by David Fideler
Jules Evans, who helped to educate people about Stoicism and its relationship with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) in his book Philosophy for Life and Other Dangerous Situations, was recently interviewed by Rebel Wisdom on why Stoicism has experienced such a revival over the last decade.
You can watch the entire fifteen-minute video below.
And here’s a summary of what Jules had to say . . .
Why Has Stoicism Become So Popular Over the Past Decade?
The explosion of interest in Stoicism over the past ten years might seem unlikely at first, but makes perfect sense, once we consider Stoicism’s central appeal. As Jules Evans notes in the interview above, “Stoicism is popular now because people feel out of control. . . . Stoicism says, accept that you cannot control the external world, but that you can find a measure of serenity and happiness and moral meaning by focusing on what is in your control, your own beliefs and your own actions.”
Stoicism arose and became popular in difficult, trying times: the Greek city-state was breaking down, the world no longer felt stable, and change (and chaos) was everywhere. Similarly, for many people today, our world feels out of control in many ways: socially, politically, and environmentally. But Stoic philosophy teaches people how to lead happy, tranquil lives despite that, by focusing on what is in our control. It teaches how you can have a good life in bad or stressful times, even if it feels like the world is falling apart.
Second, readers are increasingly aware that modern cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) was directly based on teachings from Stoic philosophy, and CBT has proven to be, through scientific, empirical studies, one of the most effective forms of psychotherapy in the modern world. In short, modern psychology (and science) has shown the ancient Stoic “therapy of the emotions” to actually work — and to work quite well. (According to various studies, sixteen weeks of CBT helps roughly 75 percent of patients to recover from social anxiety, 65 percent to recover from PTSD, 80 percent from panic disorder, and 60 percent from mild to moderate depression.)
Another large appeal of Stoic philosophy today is that its techniques have a rational foundation and don’t require a belief in supernatural forces. For this reason, modern Stoicism is very popular with secular humanists and atheists, but it’s equally popular with religious people and the spiritual but not religious. Stoicism has also become prominent in Silicon Valley and in the world of entrepreneurship, because it provides a kind of emotional stability in a business world that is characterized by turbulence and unpredictability.
One final appealing element is that Stoicism is part of our own Western tradition, and some of its main exponents were notable people who were very active in the world. Seneca, for example, was one of the richest men in the Roman Empire, an advisor to Nero, and very active in public life. It’s even likely that he ran the Roman Empire for several years, on Nero’s behalf, when Nero first became emperor at the tender age of seventeen. Similarly, Marcus Aurelius was a true “philosopher king”: both a Stoic philosopher and the emperor of the Roman Empire, who led 1,400 troops to fight off invading Germanic tribes on the Empire’s northern boundary. So while Stoicism is a kind of spiritual or psychological tradition akin to Buddhism in some ways, it was not designed for monks or ascetics, but advocated deep engagement with the world, with the goal of improving society.
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