According to a 2010 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, researchers found that experiencing trauma and hardship can promote happiness and resilience. A more recent study found that facing difficulties in life can actually increase our overall satisfaction in life. Many of the greatest minds of history were well aware of this reality long before researchers looked into the question, so we've put together a list of Stoic quotes on hardship to see what wisdom can be gleaned from ancient and modern thinkers alike.
While there's a lot of cultural conversation about post-traumatic stress, there's also something known as "post-traumatic growth" that is equally as important to understand. While challenges in life have the potential to break us, they also offer the opportunity for us to grow and change for the better.
So, what does this mean? Should you seek out difficult experiences rather than focusing your efforts toward creating a life of comfort?
In short, yes. It might sound strange to actively want to face hardships in your life, but if you can realize the fact that challenges can help you become the best person you can be, it starts making a lot more sense.
If you're interested in developing a Stoic mindset, you'll have to step back and take a look at your perception. How you view a situation has a huge impact on how you respond to it and the lessons that you can potentially take away from it.
To the Stoics, the way that you respond to a situation is not just a choice, but a responsibility. This means that when you see yourself as a victim in a particular circumstance, regardless of how much evidence you have to back up your claim, you are ultimately choosing to see yourself that way.
In Stoic philosophy, you can divide your experience into two camps: the things you can control and the things you can't. Much of life is outside of your control, but by simply understanding this you can totally change the way you relate to life. What is in your control, though it may not seem like much, are incredibly powerful tools. These include your opinions, your actions, and your mindset.
So, how can changing your mindset change the way you relate to hardship?
“It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare; it is because we do not dare that things are difficult.” – Seneca
If you can change your mindset to be willing to take more risks, you might find hardships aren't as hard as you first thought.
“We are more often frightened than hurt; and we suffer more in imagination than in reality.” - Seneca
How many hours do we all burn away worrying about things that never end up happening?
If you feel like you suffer more in imagination than in reality, check out these Stoic quotes on anxiety and worry.
“It isn’t the things themselves that disturb people, but the judgements that they form about them.” - Epictetus
If you can change your judgments about a situation, you might find you're not nearly as bothered or hurt by it as you initially believed.
“You can bind up my leg, but not even Zeus has the power to break my freedom of choice.” - Epictetus
If you can learn that you have freedom of choice, the world is truly your oyster.
“Sickness is a hindrance to the body, but not to your ability to choose, unless that is your choice. Lameness is a hindrance to the leg, but not to your ability to choose. Say this to yourself with regard to everything that happens, then you will see such obstacles as hindrances to something else, but not to yourself.” – Epictetus
No matter what happens to you due to external forces, you can always choose how you relate to a situation.
“Never say of anything I have lost it, only say that I have given it back.” – Epictetus
Dealing with loss in life can be one of the most challenging experiences anyone has. What if you tried on this outlook for size? How could it change your life?
“You have power over your mind—not outside events. Realise this, and you will find strength.” – Marcus Aurelius
This oft-quoted thought from Marcus Aurelius definitely deserves some serious contemplation, particularly when you're dealing with hardship.
“A gentleman can withstand hardships; it is only the small man who, when submitted to them, is swept off his feet.” – Confucius
When something difficult happens, do you stand strong like an oak or blow over like a tree that has grown to full height without ever feeling a gust of wind?
“When circumstances don't fit our ideas they become our difficulties.” – Benjamin Franklin
What if your difficulties aren't actually difficulties, but instead just occurrences that didn't fit with your expectations and ideas?
“Nothing external has any power over you.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
BAM. Maybe paint this one on your bedroom ceiling so it's the first thing you see when you open your eyes in the morning.
“So far as my experience goes, travelers generally exaggerate the difficulties of the way. Like most evil, the difficulty is imaginary; for what's the hurry?” –Henry David Thoreau
Was the road you took to get here really problematically strewn with troubles? Or were the troubles actually an essential part of the journey?
What happens if you try and grow a tree in a place without any wind? The tree will grow, but its roots won't see any need to plant themselves deep in the ground. When a gust of wind does come around, it's much more likely to be blown over because it didn't develop resilience in the face of stress when it was younger.
“Every difficulty in life presents us with an opportunity to turn inward and to invoke our own submerged inner resources. The trials we endure can and should introduce us to our strengths.” – Epictetus
When you're faced with hard times, you can curl up into a ball and raise all your defenses. That won't do much for your personal growth, though. Difficulties are perhaps the best opportunity to learn about ourselves and become stronger.
