The sad reality is that depression is incredibly common in the modern world. Estimates from the CDC suggest that nearly 19% of American adults experience depression symptoms at any given time. If you've been struggling with feelings of sadness, anger, hopelessness, fatigue, or loss, these Stoic quotes on depression might help you climb out of that dark hole.
It's worth noting that depression isn't just a modern phenomenon. Back in the days of the ancients, there was a concept known as melancholia, from which our contemporary concept of depression emerged.
While you can easily bicker all day about whether depression is simply the result of chemical imbalance or if there are more complicated forces at play, everyone generally agrees that the experience of depression can be absolutely brutal.
One of the reasons that Stoicism has regained popularity in recent years is due to the fact that it acts as a powerful antidote to anxiety, depression, and other common modern ailments. Whether you're just feeling down in the dumps or you've been experiencing chronic depression, a walk in the park with the likes of Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus, and Seneca the Younger might be just what the doctor ordered.
When you're feeling depressed, it can feel like you've entered a new permanent reality: one of suffering, pain, sadness, despair, and fear. You might feel like things will never work out for you and see no light at the end of the tunnel.
One increasingly popular depression treatment is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), where a therapist works with you to uncover negative thought patterns and explore how they might be related to self-destructive beliefs and behaviors. The general idea here is that by analyzing and changing our thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors, we can overcome depression and other mood disorders.
While CBT might have its roots in early 20th-century behavior therapy, the philosophical roots actually stretch back to a number of ancient philosophical traditions, with Stoicism being a particularly impactful school of philosophy on the ideas behind CBT.
So, let's check in with the original proponents of changing your thoughts to change your life and see what they have to say about depression, suffering, and your mindset.
“Everything that happens is either endurable or not. If it’s endurable, then endure it. Stop complaining. If it’s unendurable… then stop complaining. Your destruction will mean its end as well. Just remember: you can endure anything your mind can make endurable, by treating it as in your interest to do so.” – Marcus Aurelius
“We suffer more in imagination than in reality.” – Seneca
“It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.” — Epictetus
“How does it help…to make troubles heavier by bemoaning them?”- Seneca
“He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has.” — Epictetus
“It does not matter what you bear, but how you bear it.” - Seneca
"What upsets people is not things themselves, but their judgments about these things." — Epictetus
"You have power over your mind, not outside events. Realise this, and you will find strength." — Marcus Aurelius
"What is the point of dragging up sufferings that are over, of being miserable now, because you were miserable then?" — Seneca
"No man is free who is not master of himself." — Epictetus
"Whatever the present moment contains, accept it as if you had chosen it." — Eckhart Tolle
"The primary cause of unhappiness is never the situation but your thoughts about it." — Eckhart Tolle
"Only changes in mindsets can extend the frontiers of the possible." — Winston Churchill
"Human beings can alter their lives by altering their attitudes of mind." — William James
"Beliefs have the power to create and the power to destroy. Human beings have the awesome ability to take any experience of their lives and create a meaning that disempowers them or one that can literally save their lives." — Tony Robbins
"What we can or cannot do, what we consider possible or impossible, is rarely a function of our true capability. It is more likely a function of our beliefs about who we are." — Tony Robbins
"People have a hard time letting go of their suffering. Out of a fear of the unknown, they prefer suffering that is familiar." — Thich Nhat Hanh
When we feel down, we often aren't present in the moment. Instead, we're stuck inside our heads thinking about the past or dreading the future. The Stoics understood that you'll miss out on experiencing your life if you're focusing on everything except the present. In fact, your happiness depends on learning how to deal with the reality of the past and the uncertainty of the future so that you can put your energy where it's actually useful: this moment right now.
