137 Stoic Quotes on Sickness and Bad Health

Updated October 13, 2022

Whether you've got a bad cold or you've been diagnosed with a chronic illness, these Stoic quotes on sickness and bad health will help you find the strength within yourself to make the best of your circumstance.

The ancient Stoic philosophers believed that illness is neither good nor evil, but instead indifferent. This might not sound particularly soothing if you're bed bound by sickness, but you'll likely find that adopting a Stoic mindset will be of great help when you're in ill health.

Stoic Quotes on Sickness

Sickness can come in many forms, but consulting with the wise minds of the ancient Stoics will help give you the mindset you need to persevere and overcome your circumstance.

marcus aurelius image and stoic quote about sickness

“One exaggerates, imagines, anticipates affliction. Do not let us build a second story to our sorrow by being sorry for our sorrow. "

— Marcus Aurelius

“If you meet sickness in a sensible manner, do you really think you are achieving nothing? You will be demonstrating that even if one cannot always beat it one can always bear an illness. There is room for heroism, I assure you, in bed as anywhere else. War and the battle-front are not the only spheres in which proof is to be had of a spirited and fearless character: a person’s bravery is no less evident under the bed-clothes.”

— Seneca

“If its threats or importunities leave you quite unmoved, you are setting others a signal example. How much scope there would be for renown if whenever we were sick we had an audience of spectators! Be your own spectator anyway, your own applauding audience.”

— Seneca

" Diogenes the Cynic reputedly taught that we should treat painful sensations like wild dogs. They will bite and tear at our heels the more we try to flee in panic but will often back down if we have the courage to turn and face them calmly. "

— Marcus Aurelius

"Remember that the fear of pain does more harm than pain itself."

— Marcus Aurelius

marcus aurelius image and quote about sickness

“Just as you overhear people saying that “the doctor prescribed such-and-such for him” (like riding, or cold baths, or walking barefoot…), say this: “Nature prescribed illness for him.”

— Marcus Aurelius

"'Tis healthy to be sick sometimes."

— Henry David Thoreau

"To the sick, indeed, nature is sick, but to the well, a fountain of health."

— Henry David Thoreau

"Sickness is poor-spirited, and cannot serve anyone; it must husband its resources to live. But health or fullness answers its own ends, and has to spare, runs over, and inundates the neighborhoods and creeks of other men's necessities."

— Ralph Waldo Emerson

Stoic Quotes on Bad Health as a Gift

It might be hard to see your bad health as a gift, but there is a lot of wisdom in the idea that all adversity is ultimately an opportunity to improve yourself and become the person you want to be.

The reality is that there are lessons to be learned from ill health. On top of that, it can give us the opportunity to turn inward in a busy world that doesn't offer much opportunity for quiet time on our own.

Illness has actually given many people a new lease on life; the experience of being near to death has been their preservation. You will die not because you are sick but because you are alive. That end still awaits you when you have been cured.”

 — Seneca

‘There is a pleasure in having succeeded in enduring something the actual enduring of which was very far from pleasant; when some trouble or other comes to an end the natural thing is to be glad.’

 — Seneca

“The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”

— Marcus Aurelius

“There are two things, then, the recollecting of trouble in the past as well as the fear of the troubles to come, that I have to root out: that the first is no longer of any concern to me and the second has yet to be so. And when a man is in the grip of difficulties he should say:

“There may be pleasure in the memory of even these events one day.” — Virgil, The Aeneid

“Let us too overcome all things, with our reward consisting not in any wreath or garland, not in trumpet calls or silence for the ceremonial proclamation of our name, but in moral worth, in strength of spirit, in a peace that is won forever once in any contest fortune has been utterly defeated.”

 — Seneca

"We forget ourselves and our destinies in health, and the chief use of temporary sickness is to remind us of these concerns."

— Ralph Waldo Emerson

Quotes on Enduring Hardship

Sometimes, sickness completely bowls you over. All of your plans, goals, and dreams are interrupted while you work to recover. Maybe you've been diagnosed with a disease that isn't expected to ever go away.

This is hard-- no question about it. This is one of the most difficult things that can happen to a person.

By touching base with the thoughts of the great Stoics like Marcus Aurelius and Seneca, though, you'll find a great deal of wisdom about how to endure hardship and find the hunk of gold hidden inside.

“You have to assemble your life yourself —action by action. And be satisfied if each one achieves its goal, as far as it can. No one can keep that from happening.”

— Marcus Aurelius

“Unendurable pain brings its own end with it. Chronic pain is always endurable.”

— Marcus Aurelius

“Reject your sense of injury, and the injury itself disappears.”