“If you want something good, get it from yourself.” - Epictetus
Are you expecting the world to hand you a silver platter with a winning lottery ticket on it? If so, you're probably in for a lot of disappointment.
“Lampis the ship owner, on being asked how he acquired his great wealth, replied, ‘My great wealth was acquired with no difficulty, but my small wealth, my first gains, with much labor.” – Epictetus
The thing about growth is that starting is the hardest part.
“Difficulties strengthen the mind, as labor does the body.” – Seneca
If you have an exercise routine, you know how pushing yourself can keep your body healthy. The same is true for challenges and your mind.
“To the stars through difficulties.” – Seneca
What if instead of getting pushed down by challenges you soared through them?
“Difficulty shows what men are. Therefore when a difficulty falls upon you, remember that God, like a trainer of wrestlers, has matched you with a rough young man. Why? So that you may become an Olympic conqueror; but it is not accomplished without sweat.” – Epictetus
Is it possible that God (or nature, the universe, etc.) gives us challenges so we can become our greatest selves? It doesn't seem outside the realm of possibility.
“Examine the life of the best and most productive men and nations, and ask yourselves whether a tree which is to grow proudly skywards can dispense with bad weather and storms. Whether misfortune and opposition, or every kind of hatred, jealousy, stubbornness, distrust, severity, greed, and violence do not belong to the favorable conditions without which a great growth even of virtue is hardly possible?” Friedrich Nietzsche
Consider reading biographies of some of the greatest figures in history, and you'll find that Nietzsche speaks the truth here. He's also responsible for the useful aphorism "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger."
“The wound is the place where the Light enters you.” – Rumi
Leave it to Rumi to explain that hardship is necessary for growth in the most poetic possible way.
“Adversity has the effect of eliciting talents which, in prosperous circumstances, would have lain dormant.” – Horace
You have the seeds of tremendous talent within you. Without challenges though, they may never sprout.
“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.” – Helen Keller
If you want to become your best self, some suffering, unfortunately, is necessary.
“Strength does not come from winning. Your struggles develop your strengths. When you go through hardships and decide not to surrender, that is strength.” – Arnold Schwarzenegger
Arnold Schwarzenegger showed up in the U.S. at the age of 21 with only a few hundred dollars and little grasp of the English language. Starting a bricklaying business upon arrival only to become a world-famous bodybuilder, actor, and politician, you might want to listen when he talks about the relationship between hardships and success.
“You don't get character because you're successful; you build character because of the hardships you face.” – Herman Edwards
Hardships are a precursor for both character and success.
“I am not afraid of storms for I am learning how to sail my ship.” – Louisa May Alcott
We have a tendency to be so afraid of failure that we avoid any circumstances where we might not succeed. However, you won't learn how to be your best self if your ship is never tested by storms.
“The gem cannot be polished without friction nor man without trials.” – Confucius
The hard times we go through are what refine us into the people we want to be-- that is, if we have the right mindset.
“Bad times have a scientific value. These are occasions a good learner would not miss.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
If you see yourself as someone that is actively working to be the best version of yourself, you will learn to jump at the opportunity to be challenged.
“Hardships can harden even the best person.” – Amy Tan
There is no limit to personal growth. If you think that you're done growing, it probably means you're getting a bit too comfortable.
Hardship doesn't just help you grow, it can make you happier in the long run. If you're seeking that elusive eudaimonia, difficulties are an essential ingredient.
“Difficulties are things that show a person what they are.” – Epictetus
Do you want to know yourself? Going through hardship is one of the best ways to get to know the real you. If you want to be truly happy, challenges will help you find out what that even means to you.
“How does it help…to make troubles heavier by bemoaning them?” - Seneca
Hardships can lead to depression and despair if you let them. But, like Seneca says-- what's the point? How does that help?
“The greater the difficulty the more glory in surmounting it. Skillful pilots gain their reputation from storms and tempests.” – Epictetus
If you want to be the best person you can be, you'll have to face increasingly difficult times in order to test your strength and skills.
“As it is pleasant to see the sea from the land, so it is pleasant for him who has escaped from troubles to think of them.” – Epictetus
If you listen to an interview with someone who has worked their way up to the top, you'll probably hear them fondly reflecting on the days when they slept on a couch in their garage office and barely scraped by. Sometimes, the times we look back on most kindly are the ones that were the hardest to go through.