“True happiness is to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence upon the future, not to amuse ourselves with either hopes or fears but to rest satisfied with what we have, which is sufficient, for he that is so wants nothing.” - Seneca
“Objective judgment, at this very moment. Unselfish action, now at this very moment. Willing acceptance — now at this very moment — of all external events. That’s all you need.” — Marcus Aurelius
“The whole future lies in uncertainty: live immediately.”— Seneca
“It is not that we are given a short life but we make it short, and we are not ill-supplied but wasteful of it.” — Seneca
“Two elements must therefore be rooted out once for all, – the fear of future suffering, and the recollection of past suffering; since the latter no longer concerns me, and the former concerns me not yet.” – Seneca
"The past has no power over the present moment." — Eckhart Tolle
"Its good to leave each day behind, like flowing water, free of sadness. Yesterday is gone and its tale told. Today new seeds are growing." — Rumi
"Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment." — Guatama Buddha
"With the past, I have nothing to do; nor with the future. I live now." — Ralph Waldo Emerson
"Don't live in the past, don't ponder about the future, stay at the PRESENT moment NOW... always." — Mark Twain
"Life can only take place in the present moment. If we lose the present moment, we lose life." — Guatama Buddha
"I have realized that the past and future are real illusions, that they exist in the present, which is what there is and all there is." — Alan Watts
"The intensity of the pain depends on the degree of resistance to the present moment." — Eckhart Tolle
"You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment." — Henry David Thoreau
"One of the most tragic things I know about human nature is that all of us tend to put off living. We are all dreaming of some magical rose garden over the horizon instead of enjoying the roses that are blooming outside our windows today." — Dale Carnegie
"We are always getting ready to live but never living." — Ralph Waldo Emerson
Happiness can be an elusive thing— everyone says they want it but no one really even knows how to define it. In our culture, we tend to be a bit quick to assume that more money and more stuff will give us that warm, fuzzy feeling we're all searching for. In reality, looking for happiness in status and material things seems to backfire more often than not.
The Stoics had a different idea about happiness than the one proposed by commercials and online ads. From their viewpoint, happiness is not something you hope for in the future once you have everything you want. Instead, it is something you can only create in the moment by eliminating your desires, appreciating what you have, living virtuously, and being present.
"If what you have seems insufficient to you, then though you possess the world, you will yet be miserable." — Seneca
“There is only one way to happiness and that is to cease worrying about things which are beyond the power of our will.” — Epictetus
"Try to enjoy the great festival of life with other men!" — Epictetus
"Just keep in mind: the more we value things outside our control, the less control we have." — Epictetus
"It is impossible that happiness, and yearning for what is not present, should ever be united." — Epictetus
"One ought to seek out virtue for its own sake, without being influenced by fear or hope, or by any external influence. Moreover, that in that does happiness consist." — Zeno of Citium
"A man may be called ‘happy’ who, thanks to reason, has ceased either to hope or to fear: but rocks also feel neither fear nor sadness, nor do cattle, yet no one would call those things happy which cannot comprehend what happiness is." — Seneca
"God did not intend my happiness to rest with someone else." — Marcus Aurelius
"The essence of philosophy is that a man should so live that his happiness shall depend as little as possible on external things." — Epictetus
"The happiness of your life depends on the quality of your thoughts." — Marcus Aurelius
"No person has the power to have everything they want, but it is in their power not to want what they don’t have, and to cheerfully put to good use what they do have." — Seneca
"Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is already within yourself, your way of thinking." — Marcus Aurelius
"The soul becomes dyed with the color of its thoughts." — Marcus Aurelius
"We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think. When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves." — Guatama Buddha
"Happiness doesn't depend on what we have, but it does depend on how we feel toward what we have. We can be happy with little and miserable with much." — William D. Hoard
"The secret of happiness, you see, is not found in seeking more, but in developing the capacity to enjoy less." — Socrates
"Happiness depends more on the inward disposition of mind than on outward circumstances." — Benjamin Franklin
"Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; rember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for." — Epicurus
"Happiness belongs to the self sufficient." — Aristotle
"Often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one that has been opened for us." — Helen Keller
"The secret of happiness is to admire without desiring." — Carl Sandburg
"It isn't what you have, or who you are, or where you are, or what you are doing that makes you happy or unhappy. It is what you think about." — Dale Carnegie
"Happiness is like a butterfly; the more you chase it, the more it will elude you, but if you turn your attention to other things, it will come and sit softly on your shoulder." — Henry David Thoreau
"Success is getting what you want. Happiness is wanting what you get." — Dale Carnegie
“If happiness always depends on something expected in the future, we are chasing a will-o'-the-wisp that ever eludes our grasp, until the future, and ourselves, vanish into the abyss of death.” — Alan Watts
Sometimes, feeling depressed can be accompanied by overwhelming fear. You find yourself spending daylight hours in bed, tossing and turning with a restlessness that can only come with anxiety.
Stoicism can be a powerful antidote to anxiety and fear along with depression. This philosophy doesn't promise that you can live a life free from problems or obstacles. Instead, it helps you understand what parts of your life you have control over and which you don't.
