Stoic Week 2018 Report Part 3: Impact on Well-being by Tim LeBon

One main activity of the Modern Stoicism organization is carrying out research on the impact of adopting Stoic practices, perspectives, and principles on those who do so.  Every year we run the Stoic Week online class, and we also gather valuable data through the surveys before and after participants engage in the class.  Tim LeBon is our lead quantitative researcher, and he does invaluable service in compiling and interpreting the data collected, producing a set of Stoic Week Reports.  This is the third report for this year, which you can download a copy of (with all of the appendices) by clicking here.

This report forms the third part of the report on Stoic Week 2018. Over  600 participants completed a set of questionnaires  both at the beginning and end of Stoic week, allowing us to assess the impact of doing Stoic Week on self-reports on well-being and on levels of Stoicism. For the first time we were using SABS 4.0, a longer and more comprehensive measure of a participant’s degree of Stoicism.

Overall Findings

In terms of improvements in well-being over Stoic Week, the results were similar to previous years, though slightly reduced on some measures. The completion rate was also broadly comparable with previous years.

  Stoic
Week
2018
Stoic
Week
2017
Stoic
Week
2016
Stoic
Week
2015
Stoic
Week
2014
No of participants at start 3702 2870 1803 2503 1953
Valid questionnaires completed at end 852 689 270 726 566
Increase in Flourishing 8% 10% 10% 10% 10%
Increase in Satisfaction with Life 12% 14% 15% 15% 16%
Increase in Positive Emotions 9.5% 11% 10% 10% 11%
Reduction in Negative Emotions 14% 14% 14% 14% 16%
Increase In Stoic Attitudes and Behaviours 10% 9% 11% 13% 12%
Completion Rate 23% 24% 15% 29% 29%

Table 1: Overall FindingsI

Impact on Flourishing

Participants reported on average a 8% overall increase in Flourishing[i]

Table 2 below shows the impact of Stoicism which on each element of Flourishing.

Flourishing Scale Item 2018 2017 2016 2015 2014 2013 Theme
1. I lead a purposeful and meaningful life. 12 15 15 16 14 10 Purpose and meaning
2. My social relationships are supportive and rewarding. 10 13 13 11 11 10 Relationships
3.  I am engaged and interested in my daily activities. 10 12 8 10 10 10 Engagement in activities
4. I actively contribute to the happiness and well-being of others. 7 10 10 10 8 8 Benevolent
5.  I am competent and capable in the activities that are important to me 6 8 6 7 8 5 Competent
6. I am a good person and live a good life. 7 8 8 8 9 8 Ethically Good
7. I am optimistic about my future. 9 11 10 12 11 18 Optimism
8. People respect me. 5 7 9 7 7 5 Respected

Table 2: Impact on Flourishing

As in previous years, results suggest Stoicism has a particularly large positive impact on purpose and meaning (item 1.)

Impact on Satisfaction with Life

Participants reported an  average 12% increase in satisfaction with life overall as measured by the Satisfaction with Life Scale.[ii].

Table 3  below shows which aspects of Satisfaction with Life increased the most. As in previous years, the theme of acceptance(question 5) showed by the biggest increase – 17%.

Percentage change by each question 2018% increase 2017% increase 2016  % increase 2015 % increase   2014 % increase 2013 % increase Theme
1. In most ways my life is close to my ideal 13 16 10 20 15 18 Life is ideal
2.The conditions of my life are excellent 10 11 13 13 15 11 Externals met
3. So far I have got the important things I want in life. 9 10 10 13 13 11 Needs met
4. I am satisfied with my life 11 14 13 14 15 17 Satisfaction
5. If I could live my life over, I would change almost nothing 17 19 24 20 17 17 Acceptance

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 9,5%) as measured by the SPANE.[iii]  The positive emotions that showed the biggest changes in 2018 were “contented“ ( up 14%). All the negative emotions  showed a significant reduction of between 13 and 15%. Tables 4 and 5 below shows the impact of Stoic Week on positive and negative emotions.

Positive Emotions 2018 % change 2017 % change 2016 % change 2015 % change 2014 % change 2013 % change
Average
positive
9.5 11 10 10 11   9
Contented 14 14 15 14 14 12
Joyful 11 14 12 13 13 12
Happy 10 11 7 11 9 9
Good 7 9 8 9 10 7
 Pleasant 8 9 9 9 10 8
Positive 7 9 10 8 13 8

Table 4: Impact on Positive Emotions

Negative  Emotions 2018 % change 2017 % change 2016 % change 2015 % change 2014 % change 2013 % change
Average negative -14 -14 -14 -14 -16 -11
Unpleasant -13 -15 -17 -16 -17 -8
Bad -15 -16 -12 -15 -17 -11
Negative -15 -15 -16 -14 -17 -12
Angry -14 -12 -13 -14 -15 -13
Afraid -13 -14 -13 -12 -14 -10
Sad -15 -13 -14 -12 -14 -10

