The 15 Basic Stoic Principles to Live By

Updated June 27, 2023

One of the truly great things about Stoicism is that it is a practical philosophy. This means that you can take basic Stoic principles and actually apply them to your day-to-day life.

You can use the tenets of Stoicism to help you make decisions of all sizes. When you're suffering or struggling, you can consult Stoicism's main ideas to help you reshift your focus toward what you can control.

Whether you're new to philosophy or you want to brush up on the basics of Stoicism, today we're going to look at fifteen basic Stoic principles that you can use to structure your life.

1. Attempt to Live in Accordance With Nature

When we examine Stoicism's main ideas, the very first one we need to touch on is a concept that lies at the heart of Stoic teaching.

The founder of Stoicism, Zeno of Citium, believed that "living in agreement with nature" was the key to a smooth flow of life.

seneca the younger basic stoic principles to live by

“If you live according to nature, you never will be poor; if according to the world's caprice, you will never be rich.”

– Seneca the Younger

Though this might not sound like the most applicable concept to your daily life, stick with me!

The Stoic Concept of "Nature"

When we think of the word "nature," we usually picture forests, rivers, wildlife, mountains, and other aspects of the natural environment.

  • In this tenet of Stoicism, though, nature is a much more complex concept.

It refers to:

  • Cosmic nature: The entire cosmos
  • The nature of each thing in the universe: the way things in existence come to be, transform, and die

Living in accordance with nature doesn't mean selling your stuff and moving to the woods to live with the animals. It means using our reason, living virtuously, accepting fate, and working to express our best in our development.

All things are parts of one single system, which is called Nature; the individual life is good when it is in harmony with Nature.

– Zeno of Citium

Reason As What Sets Us Apart

The Stoics believed that our human nature was distinguishable from the nature of animals through our ability to reason.

“Nothing is evil which is according to nature.”

Marcus Aurelius

It is exactly this reason that allows us to know what is good, what is bad, and what is indifferent. We can use our reason to understand what is virtuous. This allows us actually to live virtuous lives.

“Man's ideal state is realized when he has fulfilled the purpose for which he is born. And what is it that reason demands of him? Something very easy-that he live in accordance with his own nature.”

– Seneca the Younger

In order to live in accordance with nature, this means that we must strive to improve our reasoning abilities throughout our entire lives.

“All that is harmony for you, my Universe, is in harmony with me as well. Nothing that comes at the right time for you is too early or too late for me. Everything is fruit to me that your seasons bring, Nature. All things come of you, have their being in you, and return to you.”

– Marcus Aurelius

As we work to improve our reasoning ability by committing to continuing to learn our entire lives, we can then continue to improve our ability to live virtuously.

2. Understand the Dichotomy of Control

If living in accordance with nature got a little heady for you, don't worry.

Let's touch upon one of the most useful Stoic principles-- the dichotomy of control.

epictetus quote basic stoic principles to live by

“Keep your attention focused entirely on what is truly your own concern, and be clear that what belongs to others is their business and none of yours.”

– Epictetus

The Stoics believed that we must make the distinction between what we can control in our lives and what we can't control. Epictetus went so far as to say that this is the "chief task in life":

“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…”


According to the Stoics, very little is actually under our control. We don't have any control over external events, nor even our bodies or our property.

Though this might seem disconcerting, what we do have power over is how we react to things. We can't control what happens to us. But we can control how we react to what happens to us.

“There is only one way to happiness and that is to cease worrying about things which are beyond the power or our will.”

– Epictetus

Once we realize this, we can be liberated from worrying about all of the things that we don't have control over. This doesn't mean that we slump back into apathy-- the Stoics believed in being very active in public life. What it does mean, though, is that we stop burning energy in the wrong places.

  • Put your energy towards the things you can control. Stop putting your energy towards the things you can't. It will transform your life!

3. You Can Live the Good Life By Living Virtuously

There are four Stoic virtues-- courage, wisdom, temperance, and justice-- that we can follow to obtain a good life. That is, at least according to the Stoics.

You won't find your happiness in material things or worldly pleasures. Virtue alone is how you can achieve happiness.

“It is the nature of the wise to resist pleasures, but the foolish to be a slave to them.”

– Epictetus

The four virtues are a package deal-- you can't decide to be courageous and not wise or moderate but not just.