“Hardship may dishearten at first, but every hardship passes away. All despair is followed by hope; all darkness is followed by sunshine.” – Rumi
All things shall pass, even hardship. The hope and sunshine that follows are all the sweeter because of the difficulties you endured.
“But listen to me. For one moment quit being sad. Hear blessings dropping their blossoms around you.” – Rumi
Are you unhappy because of the circumstances of your life? Or because you're not looking around to see the many blessings and miracles that lay just outside your perception?
“There is no joy without hardship. If not for death, would we appreciate life? If not for hate, would we know the ultimate goal is love? At these moments you can either hold on to negativity and look for blame, or you can choose to heal and keep on loving.” – Elisabeth Kubler-Ross
Life really does seem to have a yin-and-yang-type reality behind it. How can we really appreciate the good things without knowing about bad times?
“A happy life consists not in the absence, but in the mastery of hardships.” – Helen Keller
It's true-- happiness actually results from having overcome challenges rather than having the privilege to avoid them.
“Maybe one day we shall be glad to remember even these hardships.” – Virgil
Something amazing can happen if you realize that you might look back fondly on your difficulties while you're actively going through them.
What responsibility do you have to choose how you respond to hardships?
“Each man's life is a kind of campaign, and a long and complicated one at that. You have to maintain the character of a soldier, and do each separate act at the bidding of the General.” – Epictetus
How do you see yourself? Are you a victim or an owner? Is it possible that taking responsibility for your life could mean the difference between being a winner and a loser in the grand scheme of things?
“Common and vulgar people ascribe all ills that they feel to others; people of little wisdom ascribe to themselves; people of much wisdom, to no one.” – Epictetus
Who do you blame for the bad things that happen? Epictetus has some wisdom to offer- you are only slightly wiser than "common and vulgar people" if you blame yourself for everything bad that happens. To be truly on top of the ball, resist the urge to blame anyone for external circumstances and learn to accept and flow with the way the universe unfolds.
Speaking of wisdom, the Stoics believed wisdom was one of the four primary virtues that should be used to guide one's actions. You can check out 50 Stoic quotes on wisdom here.
“To accuse others for one's own misfortunes is a sign of want of education. To accuse oneself shows that one's education has begun. To accuse neither oneself nor others shows that one's education is complete.” – Epictetus
When you start to blame yourself for the things that go wrong in life, you're on the right path. However, Epictetus argues that if you find yourself there, keep going. The ultimate goal is to get to a place where you don't blame yourself or others for the external realities of life.
“Men are not worried by things, but by their ideas about things. When we meet with difficulties, become anxious or troubled, let us not blame others, but rather ourselves. That is: our ideas about things.” – Epictetus
Are you quick to blame everyone and everything else for your troubles? Next time you catch yourself pointing responsibility elsewhere, consider taking a look at not yourself as a whole, but your mindset.
“Braving obstacles and hardships is nobler than retreat to tranquility. The butterfly that hovers around the lamp until it dies is more admirable than the mole that lives in a dark tunnel.” – Khalil Gibran
Who do you want to be? Do you want to be noble and brave in life? If so, the path is paved with obstacles and hardships.
“Diligence overcomes difficulties; sloth makes them.” – Benjamin Franklin
Have you ever known people who seemed to magnetically attract hard times? Benjamin Franklin argues that sloth (and one might add, other vices) create difficulties. However, with diligence, they can be overcome.
“There are always difficulties arising that tempt you to believe your critics are right.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson
Ain't it the truth? No matter how strong you are, there are always circumstances that crop up leaving you wondering if all the haters were right after all. This in itself is a challenge that you must learn to overcome.
Your life might be comfortable if you spend all your free time watching reruns of old Seinfeld episodes, but you also likely miss out on the potentially life-changing opportunities presented by hardship.
“I am called to man's labor; why then do I make a difficulty if I am going out to do what I was born to do and what I was brought into the world for?” – Marcus Aurelius
Marcus Aurelius, in this quote, writes out a dialogue he has with someone who doesn't want to get out of bed in the morning. In this particular phrase of the dialogue, he is giving the man a way of thinking to motivate him to get up and start the day.
We can get into bad habits in the modern world-- particularly going through life trying to avoid having to do much of anything or take responsibility. What if you flipped this on its head and saw that you were born for a reason? What if you could wake up in the morning with that thought right at hand?
It's possible that believing that you were brought into the world for a particular reason could be exactly the ingredient you're missing in facing hardships and seeing the opportunities presented by them.
