3 Easy Exercises to Help You be Happier the Stoic Way

The term “stoic” is most often used today to describe someone who is unemotional, but did you know Stoicism was once the dominant western philosophy – and that it can actually help us be happier?

Before we get into happiness, a little background: Stoicism is a school of philosophy founded in Athens around 300 BC by Zeno of Citium. In short, Stoics sought to live at their full potential, and for them, that all came down to virtue, or being an excellent human being. (One of their core beliefs was that reason and logic – rather than emotions – could help us be better people, hence our definition of the word stoic today).

Curious as to how Stoicism can help us be happier several centuries later? Here are a few exercises to try based on their beliefs:

Hedonic adaptation

This concept was actually developed by two psychologists, but it’s based on the Stoic belief that weshould live within accordance of our own nature. Hedonic adaptation asks you to think about what you have and whether or not that is “enough.”

Are you happy with everything in your life, or are you always eager to acquire the next big thing? How do the “things” in your life make you happy? Why would “better” things make you happier?

Negative visualization

Following that line of thought: What if you lost everything you valued – your family, your house, your car, your job? How would you feel?

Now, stop and take a moment to appreciate what you have. Even on your crappiest day, it can also be helpful to remember how lucky you are. You have indoor plumbing (versus an outhouse), A/C (versus uncomfortable heat and humidity), air travel (versus train or boat) – the list goes on.

Projective visualization

What if your pre-schooler accidentally dropped and broke a cup during dinner? If you’ve had a long day, you’d probably freak out rather than stop and think, “It’s just a cup – we can replace it.”  If you were at a friend’s house and her pre-schooler broke a cup, that is probably how you’d react – calmly and rationally.

That is projective visualization: Imagine a scenario happening to someone else. How would you feel? How would you react?

It’s all about not sweating the small stuff and learning to distinguish the important from the not-so-important – another reminder we can all use from time to time!

Over the next few weeks, practice the above exercises anytime you are feeling frustrated, aggravated, or generally unhappy. You could even start a happiness journal and jot down 3 things you appreciate or are grateful for every day as you are falling asleep– a great way to remind yourself how happy you really are.

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