— Marcus Aurelius

"Even if some obstacle comes on the scene, its appearance is only to be compared to that of clouds which drift in front of the sun without ever defeating its light."

— Seneca

"Fire is the test of gold; adversity, of strong men."

— Seneca

“In the meantime, cling tooth and nail to the following rule: not to give in to adversity, not to trust prosperity, and always take full note of fortune’s habit of behaving just as she pleases. Whatever you have been expecting for some time comes as less of a shock.”

— Seneca

"Misfortune is virtue's opportunity."

— Seneca

"Constant misfortune brings this one belssing: to whom it always assails, it eventually fortifies."

— Seneca

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

— Seneca

"A blazing fire makes flame and brightness out of everything that is thrown into it."

— Marcus Aurelius

“No it’s fortunate that this has happened and I’ve remained unharmed by it — not shattered by the present or frightened of the future. It could have happened to anyone. But not everyone could have remained unharmed by it.”

— Marcus Aurelius

Stoic Quotes on Complaining

We're all guilty of complaining from time to time, but this doesn't do much for ourselves or our relationships with other people. It can be hard not to complain when you're in pain or otherwise suffering from bad health.

Let's see what the Stoics and some Stoic-minded thinkers have to say about complaining to help us overcome the impulse to whine about our circumstances, no matter how justified we are in doing so.

“Don’t be overheard complaining… Not even to yourself.”

— Marcus Aurelius

“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. In your interest, or in your nature.”

— Marcus Aurelius

“A man is as unhappy as he has convinced himself he is. And complaining away about one’s sufferings after they are over is something I think should be banned. Even if all this is true, it is past history. What’s the good of dragging up sufferings which are over, of being unhappy now just because you were then?”

— Seneca

"To change one's life:
a. Start immediately
b. B. Do it flamboyantly
c. No exceptions
Never suffer an exception to occur till the new habit is securely rooted."

— William James

"Life shall be built in doing and suffering and creating."

— William James

"All health and success does me good, however far off and withdrawn it may appear; all disease and failure helps to make me sad anddoes me evil, however much sympathy it may have with me or I with it."

— Henry David Thoreau

"Man suffers only because he takes seriously what the gods made for fun."

— Alan Watts

Stoic Quotes on Health

Of course, bad health exists only in contrast to a state of good health. When we think of health we think of our physical body, but it also has to do with our mind and what we value in life.

“Hold fast then to this sound and wholesome rule of life; indulge the body only as far as is needful for health.”

— Seneca

“If you are surprised at the number of our maladies, count our cooks.”

— Seneca

“Health is the soul that animates all the enjoyments of life, which fade and are tasteless without it.”

— Seneca

“It is exercise alone that supports the spirits, and keeps the mind in vigor.”

– Marcus Tullius Cicero

“Diseases of the soul are more dangerous and more numerous than those of the body.”

– Marcus Tullius Cicero

“In a disordered mind, as in a disordered body, soundness of health is impossible.”

– Marcus Tullius Cicero

"What is called genius is the abundance of life and health."

— Henry David Thoreau

"Measure your health by your sympathy with morning and spring. If there is no response in you to the awakening of nature -if the prospect of an early morning walk does not banish sleep, if the warble of the first bluebird does not thrill you -know that the morning and spring of your life are past. Thus may you feel your pulse."

— Henry David Thoreau

"We need the tonic of wildness."

— Henry David Thoreau

"Must be out-of-doors enough to get experience of wholesome reality, as a ballast to thought and sentiment. Health requires this relaxation, this aimless life."

— Henry David Thoreau

"To speak or do anything that shall concern mankind, one must speak and act as if well, or from that grain of health which he has left."
— Henry David Thoreau
"The same soil is good for men and for trees. A man's health requires as many acres of meadow to his prospect as his farm does loads of muck."
— Henry David Thoreau

"A healthy man, indeed, is the complement of the seasons, and in winter, summer is in his heart."

— Henry David Thoreau

"When I go into the garden with a spade and dig a bed I feel such an exhilaration and health that I discover that I have been defrauding myself all this time in letting others do for me what I should have done with my own hands."

— Ralph Waldo Emerson

"The first wealth is health."

— Ralph Waldo Emerson

"Health is the first muse, and sleep is the condition to produce it."

— Ralph Waldo Emerson

"Health is the condition of wisdom, and the sign is cheerfulness, - an open and noble temper."

— Ralph Waldo Emerson

"Health is the greatest gift, contentment the greatest wealth, faithfulness the best relationship."

— Gautama Buddha

"Our sorrows and wounds are healed only when we touch them with compassion."

