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.
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 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%|
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
|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
|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|
Table 4: Impact on Positive Emotions
|Negative Emotions||2016 %
|2015 % comparison||2014 %
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.
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.
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 email@example.com. His website is http://www.timlebon.com