“Live out your life in truth and justice, tolerant of those who are neither true nor just.”

– Marcus Aurelius

To really try and live according to the Stoic virtues requires a total transformation in one's attitude. We must truly believe that living virtuously leads to happiness and that this is the only path to the good life.

More Stoic Quotes About Virtues

“Every place is safe to him who lives with justice.”


“The heart is great which shows moderation in the midst of prosperity.”

– Seneca the Younger

“It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare; it is because we do not dare that things are difficult.”

– Seneca the Younger

“Fire tests gold, suffering tests brave men.”

– Seneca the Younger

4. Don't Let Your Emotions Control You

Remember earlier when we talked about the things that we can and can't control?

The long and short of it is that we can't control external events. We can only control our thoughts, actions, words, beliefs, opinions, impressions, etc.

We often think of our emotions as something that happens to us, but the truth is that our emotions come from within.

“Both happiness and unhappiness depend on perception.”

– Marcus Aurelius

This means that we can control our emotions. For the record, this doesn't mean suppressing your emotions and pretending they don't exist. But we can become self-aware. We can recognize that our emotions are internal and not external.

“Our anger and annoyance are more detrimental to us than the things themselves which anger or annoy us.”

– Marcus Aurelius

We can recognize that our emotions (and what our emotions lead us to say and do) are often more harmful to us, as Marcus Aurelius points out than the event that actually made us emotional in the first place.

“Any person capable of angering you becomes your master.”

– Epictetus

When you have an emotional reaction to what someone else says and has done, you're letting them control you. Once you realize that you don't have to let your emotions control you, you can radically change your day-to-day experience.

5. Love Your Fate

Dealing with the events of life can feel impossible sometimes-- it can feel like the entire universe is against you. You wonder to yourself, "Why do all of these bad things have to happen to me?"

What if you started embracing everything that happened to you, though? What if you decided that all of it was good-- both the great stuff and the terrible stuff?

marcus aurelius basic stoic principles to live by

“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

This was the Stoic's perspective. You can't change what has happened-- certainly not through jealousy, anger, worry, resentment, frustration, or other passionate emotions.

What you can do is learn to love fate. In the Stoic concept of amor fati-- literally love of one's fate"--  we learn to accept the things that happen to us as a part of a much larger system, a much larger universe. We recognize that we can grow stronger from the adversity we face and that we develop as people because of the events of our lives.

Stoic Quotes About Fate

“Nothing happens to any man that he is not formed by nature to bear.”

– Marcus Aurelius

"“Fate leads the willing, and drags along the reluctant.”

– Cleanthes

“Stop allowing your mind to be a slave, to be jerked about by selfish impulses, to kick against fate and the present, and to mistrust the future.”

– Marcus Aurelius

6. Practice Self-Discipline

It's completely possible to go through life in the modern world in easy mode. We can indulge in creature comforts in every free moment, frustrated that we never have to do anything at all.

The reality is that discipline is the tool we need to become incrementally better.

“Man conquers the world by conquering himself.”

– Zeno of Citium

If we want to make a difference in the world, if we want to make something of ourselves, we need to be disciplined.

“Be tolerant with others and strict with yourself.”

– Marcus Aurelius

At the same time, we can't force our sense of what we should be doing on everyone else. We need self-discipline. As Marcus Aurelius says, we must be tolerant and forgiving of everyone else.

"To things which you bear with impatience you should accustom yourself, and, by habit you will bear them well."

– Seneca the Younger

The more we practice doing the things we need to do that we don't want to do, the stronger and more capable we become.

"You must build up your life action by action and be content if each one achieves its goal as far as possible and no one can keep you from this.’’

– Marcus Aurelius

7. Accept Death

We're all going to die—every single one of us.

“Life without the courage for death is slavery.”

– Seneca the Younger

You can go through life not giving that reality much thought, but it isn't advisable. In fact, many people go through life so afraid of death that they don't let themselves fully engage with life.

“It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live.”

– Marcus Aurelius

What is more important than living a long life, according to many wise men of the past, is living a life of depth and purpose.

musonius rufus quote basic stoic principles to live by

"Given that all must die, it is better to die with distinction than to live long."

– Musonius Rufus

No matter how young you are, it's never too late to start meditating on your death. Amazingly, this practice can help you realize just how little time you have and make you use the little life you have so much more meaningfully.