Once you understand what you don't have control over, you can learn to let go of it. When you combine this with the discovery that adversity can actually be a catalyst for growth and personal development, you might even find that you embrace experiences where you have the opportunity to confront and overcome your fears.
"Set aside a certain number of days during which you shall be content with the scantiest and cheapest fare, with coarse and rough dress, saying to yourself the while, ‘Is this the condition that I feared?’ — Seneca
"Man is not worried by real problems so much as by his imagined anxieties about real problems." — Epictetus
"He who is brave is free." — Seneca
"If one takes away riches from the wise man, one leaves him still in possession of all that is his: for he lives happy in the present, and without fear for the future." — Seneca
"You act like mortals in all that you fear, and like immortals in all that you desire." — Seneca
"Today I escaped anxiety. Or no, I discarded it, because it was within me, in my own perceptions—not outside." — Marcus Aurelius
"Hecato says, ‘cease to hope and you will cease to fear.’ . . . The primary cause of both these ills is that instead of adapting ourselves to present circumstances we send out thoughts too far ahead." — Seneca
"All you need are these: certainty of judgment in the present moment; action for the common good in the present moment; and an attitude of gratitude in the present moment for anything that comes your way." — Marcus Aurelius
“He who indulges in empty fears earns himself real fears.” — Seneca
"Today I escaped anxiety. Or no, I discarded it, because it was within me, in my own perceptions — not outside." — Marcus Aurelius
"You can conquer almost any fear if you will only make up your mind to do so. For remember, fear doesn't exist anywhere except in the mind." — Dale Carnegie
"Our anxiety does not come from thinking about the future, but from wanting to control it." — Khalil Gibran
"The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another." — William James
"No amount of anxiety makes any difference to anything that is going to happen." — Alan Watts
"Some of us think holding on makes us strong; but sometimes it is letting go." — Hermann Hesse
"I've had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened." — Mark Twain
"The only way out is through." — Robert Frost
"If you listen to your fears, you will die never knowing what a great person you might have been." — Robert H. Schuller
"Letting go gives us freedom, and freedom is the only condition for happiness. If, in our heart, we still cling to anything - anger, anxiety, or possessions - we cannot be free." — Thich Nhat Hanh
"Fear is a habit, so is self pity, defeat, anxiety, despair, hopelessness and resignation. You can eliminate all of these negative habits with two simple resolves: I can and I will." — Napoleon Hill
When you look fear in the face, yo uare able to say to yourself, 'I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.'" — Eleanor Roosevelt
"He who is not everyday conquering some fear has not learned the secret of life." — Ralph Waldo Emerson
"The components of anxiety, stress, fear, and anger do not exist independently of you in the world. They simply do not exist in the physical world, even though we talk about them as if they do." — Wayne Dyer
"He who fears he will suffer, already suffers from his fear." — Michel de Montaigne
"You can conquer almost any fear if you will only make up your mind to do so. For remember, fear doesn't exist anywhere except in the mind." — Dale Carnegie
"Don't waste life in doubts and fears; spend yourself on the work before you, well assured that the right performance of this hour's duties will be the best preparation for the hours and ages that will follow it." — Ralph Waldo Emerson
"Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrow, it only saps today of its joy." — Leo Buscaglia
"Nothing in the affairs of men is worthy of great anxiety." — Plato
How many times has someone else's opinion of you ruined your day? The reality is that you can't control what other people think, not even what they think of you. In fact, Epictetus listed "reputation" as one of the things that is simply out of your control.
What should you do when other people's opinions get you down? Focus on the things in your control, which, according to Epictetus, are your "opinion, pursuit, desire, aversion, and... whatever are our own actions."
