Stoicism can get a bad rap these days, with most people thinking that it means being emotionless and practically inhuman.
Though the word "stoic" can mean not displaying one's feelings when enduring pain or hardship, that's not a great definition of what it means to be adherent to the philosophy of Stoicism.
So what is a Stoic person? What are the characteristics of a Stoic personality?
Let's dive in to help you identify examples of Stoics in your own life and determine whether or not you already exhibit some Stoic traits.
If a person is described as "stoic," there are actually two possible meanings. Though these two definitions are related, they aren't identical.
As an adjective, "stoic" can mean:
In this article, we're going to talk about what it means to be an adherent of Stoic philosophy in the modern age. If you're interested in learning more about the difference between these two different definitions of "Stoic/stoic," you can check out my "Stoic" synonyms post that touches upon that topic.
Now that we've gotten that out of the way, let's take a look at some of the primary principles of Stoic philosophy.
This will help us get a clearer sense of exactly what a Stoic person is.
Stoicism is a complex and fascinating philosophy that you really can apply to your everyday life. If you're new to Stoicism and want to learn more, make sure you check out our guide to Stoicism and how to be a Stoic.
Each of the great Stoic philosophers led lives that were quite different from one another-- Marcus Aurelius was an emperor, Epictetus was born a slave, and Seneca was an advisor to Nero, for example. While every Stoic is a unique individual that strives to lead a virtuous life in accordance with nature in their own way, there are some characteristics that Stoic personalities tend to share.
Stoics take responsibility for their own thoughts and actions. They don't expect other people to take care of them or come to their rescue.
“If you want something good, get it from yourself.”
Rather than complaining when something isn't going well in their lives, a Stoic will take a look at whether or not that thing is in their control. If it's in their control, they'll work to change it. If it's not, they'll work to accept it.
A person who exhibits Stoic characteristics will usually be very resilient. They understand the fact that adversity is what helps them develop as an individual and have embraced challenges throughout their lives.
Though Stoics aren't ascetics (aka they don't denounce all worldly possessions,) they also don't max out their credit cards buying status symbols. They practice moderation rather than gluttony or total self-denial.
“It is not the man who has too little who is poor, but the one who hankers after more.”
A Stoic will invest in the things that they need to achieve their higher purposes and live a good life. At the same time, they don't fall into the trap of believing that material objects are going to bring them happiness. They understand that all things are simply tools that can be used for good or for bad.
Perhaps the best-known thing about Stoic personalities is that they are able to remain calm and collected even when it seems like the world is ending. They don't suppress their emotions, but they've taught themselves how not to let their emotions overwhelm or control them.
Stoics hold themselves to a high standard. They have a concept of what it means to live a virtuous life, and they strive to uphold it.
This isn't a philosophy for people who want to fiddle away their Saturday lounging on the couch or who dream of a life where they don't have any responsibilities.
Stoicism is about having the self-discipline to work toward achieving higher purposes. It's an active philosophy, not one that you can use to justify an apathetic and lazy life.
The Stoic philosophers understood that life is a process. We can spend our whole lives learning and working to improve ourselves if we choose to.
Being a Stoic isn't about being perfect now. It's about continuously working on yourself. Learning to be a Stoic means no longer assuming that you're some sort of unchanging being that will float through life for a few decades and then die. Who you are is not something that is frozen in amber-- your personality is not fixed. You can constantly evolve and change, and you can always learn from your mistakes and improve yourself.
A true Stoic isn't going to waste their time trying to manipulate you or convince you of something they know isn't right. The truth is more important than their ego, and they're interested in finding the truth no matter how many toes it steps on.
This means that a Stoic that is truly adhering to their virtues will find the courage to speak their mind even when there are negative consequences. They believe that the truth is more vital than other people's opinions of them.
Generosity is also an important aspect of being a Stoic. This philosophy is based on an understanding of the world that involves everyone and everything being connected.
Marcus Aurelius, the great Roman emperor, and Stoic philosopher, is frequently reminding himself of this in his Meditations. We are all in this together, and we have a responsibility to be giving to the people around us.
Self-discipline is key when it comes to being a Stoic. After all, any Stoic person example you can think of likely has urged to live a life of comfort as much as the next guy. They understand the importance of adhering to their virtues though and living a life of purpose.
Someone who is Stoic might wake up at 4:30 am to hit the gym every day or religiously write in their journal every night before bed. No matter what the rules are that they've set for themselves, they stick with them.
A Stoic will persevere when most other people would quit. They aim high and they keep working toward their goals even through challenges and obstacles. If they believe that something is worth pursuing, they'll keep going no matter what.
Since Stoics believe in truth, reason, and rationality, they're also very open-minded. They won't get offended when someone says something that doesn't sound right to them, pushes some emotional buttons inside them, or that they've never heard before.