Table 5:  Impact on Negative Emotions

Impact on Stoic Attitudes and Behaviours (SABS 4.0)

The Stoics Attitudes and Behaviours Scale (v4.0) is a scale being developed by the Modern Stoicism team to assess a person’s degree of Stoicism. Appendix D contains a full list of items, their meanings and also the range of scores at the end of Stoic Week 2018. Comparisons in SABS scores before and after Stoic Week allow us to assess whether participants changed with respect to being Stoic taking part in StoicWeek. 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 for2018. Overall there was an 10% increase in assenting to Stoic attitudes and behaviours from an average of 378at the start and 416 for  those completedStoic week .The average SABS for everyone who started (including non-completers) was 372 which would give an average increase of 12%.

# Item start end % change
1 I think about what the ideal wise and good person would do when faced with various misfortunes in life 4.8 5.5 15.1
2 It can sometimes be a good thing to become angry at people. 4.1 4.8 14.7
3 I try to anticipate future misfortunes. 5.4 5.5 2.6
4 The best idea is to give up trying to control people and instead focussing on ourselves and our own behaviour. 6.2 6.5 5.1
5  Even if my circumstances in life are favourable, I will not be consistently happy unless I develop the right understanding and character. 5.9 6.2 5.1
6 As long as you have the right attitude, you can lead a good life even in the most difficult circumstances. 5.7 6.0 5.2
7 I rehearse rising above possible future misfortunes. 5.4 5.8 7.2
8 To flourish as a human being all you need is good understanding and  good character. 4.8 5.5 15.9
9 I take active steps to reduce the suffering of others. 5.1 5.5 8.3
10 It doesn’t really matter what other people think about me as long as I do the right thing. 5.3 5.9 12.8
11 I spend quite a lot of time dwelling on what has gone wrong in the past. 3.7 4.5 22.4
12 I often think about how small humanity is compared to how big the universe it. 5.1 5.4 7.2
13 I consider myself a part of the human race, in the same way that a limb is a part of the human body. 5.1 5.7 11.7
14 When making a significant decision I ask myself “What really matters here?” 5.3 6.0 12.2
15 We can sometimes influence how others behave but we can’t completely control other people. 6.4 6.5 2.2
16  I cannot really be harmed by what other people say. 4.4 5.4 22.4
17  I am committed to helping humanity in general. 4.5 5.3 18.0
18  The universe is a living thing. 5.0 5.1 3.9
19  I need quite a lot of money in order to be happy. 5.0 5.3 7.7
20  When I have a problem, I am good at taking constructive action in a timely manner. 4.9 5.4 10.4
21 It is good to think about life as an ongoing journey towards becoming a better person. 6.2 6.5 4.8
22 Having good understanding and good character is all that is required in order to be happy. 4.7 5.5 16.8
23  I am committed to helping my friends. 5.8 6.0 4.6
24  We can’t really control other people. 6.3 6.5 3.9
25 There is a rational and orderly plan in the universe and in the causation of events. 3.6 4.2 17.9
26 When making a significant decision I reflect on what a good role model would do. 4.6 5.4 17.1
27 Nothing except our judgements and voluntary actions are truly under our control in life. 5.9 6.3 6.9
28  I pay attention to my judgments as I am making them. 5.1 5.7 10.7
29  I need to be well thought of by others in order to be happy. 4.2 4.8 13.7
30  I spend quite a lot of time worrying about the future. 3.5 4.2 20.5
31  If bad things happen to you, you are bound to feel distressed. 3.4 4.0 16.8
32  Bad luck could stop me being happy. 4.0 4.7 18.3
33  I  pay attention to my thoughts about what I intend to do  before I act on them. 5.1 5.7 11.0
34 I treat everyone fairly. 5.2 5.8 10.2
35  Whatever happens to you, it’s possible to rise above it and feel calm. 5.3 5.9 11.0
36  If things don’t go well for my friends, I can’t lead a good life. 5.0 5.2 3.2
37  I want to become a better person ethically. 6.3 6.5 2.8
38  When a negative thought enters my mind, the first thing I do is to remind myself that it is just an interpretation of  the situation. 4.3 5.3 22.1
39  We should learn to accept things that are outside our control. 6.2 6.4 3.1
40  It is right to feel intense and overwhelming grief after a significant loss. 2.5 3.0 17.3
41  I view other people as fellow-members of the brother/sisterhood of humankind. 5.4 5.6 5.5
42  Peace of mind comes from accepting that you should not care about things outside your control. 5.4 6.0 10.2
43  Viewing other people as fellow-members of the brother/sisterhood of humankind helps me to avoid feeling angry and resentful. 4.9 5.4 11.4
44  If things don’t go well for me, I can’t  lead a good life 4.7 5.3 11.2
45  Every day I think about how small we are in comparison with the whole universe. 4.2 4.8 15.9
46  Our voluntary actions are amongst the only things truly under our control in life. 5.8 6.2 6.3
47  It is my duty to help others. 5.4 5.8 5.6
48  I can’t control how I feel. 4.9 5.4 10.4
49  I do not act on urges when it would be unwise to act on them. 4.6 5.2 13.1
50  Recognizing that being the best kind of person is the only thing that matters helps me face how short life is. 4.8 5.5 14.0
51  I need to be in good health in order to be happy. 3.7 4.3 17.5
52  I regularly spend time reflecting on what is most important for me to live a good and happy life. 5.1 5.7 10.0
53  I usually do the right thing. 5.3 5.7 6.9
54 Every day I spend some time reflecting in a constructive way on how I am doing as a human being. 4.3 5.3 21.9
55  I do the right thing even when I feel afraid. 4.8 5.4 12.1
56  Improving my ability to reason well and develop good judgement is very important. 6.4 6.5 1.7
57  I am committed to helping my family. 6.2 6.3 1.5
58  Every day I spend some time thinking about how I can best face challenges in the day ahead. 4.8 5.5 14.9
59  The universe is benevolent in its overall plan. 3.7 4.2 13.3
60 I regularly think about the inevitability of death. 5.0 5.2 4.1
61 Pleasure is one of the most important things in life. 4.2 4.7 11.2
62 Our judgements are amongst the only things truly under our control in life. 5.7 6.2 8.9
63 Even when I can’t do anything more about a problem I still worry about it a lot. 3.3 4.2 27.4
64 I care about the suffering of others. 5.8 5.9 2.1
65 Every day I reflect on how all human beings are just like me in important ways. 4.3 5.0 15.8
66 I often do what I feel like doing rather than doing what I believe to be the right thing. 4.4 5.0 12.4
67 I try to treat everybody fairly even those people who I don’t particularly like. 3.9 4.7 17.9
68 Every day I think about our place in the universe. 5.5 5.8 5.9
69 I see my happiness as fully compatible with caring for other people. 5.4 5.8 6.9
70 There is no overall plan to the universe. 3.2 3.7 14.3
71 I think about my life as an ongoing project to become a better person. 5.9 6.2 6.0
72 I try to treat people fairly even those people who have behaved badly towards me. 5.3 5.7 8.1
73 If things don’t go well for my family, I can’t lead a good life 4.4 4.8 10.2
74 Improving my ability to do what an excellent human being would do is very important to me. 5.9 6.2 5.6
75 I am committed to helping in my local community. 4.8 5.3 9.8
76 The universe embodies wisdom. 4.1 4.7 14.0
77 Some things that matter a lot for my happiness are outside my control. 3.7 4.5 23.2