"That man lives badly who does not know how to die well."

Seneca the Younger

Remember, there's nothing we can do about the fact that we are going to die. What we do have control over, though, is how we feel about death. If we can overcome our fear of death, anything is possible.

"I cannot escape death, but at least I can escape the fear of it."


8. The Universe Is Change

Nothing is permanent in this world-- except change itself.

“Observe constantly that all things take place by change, and accustom thyself to consider that the nature of the Universe loves nothing so much as to change the things which are, and to make new things like them.”

– Marcus Aurelius

The Stoics were well aware of this and frequently reminded themselves of the impermanence of all things.

“Pain is never unbearable or unending, so you can remember these limits and not add to them in your imagination.”

– Epictetus

Recognizing that everything is always in flux can be a game changer. It's so easy to get attached to things, people, places, etc. But nothing is forever. The sooner we recognize this, the better able we are to deal with the natural happenings of life and the universe.

Stoic Quotes About Impermanence

“Look at their minds, the nature of their thought and what they seek or avoid. And see how, just as drifting sands constantly overlay the previous sand, so in our lives what we once did is very quickly covered over by subsequent layers.”

– Marcus Aurelius

“Whatever begins, also ends.”

– Seneca the Younger

"If you want your children and wife and friends to live forever, you’re a fool, because you’re wanting things that aren’t within your power to be within your power, and the things that aren’t your own to be your own."

– Epictetus

“In everything that pleases your soul, or supplies a want, or that you are fond of, remember to add this to your thoughts: what is the nature of this thing? If you are fond of a vase, say that it is a vase that you like, and nothing more — for when it has been broken you will not be disturbed. If you are kissing your child or wife, say that it is a human being whom you are kissing and nothing more — for when the wife or child dies, you will not be disturbed.”

– Epictetus

9. You Have Inner Resources-- Tap Into Them

The Stoics believed that we have all the resources needed to succeed and thrive inside ourselves.

marcus aurelius image and quote basic stoic principles to live by

“Look well into thyself; there is a source of strength which will always spring up if thou wilt always look.”

– Marcus Aurelius

It's easy to think about Stoicism as a strict philosophy that is all about discipline and never being emotional. The Stoics weren't free from emotion, though-- they just wanted to get rid of all of those toxic emotions. Their ultimate goal was a good, happy life, just like the rest of us.

 “Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself, in your way of thinking.”

– Marcus Aurelius

Stoicism has a real sweetness when you start digging into the text. Positive emotions like joy, love for others, gratitude, rational caution, and rational wishing are the emotions that can replace toxic ones.

“Every difficulty in life presents us with an opportunity to turn inward and to invoke our own inner resources. The trails we endure can and should introduce us to our strengths. Prudent people look beyond the incident itself and seek to form the habit of putting it to good use. On the occasion of an accidental event, don’t just react in a haphazard fashion: remember to turn inward and ask what resources you have for dealing with it. Dig deeply. You possess strengths you might not realize you have. Find the right one. Use it.”

– Epictetus

By tapping into your inner resources, you can replace the negative emotions with good ones. You can find strength inside yourself in the face of adversity you didn't know was there.

10. You're Responsible For Your Own Happiness

This is a simple one. If you find yourself blaming others for the state of your own life, consider making a shift.

“If you want something good, get it from yourself.”

- Epictetus

This Stoic tenet reminds us that, though there is much that is outside of our control, ultimately, our happiness isn't one of them. You can take control of your own life and happiness. You just have to do it!

11. Embrace Adversity-- The Obstacle Is the Way

Life is always going to be throwing obstacles at us. What if we embraced them and made the most of them? What if we were able to take on bigger and bigger challenges because of our willingness to confront them?

"To bear trials with a calm mind robs misfortune of its strength and burden."

– Seneca the Younger

You can shift your perspective towards adversity and obstacles by recognizing that they are incredible tools for growth.

“To be like the rock that the waves keep crashing over. It stands unmoved and the raging of the sea falls still around it.”

– Marcus Aurelius

12. Your Life Is In the Present

How much time do you spend thinking about the past? How about the future?

“Every man's life lies within the present; for the past is spent and done with, and the future is uncertain.”

– Marcus Aurelius

The Stoics wouldn't advise that you don't reflect on the past or plan for the future-- not at all.

“Past and future have no power over you. Just the present - and even that can be minimized.”

