation between that item and Stoicism as measured by the SABS is just .3
Neither is it “how much do you consider yourself a Stoic?” Though that has a higher correlation, of .5
A number of SABS score more highly, namely Questions 5,7,8, 14, 22,23, 29, 31, 33, 36, 40, 41, 48 which all have a correlation of around .6 with the SABS as a whole – see appendix D for a list of SABS 5.0 items to see the content of the questions.
But the winner, with a .7 correlation with Stoicism as measured by SABS as a whole, is #38: “When a negative thought enters my mind, I remind myself that it is just an interpretation of the situation.”
- Participants degree of Stoicism (as measured by SABS) at the end of Stoic Week compared to the beginning increased by 11% (10% in 2020)
- Participants’ stated their knowledge of Stoicism as having increased by 16% ( 25 % in 2020 – though in both years they rated themselves as 2.3 average at the end of Stoic week, indicating that there were less novices in starting in 2021)
- Participants’ identifying themselves as a Stoic after Stoic Week increased by 19% (18% in 2020)
The qualitative feedback given at the end of Stoic Week was also very positive.
Sample comments from Participants at end of Stoic Week 2021
- Absolutely amazing summary of all the most important aspects of Stoicism in simple and digestible manner
- Great organization of content
- Supportive community and experts
- Framework that can be repeated every week after the course to anchor better with practices
The average rating was 8.6 in 2021 compared to 8.3 in 2020.
In conclusion, the innovations of Stoic Week 2021 succeeded in increasing engagement and wellbeing. It is recommended that they are retained for Stoic Week 2022. Wellbeing was shown to increase using the WHO-5 indicator. The finding regarding the item related to zest is of great interest. Further research with regards to the relationship between Stoicism and zest is recommended.
Since Stoic Week is aimed largely at those new to Stoic, it may be a good idea to retain largely the same materials in 2022 , firstly so some effort can be spent in minor cosmetic improvements and also to allow participants access to materials earlier. In addition, assuming that the world is no longer in lockdown in 2022, it will be possible to see how much of the improvements noticed are maintained in more normal circumstances.
[i] The correlation measure used is Pearson Product-Moment Correlation Coefficient
[ii] This finding is only tentative since the small difference in percentages between 2020 and 2021 could be explained by other factors, such as other changes made for Stoic Week 2021 or random fluctuations. It should also be noted that earlier Stoic Weeks (such as 2015) saw still higher increase in life satisfaction, though not necessarily in overall wellbeing.