Instead, they'll ask questions to try and gain a greater understanding. They'll be logical and pragmatic when making decisions rather than driven by habit or emotions.
A Stoic isn't impacted by what's trendy or what everyone else is doing. They will rely on their own judgment and their virtues to make decisions.
Do you have Stoic characteristics? How can you know if you're already living like a Stoic without even realizing it? Here are some signs to watch out for.
If you know that the past is behind you and can't be changed, you're in possession of one of the traits of a Stoic personality.
"Don't stumble over something behind you."
We all have moments in the past that threaten to haunt us if we let them.
The truth is, though, that you can either be burdened by your past or you can learn from it. There are lessons hidden in our experiences, and if we take them to live a better life in the present, there's little else anyone could ask from us.
Do you manage to stay free from anxiety about the future while still preparing for it? Do you recognize that there are potential obstacles up ahead but you don't let it keep you up at night?
"There are more things to alarm us than to harm us, and we suffer more often in apprehension than reality."
- Seneca the Younger
The Stoics recognized that our own minds could be our worst enemy. We worry about things for hours, days, weeks, or even years that never even come to pass.
If you're not stuck in the past or fixating on the future, where are you?
Your attention is right here, in the present.
"Live each day as if it be your last."
- Marcus Aurelius
The Stoic philosophers knew that the present moment is, ultimately, all we have. The past is gone, and the future is, in the words of Marcus Aurelius, a "yawning abyss."
"The passing minute is every man's equal possession but what has once gone by is not ours."
- Marcus Aurelius
Every single one of us possesses the present moment equally. At the same time, none of us have any power to change the events of the past or predict the future. If you're a Stoic, you realize that the only time when you can exactly change the things you do control is right now.
You've probably heard the phrase "talk is cheap," and you've probably felt aggravated by the constant thoughtless yammering of people around you.
You understand the importance of speaking in a truthful manner. You believe that words have a weight that should be taken seriously.
“Better to trip with the feet than the tongue.”
For people that are interested in transitioning to a more Stoic lifestyle, one thing to try is taking a pause before speaking. Think about why you were about to say what you were going to say and whether or not it's true. What purpose does it serve? Is it worth saying?
A Stoic knows that adversity, challenges, and obstacles are what help them learn and grow as individuals. They don't want to hide away from their creature comforts for the rest of their life. Instead, they embrace the difficulties that life throws at them and even pick up their own challenges on purpose.
"I judge you unfortunate because you have never lived through misfortune. You have passed through life without an opponent— no one can ever know what you are capable of, not even you."
No one wants bad things to happen to them. But Stoics recognize that difficulties in life can ultimately trigger personal growth if we aren't defeated by them.
When you make an error, you recognize that there's a lesson hidden inside. Instead of making the same mistakes over and over again and then beating yourself up about it, a Stoic personality will learn to appreciate mistakes as ways to learn how to improve.
The Stoics were all about moderation-- after all; temperance was one of the four Stoic virtues.
Though you'll find many profound Stoic quotes about the fact that one does not need much to live a happy life, this doesn't mean that being a Stoic means living in caves and renouncing all earthly possessions.
"Wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants."
As a Stoic, you aren't sucked into the cycle of endless consumerism. You're not obsessed with brands that make you feel fancy or acquiring status symbols.
At the same time, you don't deny yourself the things that you need to live a good, virtuous, and useful life. You invest in the things that help you develop personally and achieve your higher purpose in life.
Being a Stoic is about moderation and practicality, not about extravagance or self-denial.
Stoic people don't fly into a rage in traffic or yell at their dogs when they've had a bad day at work. They don't burst into tears when someone says something that offends them.
"In the same degree in which a man's mind is nearer to freedom from all passion, in the same degree also is it nearer to strength.”
- Marcus Aurelius
This doesn't mean that they don't have emotions or that they suppress their emotions. What it does mean is that they work to actively watch their thoughts, feelings, and emotions and recognize that they have control over what they do with them.
"You have power over your mind, not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength."
- Marcus Aurelius
You don't pretend that you're an emotionless robot that never experiences fear, anger, or sadness. But you do recognize that letting your emotions control you often doesn't result in the outcome that is most desirable or useful. You are more than your emotions, and you know that-- and you know that, while you don't have power over outside events, you do have power over your mind!
According to a study from the Yale Mind and Development Lab, most people-- both religious people and atheists-- suport the idea of fate. Basically, this report claims that people typically tend to believe that the events of their life "happen for a reason."
"Accept the things to which fate binds you, and love the people with whom fate brings you together, but do so with all your heart."