“If evil be spoken of you and it be true, correct yourself, if it be a lie, laugh at it.” – Epictetus
“Other people’s views and troubles can be contagious. Don’t sabotage yourself by unwittingly adopting negative, unproductive attitudes through your associations with others.” – Epictetus
"It never ceases to amaze me: we all love ourselves more than other people, but care more about their opinion than our own." — Marcus Aurelius
"How much time he saves who does not look to see what his neighbor says or does or thinks." — Marcus Aurelius
"The opinion which other people have of you is their problem, not yours." — Elisabeth Kubler-Ross
"Great spirits have always encountered opposition from mediocre minds. The mediocre mind is incapable of understanding the man who refuses to bow blindly to conventional prejudices and chooses instead to express his opinions courageously and honestly." — Albert Einstein
"The minute you start caring about what other people think is the minute you stop being yourself." — Meryl Streep
"The eyes of others our prisons; their thoughts our cages." — Virginia Woolf
"Care about what other people think and you will always be their prisoner." — Lao Tzu
"Some people say you are going the wrong way, when it's simply a way of your own." — Angelina Jolie
"There is only one way to avoid criticism: do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing." — Aristotle
“I do not care so much what I am to others as I care what I am to myself.” ― Michel de Montaigne
"No one can make you feel inferior without your consent." ― Eleanor Roosevelt
Amor fati translates to "a love of fate." If you are suffering from sadness and feelings of depression, try zooming out. No matter what it is that is leaving you hurting, it's possible that embracing the concept of fate could completely change your life in the moment and in the long run.
“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
“To love only what happens, what was destined. No greater harmony.” — Marcus Aurelius
"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
"My formula for greatness in a human being is amor fati: that one wants nothing to be different, not forward, not backward, not in all eternity. Not merely bear what is necessary, still less conceal it… but love it.” — Friedrich Nietzsche
"The demon that you can swallow gives you it's power, and the greater life's pain, the greater life's reply." — Joseph Campbell
"A person often meets his destiny on the road he took to avoid it." — Jean de La Fontaine
"There's nowhere you can be that isn't where you're meant to be." — John Lennon
I'm not sure there is anyone that has lived a life free from grief, but that doesn't make it any less brutal when you're the one experiencing it.
The Stoics and other thinkers since them have some advice when it comes to grief: conquer it, embrace it, and don't fight it. We can't trick our grief into not existing by pretending we are unaffected by the tragedy that has befallen us. If you don't confront it head-on and accept it as a part of your present moment, it will keep popping up in odd places when we least expect it.
“It is better to conquer our grief than to deceive it. For if it has withdrawn, being merely beguiled by pleasures and preoccupations, it starts up again and from its very respite gains force to savage us.” — Seneca
“Embrace your grief. For there, your soul will grow.” — Carl Jung
“Reality hurts when you fight it. It makes you strong when you accept it.” — Maxime Lagacé
"When you are sorrowful, look again." — Khalil Gibran
"We must embrace pain and burn it as fuel for our journey." — Kenji Miyazawa
“You cannot protect yourself from sadness without protecting yourself from happiness.” ― Jonathan Safran Foer
It can be hard to really be yourself in this world or to even begin to know what that might mean. No matter where you live or how old you are, it can feel like the pressure to conform is overwhelming. Similarly, you might find that your desire to belong to the group and be accepted is driving you to abandon your true self.
While changing yourself to suit others might work for a time, it will inevitably come back to bite you. If you're feeling depressed because you don't know who you are or don't feel like your true self will be accepted, find some solace in the advice of the Stoics.
“We should not, like sheep, follow the herd of creatures in front of us, making our way where others go, not where we ought to go.” — Seneca
"How long are you going to wait before you demand the best for yourself and in no instance bypass the discriminations of reason? You have been given the principles that you ought to endorse, and you have endorsed them. What kind of teacher, then, are you still waiting for in order to refer your self-improvement to him?" — Epictetus
"Circumstances don’t make the man, they only reveal him to himself." — Epictetus
"If you really want to escape the things that harass you, what you’re needing is not to be in a different place but to be a different person." — Seneca
"Only the truth of who you are, if realized, will set you free." — Eckhart Tolle
"Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary." — Steve Jobs
"Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma - which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition." — Steve Jobs
"A wise man makes his own decisions, an ignorant man follows the public opinion." — Grantland Rice
Whether you are feeling depressed, anxious, angry, or generally displeased with your life, Stoicism can help. It's easy to feel like your happiness and the quality of life result from external forces, but this simply isn't the case. While there are tons of things in life that you can't control, the things that you can control are incredibly powerful. When you understand that you can improve your life simply by changing your perspective, the true possibilities of yourself, your life, and the world open up to you.
If you're looking for more Stoic quotes and Stoic ideas, you're in the right spot. Our ever-expanding library of resources is here to help you find inspiration, motivation, and food for thought as you work on incorporating Stoic notions into your everyday life. After all, Stoicism is meant to be a way of life, not just some interesting ideas you use to spark discussion at a dinner party. Like Epictetus said, "don't explain your philosophy. Embody it."