— Gautama Buddha

"The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, nor to worry about the future, but to live the present moment wisely and earnestly. There are only two mistakes one can make along the road to truth; not going all the way, and not starting."

— Gautama Buddha

"Health, south wind, books, old trees, a boat, a friend."

— Ralph Waldo Emerson

"Live in the sunshine, swim the sea, drink the wild air."

— Ralph Waldo Emerson

"The measure of mental health is the disposition to find good everywhere."

— Ralph Waldo Emerson

Quotes on Bad Health and What’s In Your Control

To the Stoics, not even your own body is under your control, and you should focus your energy on the things you can control, like your thoughts, actions, feelings, and reactions.

“You mustn’t forget that this body isn’t truly your own, but is nothing more than cleverly molded clay.”

— Epictetus

Sickness is a problem for the body, not the mind — unless the mind decides that it is a problem. Lameness, too, is the body's problem, not the mind's. Say this to yourself whatever the circumstance and you will find without fail that the problem pertains to something else, not to you.”

— Epictetus

Stoic Quotes on Sickness and Pain as Indifferent

To the Stoics, many of the things that we usually regard as "bad" are actually indifferent. The only bad things in the Stoic way of thinking are vices, while the only good things are virtues.

Everything else is indifferent-- meaning that they can be used as tools for good and evil but aren't good or evil in themselves.

“But death and life, success and failure, pain and pleasure, wealth and poverty, all these happen to good and bad alike, and they are neither noble nor shameful—and hence neither good nor bad.”

— Marcus Aurelius

“So remember this principle when something threatens to cause you pain: the thing itself was no misfortune at all; to endure it and prevail is great good fortune.”

— Marcus Aurelius

Stoic Quotes on Positive Thinking and Illness

The Stoics knew that you have power over your mind and that this has a very real impact on the reality of your life and experience. They knew that getting better from an illness doesn't just have to do with prescriptions from doctors, but also with how you frame the situation in your mind.

seneca image and quote about sickness

“It is part of the cure to wish to be cured.”

— Seneca

“Choose not to be harmed—and you won’t feel harmed. Don’t feel harmed—and you haven’t been.”

— Marcus Aurelius

“Comforting thoughts contribute to a person’s cure; anything which raises his spirits benefits him physically as well. It was my stoic studies that really saved me. For the fact that I was able to leave my bed and was restored to health I give the credit to philosophy. I owe her my life.

 — Seneca

“It is not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.”

– Epictetus

"As you think, so you become. Avoid superstitiously investing events with power or meanings they don’t have. Keep your head. Our busy minds are forever jumping to conclusions, manufacturing and interpreting signs that aren’t there. Assume, instead, that everything that happens to you does so for some good. That if you decided to be lucky, you are lucky. All events contain an advantage for you- if you look for it!"

— Epictetus

"As for health, consider yourself well."

— Henry David Thoreau

"Every human being is the author of his own health or disease."

— Gautama Buddha

"When you are sick of your sickness you will cease to be sick."

— Laozi

"The only thing over which you have complete right of control at all times is your mental attitude."

— Napoleon Hill

Quotes on Sickness and Courage

It isn't always easy to be brave when you're sick. When we were little, we might have cried at the slightest scrape on our knee or bump of the head. Our threshold becomes greater as we age, but that doesn't mean sickness can't be downright terrifying.

seneca image and quote about sickness

“On many an occasion, I felt an urge to cut my life short there and then, and was only held back by the thought of my father, who had been the kindest of fathers to me and was then in his old age. Having in mind not how bravely I was capable of dying but how far from bravely he was capable of bearing the loss, I commanded myself to live. There are times when even to live is an act of bravery.

— Seneca

“In the same way as the enemy can do far more damage to your army if it is in full retreat, every trouble that may come our way presses harder on the one who has turned tail and is giving ground.”

— Seneca

“Call to mind things which you have done that have been upright or courageous; run over in your mind the finest parts that you have played.”

— Seneca

“But my friends also made a considerable contribution to my return to health. I found a great deal of relief in their cheering remarks . . . There is nothing, my good Lucilius, quite like the devotion of one’s friends . . .

 — Seneca

Stoic Quotes on Self-Pity

Feeling sorry for yourself won't help you heal any faster. It might sound harsh, but the Stoics were well aware that nothing is gained by self-pity.

“‘But my illness has taken me away from my duties and won’t allow me to achieve anything,’” one may say. But what do we accomplish by such self-pitying remarks?”