“Nothing great comes into being all at once.” – Epictetus
It's tempting to try and find "get rich quick" schemes or other cheat-mode methods to get ahead in life. The reality is, though, that it's a slow and steady hike. Sometimes it seems like a constant game of two steps forward and one step back, but you can learn to endure this frustration if you know where you're walking and why.
“Don’t seek for everything to happen as you wish it would, but rather wish that everything happens as it actually will—then your life will flow well.” - Epictetus
Sometimes a difficulty isn't a difficulty at all, it's just simply that we wanted things to be otherwise. If you can learn to believe in a greater order to life and the universe, and learn to trust that order, you can learn to flow with life and live in accordance with nature.
“Where there is ruin, there is hope for a treasure.” – Rumi
If you ever feel like your life has completely fallen apart at the seams, you might be secretly sitting on a gold mine. It can feel insane to think that something incredibly traumatic or difficult could be beneficial, but it really is true.
“You have to temper the iron. Every hardship is an opportunity that you are given, an opportunity to grow. To grow is the sole purpose of existence on this planet Earth. You will not grow if you sit in a beautiful flower garden, but you will grow if you are sick, if you are in pain, if you experience losses, and if you do not put your head in the sand, but take the pain as a gift to you with a very, very specific purpose.” – Elisabeth Kubler-Ross
Have you ever known someone that had absolutely everything in life, at least from a material standpoint? They lived in a mansion, they drove a fancy car, they ate incredible food, and they wore high-quality designer clothes. Attending the finest private schools and off to an elite university, you might think that this person is the definition of privileged.
Were they really given what a child needs to grow, though? If you've ever known someone like that, did they seem resilient, strong, mature, and brave? Or were they childish, demanding, unhappy, and perhaps a little tweaked?
Just like the tree that will fall over if it wasn't exposed to wind while it grew, people can become very fragile if they don't experience hardship. If you can learn to find the gold hidden in each challenge, you can grow into a truly incredible person.
“A hard life improves the vision.” – Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn knows a thing or two about having a hard life. Imprisoned for eight years in the Gulag for writing a private letter that criticized Joseph Stalin, he is known as one of the most famous Soviet dissidents.
When you go through difficult times, it makes your perception sharper. From the pain and suffering, you are left with a gift that can help you forge forward in your path through life.
“A problem is a chance for you to do your best.” – Duke Ellington
What if you could become so growth-oriented that you whole-heartedly see problems as an opportunity? What could be possible in your life if you were able to shift your mindset in such a way?
“There is no success without hardship.” – Sophocles
Short and sweet, if you want to be successful in life, you'll have to go through some trials.
“If you find a path with no obstacles, it probably doesn’t lead anywhere.” – Frank A. Clark
Do you get shot down by any obstacle in your path? If so, you're probably going to spend your life standing in the same spot or going down paths to nowhere in the hopes that you can avoid challenging situations.
“I've missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” – Michael Jordan
In order to succeed, you have to try. If you're adequately stretching beyond your comfort zone, that inherently means you will fail some of the time. Like Confucius said, "our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall."
“Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavor.” – Truman Capote
We think we want life to be easy, but we're wrong. Without failure, success is simply less meaningful.
“Difficulties exist to be surmounted.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson
Some people go through life avoiding absolutely every obstacle that could potentially arise. Others actively seek them. Which are you?
To be clear, I'm not saying that you should be a martyr or someone who doesn't allow themselves to ever enjoy the comforts of life. It is perhaps equally as damaging to consign yourself to a life of purposeful difficulty out of some sense that allowing yourself time to rest and reflect would make you soft. Life is a balance, and the point is to find a path that you can walk towards the highest good without letting obstacles derail you from your purpose one way or another. Or, if they do derail you, it's because you learned something incredibly valuable in the process that ended up altering your purpose.
Figuring out how best to live in our modern world can be a difficult task in itself. There are a lot of competing ideas out there, and it's fair to say that the competing set of worldviews in our culture is creating a fairly chaotic playing field.
If you are like a growing number of people, though, you'll find that the wisdom of the ancient Stoics is an essential torch that you can carry as you steadily walk through life. It can help you capture an appropriate, growth-oriented, and useful mindset even through the worst of troubles.
Are you looking for more guidance from the ancient Stoics and other Stoic-minded thinkers? If so, be sure to check out our ever-expanding library at StoicQuotes.com.