– Marcus Aurelius

At the same time, the only thing you really have in your entire life is this present moment. So why would you spend your days with your head stuck in the past?

“Don't stumble over something behind you.”

– Seneca the Younger

Or why would you lose sleep thinking about what's going to happen tomorrow?

“The mind that is anxious about future events is miserable.”

– Seneca the Younger

Live in the moment. Tap into it. It's all we have!

13. Remember, We’re All Connected

Just because we're responsible for our own happiness doesn't mean that we exist in a vacuum. We are all connected to one another-- all a part of the same system.

That which is not good for the bee-hive cannot be good for the bees.”

– Marcus Aurelius

Marcus Aurelius talks about his duty to others at great length in his Meditations.

“When we consider we are bound to be serviceable to mankind, and bear with their faults, we shall perceive there is a common tie of nature and relation between us.”

– Marcus Aurelius

Though it can be difficult to see the connection between ourselves and others at times, it's there. We are all in this together.

14. Be Grateful and Giving

Related to the fact that we are all connected, the Stoics embraced the notions of gratitude and charity.

"Nothing is more honorable than a grateful heart."

– Seneca

When we tap into the present moment, learn to accept our fate, and focus on what we can control, it's possible to really start recognizing just how lucky we are. How much there is to be thankful for every day.

"Each day provides its own gifts."

– Marcus Aurelius

Instead of focusing on what you don't have, think about what you do have.

"Let not your mind run on what you lack as much as on what you have already."

– Marcus Aurelius

Shifting your focus this way can turn your life upside down. When you stop looking around and projecting your desires onto the landscape, you can actually start seeing what's actually there and being thankful for it.

Stoic Quotes About Gratitude

"Wherever there is a human being, there is an opportunity for a kindness."

– Seneca the Younger

"The law of the pleasure in having done anything for another is, that the one almost immediately forgets having given, and the other remembers eternally having received."

– Seneca the Younger

"He who receives a benefit with gratitude, repays the first installment of it."

– Seneca the Younger

15. Always Prepare For the Worst

Finally, the last Stoic principle you'll want to live by is premeditatio malorum, which stands for the premeditation of evils.

“Fortune falls heavily on those for whom she’s unexpected. The one always on the lookout easily endures.”

– Seneca the Younger

Also known as negative visualization, this is the practice of meditating on all of the ways that things go wrong. While this might sound like a recipe for anxiety, engaging in this practice thoughtfully can help you be ready for absolutely anything that could be facing you down the road.

"How ridiculous and how strange to be surprised at anything which happens in life."

– Marcus Aurelius

Bad things happen-- it's just a part of life. So, why would we be surprised when they do?

“Rehearse them in your mind: exile, torture, war, shipwreck. All the terms of our human lot should be before our eyes.”

– Seneca the Younger

An interesting thing happens when you take this practice seriously. The more you practice preparing for the worst, the more you are able to be grateful for what you do have. You recognize that it's all fleeting, but you appreciate it while it's present.

"The art of living is more like wrestling than dancing, because an artful life requires being prepared to meet and withstand sudden and unexpected attacks.”

– Marcus Aurelius

If you want to live an artful life, you'll want to be prepared for the unexpected. The more you practice, the more capable you'll be to deal with whatever life throws at you.

Stoicism: A Philosophy That Leads to the Good Life

There is something so fascinating about Stoicism's main idea-- that you can live a good, happy life if you live a virtuous life. In the modern world, we're often surrounded by ideas about happiness coming from comfort, ease, and luxury.

  • The truth is, if we want actual happiness, we must be disciplined, we must face adversity, and we must have the opportunity to prove ourselves and grow.
  • We have to discern what is and isn't in our control, and we have to point our energy toward those things we can really change.
  • We have to work every day to understand what it means to be virtuous and then actually strive to live a virtuous life.

If you're committed to improving yourself day in and day out using the ancient wisdom of the Stoic principles, you're in the right place. You can find tons more Stoic resources over at our Stoic Quotes blog!

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Written by: Sophia Merton
Sophia received her BA from Vassar College and has always maintained a deep interest in the question of how best to live one’s life. She hopes to help others understand how they can apply Stoicism in their day-to-day lives in order to become the person they want to be, embrace the present moment, pursue their purposes, and rid themselves of unnecessary anxiety.

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