— Seneca

"And here you may mention anything you care to name — a fit of uninterrupted coughing to violent that it brings up part of the internal organs, having one’s very entrails seared by a fever, thirst, having limbs wrenched in different directions with dislocations of the joints… There have been men who have undergone these experiences and never uttered a groan. Look around you at all the throng of those you know and those you do not, you will find everywhere men whose sufferings have been greater; legend has not granted exemption from misfortune even to the gods."

— Epictetus

"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

Quotes on the Appreciation of Life

Sometimes, the gift we receive from illness is a renewed appreciation of life. It's easy to forget how much of a blessing it is to be alive when you're caught up in the hustle and bustle of things. When you're health is taken from you, you're reminded to not take your health for granted.

“For a life spent viewing all the variety, the majesty, the sublimity in things around us can never succumb to ennui: the feeling that one is tired of being, of existing, is usually the result of an idle and inactive leisure. Truth will never pall on someone who explores the world of nature, wearied as a person will be by the spurious things.”

— Seneca

“Even if death is on the way with a summons for him, though it come all too early, though it cut him off in the prime of life, he has experienced every reward that the very longest life can offer, having gained extensive knowledge of the world we live in, having learnt that time adds nothing to the finer things in life. Whereas any life must needs seem short to people who measure it in terms of pleasures which through their empty nature are incapable of completeness.”

— Seneca

“As Posidonius said, in a single day there lies open to men of learning more than there ever does to the unenlightened in the longest of lifetimes.”

— Seneca

"I've told my children that when I die, to release balloons in the sky to celebrate that I graduated. For me, death is a graduation."

— Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

"It's only when we truly know and understand that we have a limited time on earth - and that we have no way of knowing when our time is up, we will then begin to live each day to the fullest, as if it was the only one we had."

— Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

"Begin to live each day to the fullest, as if it were the only one we had."

— Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

Stoic Quotes on Pain

Pain can be physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, or existential... pain is quite the jack of all trades. It comes in many forms, it can strike at any moment, and it can last a lifetime or be gone in a flash. Pain is inevitable in life, but we don't have to make things harder on ourselves and increase our pain by fearing it.

epictetus image and stoic quote about sickness

“It is not death or pain that is to be dreaded, but the fear of pain or death.”

— Epictetus

“…To fear pain is to fear something that’s bound to happen…”

— Marcus Aurelius

“In a word, neither death, nor exile, nor pain, nor anything of this kind is the real cause of our doing or not doing any action, but our inward opinions and principles.”

— Epictetus

"Running away from fear is fear; fighting pain is pain; trying to be brave is being scared."

— Alan Watts

"There is no illusion greater than fear."

— Laozi

"We cannot be more sensitive to pleasure without being more sensitive to pain."

— Alan Watts

"The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of those depths."

— Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

"When you learn your lessons, the pain goes away."

— Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

"Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional."

— Haruki Murakami

Quotes on Overcoming the Fear of Death

Illness can remind you of something we don't often like to think about: we're all going to die someday. To the Stoics, overcoming the fear of death is essential to leading a happy life with a good flow.

“My own advice to you — and not only in the present illness but in your whole life as well — is this: refuse to let the thought of death bother you. Nothing is grim when we have escaped that fear.”

— Seneca

“The one requirement is that we cease to dread death. And so we shall as soon as we have learnt to distinguish the good things and the bad things in this world. Then and then only shall we stop being weary of living as well as scared of dying.”

— Seneca

"We live in a culture where it has been rubbed into us in every conceivable way that to die is a terrible thing. And that is a tremendous disease from which our culture in particular suffers."

— Alan Watts

"If we live, we live; if we die, we die; if we suffer, we suffer; if we are terrified, we are terrified. There is no problem about it."

— Alan Watts

"At times almost all of us envy the animals. They suffer and die, but do not seem to make a "problem" of it."

— Alan Watts

"If you are afraid of death, be afraid. The point is to get with it, to let it take over - fear, ghosts, pains, transience, dissolution, and all. And then comes the hitherto unbelievable surprise; you don't die because you were never born. You had just forgotten who you are."

— Alan Watts

"We begin to die from the moment we are born, for birth is the cause of death. The nature of decay is inherent in youth, the nature of sickness is inherent in health, in the midst of life we are verily in death."

— Gautama Buddha

"Life and death are one thread, the same line viewed from different sides."
— Laozi

"If you wouldn't live long, live well; for folly and wickedness shorten life."

— Benjamin Franklin

For more quotes, check out our Stoic quotes blog with pages on everything from depression and hardship to gratitude and death.

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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This website provides the best stoic quotations on the topics of life, death, control, anxiety, and wisdom in general.

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