Stoics had a curious approach to a life well-lived, because they argued that it is in our nature to thrive in life. In other words, living with Arete is to complete our nature, like a grape when it matures.
We all have the potential to live a happy, virtuous life led by reason, based on rationality. Living with Arete is the perfection of our nature, to become the best we can be.
There are no perfect humans, that's why the stoics used the Sage to depict an ideal character to look upon. The embodiment of perfection, virtue, and a source of inspiration.
The Sage mastered the four-character traits adopted from the Socratic philosophy, which they refer to as the four cardinal values:
Unlike an artisan or a craftsman that uses wood or bronze, for the Stoics, life is the raw material for their practice in the art of living.
Some things are up to us, others are not. Stoics encouraged us to focus on what we control. To do this, they described three levels of influence:
It makes no sense to focus on the desired outcome because it'll always depend on things we can't control. It is better to focus on the process, preparation, and training.
There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.
Accept, embrace, and love whatever happens. We don't get to choose the cards we're dealt, but how we play them is totally up to us. One can never tell if anything is good or bad, only time will tell. This idea is also related to The Obstacle is the Way, which stands behind the motto of "what stands in the way becomes the way".
Nature has granted the use of life like a loan, without fixing any day for repayment.
—— Marcus Tullius Cicero
Memento mori is a symbolic reminder of the inevitability of death, but also a core concept of stoicism. We should be reminded of the impermanence of people, health, or possessions. Everything is a loan from nature, and at some point, the lender will want it back. Hence it is a fool's errand to pretend that anything will last forever.
We don't rise to the level of our expectations, we fall to the level of our training.
To prepare for the eventual repayment, Stoics suggest practicing the techniques of negative visualization, such as contemplating our own dead, voluntary discomfort (temporary poverty or get into uncomfortable situations). These activities will expand our comfort zone and get us ready for the day.
Following a minimal lifestyle is also part of this theme. We shall accept wealth, enjoy it, yet not cling to it. Being indifferent to riches will help us prepare for the moment when things are taken away from us.
At dawn, when you have trouble getting out of bed, tell yourself: "I have to go to work — as a human being. What do I have to complain of, if I'm going to do what I was born for — the things I was brought into the world to do? Or is this what I was created for? To huddle under the blankets and stay warm?"
—— Marcus Aurelius
Preparing for the day ahead was a common practice among Stoics. Not only by sticking to a strict morning routine but also by journaling and reviewing our actions at dawn. We shall start by focusing on just a few things, doing less, but better; tackling the most important duty first; dismissing the unimportant, such as the news, gossip, or social media; and spending time on what matters.
We shall always strive to seek wisdom. Being disciplined and doing what needs to be done. Never think of what others will think of us, dismissing fame and riches, to become a restless student.
Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.
—— Mike Tyson
This principle is akin to the one described before around focusing on what we control and our reaction to events. It comes in many ways, but in the end, its core teaching tells that nothing but opinion is the cause of a troubled mind.
We suffer more from imagination than from reality.
What we fear won't happen in reality, but we're held back and paralyzed by our fears. It is a projection into the future about something we don't control that causes a lot of worries. We might be attached to something we don't control, such as a loved one, a salary... yet we can't desire things that are not up to us to keep.
Those who do not desire something outside their control can't be anxious.
What we fear is a product of our imagination, not reality. We just think reality will be bad, but most of the time, it won't. We shall stop, and beat fear with preparation and reason.