- Marcus Aurelius
The concept of "amor fati" is often discussed in relation to the Stoics, which is a phrase that can be found in the writings of Friedrich Nietzsche. This means "love of one's fate" and refers to the notion that one should embrace and accept the entirety of their experience.
This means embracing and accepting both the "good" and the "bad" things that happen to you. The idea here is that both the joys and triumphs of your life, as well as the challenges, suffering, and loss, are necessary or even good.
The Stoics were always watching themselves, watching their minds. In one text, Epictetus is recorded as saying that you should watch yourself as a hunter hides watching their prey. If you're a Stoic, you are constantly checking yourself to try and understand why you're doing what you're doing, what's driving you, and whether you're on the right path.
“I will keep constant watch over myself and — most usefully — will put each day up for review. For this is what makes us evil — that none of us looks back upon our own lives. We reflect upon only that which we are about to do. And yet our plans for the future descend from the past.”
- Seneca the Younger
Do you feel a tremendous duty to adhere to the truth? Are you more concerned with understanding what is really going on rather than proving yourself right?
"If someone is able to show me that what I think or do is not right, I will happily change, for I seek the truth, by which no one ever was truly harmed. Harmed is the person who continues in his self-deception and ignorance."
- Marcus Aurelius
If that sounds like you, you might just be a Stoic! Many people are ultimately driven by the urge never to be wrong. As a Stoic, though, you nearly as aren't worried about making mistakes as you are about seeking and adhering to what is true and what is right.
The Stoics believed that there are some things in life that you can control and some things you can't.
External things-- even things as close to home as your own body and property-- are simply out of your control.
“The Fates guide the person who accepts them and hinder the person who resists them.”
It's raining when you want to take a walk? No problem, you won't melt. Something came up and you can't go on that trip you've been excited about? C'est la vie.
"There is only one way to happiness and that is to cease worrying about things which are beyond the power or our will."
Again, this doesn't mean that you shouldn't have emotions or that you should act more like a statue than a human. But it means that you can learn to stop worrying about things you have no control over. When you recognize that there are some things you can't change, it gives you more time and energy to focus on the things you can change.
Being Stoic doesn't mean being apathetic. It doesn't mean abandoning all goals and ambitions because so much is out of control.
"The chief task in life is simply this: to identify and separate matters so that I can say clearly to myself which are externals not under my control, and which have to do with the choices I actually control. Where then do I look for good and evil? Not to uncontrollable externals, but within myself to the choices that are my own…"
The point is that your energy is best spent on things you can control.
According to Epictetus, the things we can control are our:
Basically, we can control what goes on in our own minds, what we say, and what we do. When you hone in on those things and work on making improvements there, life can get a whole lot better.
This doesn't mean that you're an island or you can't impact the world around you-- not at all. What it means is that the best way you can make a difference beyond yourself is to focus your attention on your own thoughts, beliefs, emotions, actions, behavior, and speech. Let the rest come as it will.
You don't flip out at every little convenience or when you're up against a deadline at work. If you have a Stoic personality, it means that you are able to watch and recognize your own emotions and thoughts in a way that keeps you from acting impulsively.
As a Stoic, you don't just write about your beliefs in your journal or tell people about them at parties. Your virtues are something that you actually strive to live by.
"Don't explain your philosophy. Embody it."
Stoicism is a practical philosophy. This means that it's meant actually to be used in one's daily life. This isn't just for dusty academic books or for monks in far-off monasteries. When you live as a Stoic, you're incorporating your philosophy into your thoughts, words, and actions.
The ancient Stoic philosophers were known to practice a meditation that is sometimes referred to as "memento mori," which is Latin for "remember that you must die."
It might sound morbid to meditate on your own death, but it can actually help you be happier, healthier, and more appreciative of the time you have in your life. When you recognize that life is finite, you tend to start thinking about what really matters to you and what you want to accomplish while you're alive.
"You want to live-but do you know how to live? You are scared of dying-and, tell me, is the kind of life you lead really any different from being dead?"
- Seneca the Younger
Frequently reminding yourself that you're mortal also keeps you humble, reminds you not to sweat the small stuff, and helps you appreciate the present moment.
If you feel like you have a good handle on the fact that you're going to die and you reflect on this regularly, it's a sign that you're a natural Stoic.
Adopting a Stoic personality isn't something that anyone can do overnight. Instead, it's something you strive for over a lifetime.
The Stoics understood that life is a process and that the call to "live in accordance with nature" isn't a simple task. To live by one's virtues is something that you have to work on day in and day out for the rest of your life.
It's not the easiest life by any means. But do you really want an easy life?
If the Stoics were right, living virtuously is the way to a good life. The deeper you get into the philosophy, the more convincing this argument becomes.
Are you searching for more resources about the Stoics, including guides, articles, quotes, and much more? If so, make sure you check out our Stoic Quotes blog.