In the course of writing a paper on Stoicism recently, I have been forced to consider whether Stoicism actually offers a viable way to achieve happiness (or as Stoics term it, “tranquility”) or whether there are insurmountable impediments. Further, even if Stoic practices are accessible and practicable, what does such a “solution” look like? Starting with the last part of the question first, what is the goal of Stoicism? Or differently phrased, what will a Stoic life look like? That answer is personal and relative, but in general, a reasonable goal is a state of mind better than a non-Stoic one. A practicing Stoic is like the chubby guy at the gym. He is not in great shape, but how much worse would he be if he stopped going. Assuming one is sufficiently versed in Stoic ideas, one will know if the goal, moderate as it may be, has been reached. Does one feel on the whole a greater sense of tranquility – less of a nuisance to one’s self and others — from doing the following: applying reason in various ways to address situations from the extremely grave to the trivial, adapting when things are beyond control, recognizing the insidiousness of emotion and quelling it, keeping hopes in check, and exercising a strong self-sufficiency to escape externalities such as the opinions of others and outward success. If the answer is yes, then the Stoic picture is of a good and even life that is notably, though perhaps moderately, less embroiled, bitter, painful, confusing, antagonizing, and scattered.
As for impediments to becoming a Stoic, they exist; however, on the one hand they are clearly surmountable. Stoicism is extant if not current. I (and many others) have come across Stoic ideas, read about them, found value in them and made modifications to fashion my own guide to living. So clearly it is doable. Also, Stoic ideas are everywhere, if in different guises. We recognize hedonistic adaptation, we get the value of looking on the bright side, and some people even understand the virtue of not complaining. We have all heard the imprecation to have the wisdom to see the difference between things we can control and things we cannot. Without knowing it, people stumble upon the importance of keeping death in mind and eschewing externalities and public opinion. All of the foregoing are soundly Stoic notions. On the other hand, to counter any chance of vast success, the media bombards us with anti-Stoic ideas. I hypothesize that the problems of youth are fostered by the media and would be greatly remedied by Stoicism. I name the young particularly although not at all exclusively as victims because they are more susceptible to the media. From hocus pocus hoping, to the exaltation of destructive emotion, to endorsements of complaining, to a maniacal focus on external events — the media seems like a confluence of weak and unphilosophical brains fueled by a lack of all reasonable thought. I might last suggest that a lack in education, or of a certain kind of education, undermines the chances of Stoicism for any given individual; if one does not use one’s mind to think critically, Stoicism is out of the question. It is, after all, about using reason — thinking rather than giving into emotion.
At the conclusion of my above-mentioned paper, which brought me close to core Stoic ideas that I know well but can always rehearse, I concluded that Stoicism does give the best chance for the calm happiness of tranquility and for a salubrious sense of mental independence for any given person. It is inherently an individual fix; few are enough, one is enough. Is there the chance for wider application to correct wholesale the flaws of “human nature”? To borrow from the faint white writing on the eight ball, “outlook not so good.”
“calm happiness of tranquility”
Might not a series of peaks and troughs in happiness lead, on average, to a greater amount of happiness than a steady, calm level over time. I look back over certain periods/incidents in my life which led to great emotional upheavals but which I do not regret. Indeed, I would not have wanted to live without experiencing them although they also brought great sadness to myself and others.