Table 6: Impact of taking part in Stoic Week 2018 on Stoic attitudes and behaviours

The SABS items that showed the biggest percentage increases  during Stoic Week were as follows

# Item Start score End score % change
63 Even when I can’t do anything more about a problem I still worry about it a lot. 3.3 4.2 27.4
77 Some things that matter a lot for my happiness are outside my control. 3.7 4.5 23.2
11 I spend quite a lot of time dwelling on what has gone wrong in the past. 3.7 4.5 22.4
16  I cannot really be harmed by what other people say. 4.4 5.4 22.4
38  When a negative thought enters my mind, the first thing I do is to remind myself that it is just an interpretation of  the situation. 4.3 5.3 22.1
54 Every day I spend some time reflecting in a constructive way on how I am doing as a human being. 4.3 5.3 21.9
30  I spend quite a lot of time worrying about the future. 3.5 4.2 20.5

The SABS items which had the highest scores at the end of Stoic week were as follows:

# Item Start score End score % change
24  We can’t really control other people. 6.3 6.5 3.9
15 We can sometimes influence how others behave but we can’t completely control other people. 6.4 6.5 2.2
4 The best idea is to give up trying to control people and instead focussing on ourselves and our own behaviour. 6.2 6.5 5.1
56  Improving my ability to reason well and develop good judgement is very important. 6.4 6.5 1.7
37  I want to become a better person ethically. 6.3 6.5 2.8
21 It is good to think about life as an ongoing journey towards becoming a better person. 6.2 6.5 4.8
39  We should learn to accept things that are outside our control. 6.2 6.4 3.1
27 Nothing except our judgements and voluntary actions are truly under our control in life. 5.9 6.3 6.9
57  I am committed to helping my family. 6.2 6.3 1.5

All SABS items moved in the expected direction

The 10% 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 a placebo effect.

Conclusions

For the fifth year running, taking part in Stoic Week led to a significant increase in well-being on all measures and in degree of Stoicism. The more comprehensive SABS 4.0 gives us more detail about which Stoic attitudes and behaviours changed the most.


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

[ii] See Appendix B.

[iii] See Appendix C.

Author: Gregory Sadler

Editor of Stoicism Today

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