Stoic Week 2013: The Results!

Stoic Week 2013: The Results!

By Tim LeBon

All the questionnaires you submitted (thank you!) have been analysed and the verdict is: Stoicism really does appear to have significant benefits on happiness, flourishing and well-being.

Key headlines

1) The improvements in well-being after taking part in Stoic week that were found in 2012 were replicated with  a much larger sample.  Interestingly some very specific findings were also replicated, such as Stoicism being most associated with acceptance, optimism and a sense of purpose. We plan to send follow up  questionnaires in a few months time to see to what extent these benefits “stick”.

2) We have piloted a scale to measure Stoic Attitudes and Behaviours, the “SABS”. For the first time we now have  evidence of a positive association between well-being and Stoic attitudes and behaviours prior to any interventions. It does seem that being Stoic is good for you.  We also know which Stoic attitudes and behaviours are most associated with well-being and which are not. The  most “active ingredients” in Stoicism  appear to be :

A. I make an effort to pay continual attention to the nature of my judgements and actions.

B. When an upsetting thought enters my mind the first thing I do is remind myself it’s just an impression in my mind and not the thing it claims to represent.

C. I consider myself to be a part of the human race, in the same way that a limb is a part of the human body. It is my duty to contribute to its welfare.

There is also now evidence that the emotion Stoicism is most associated with is not so much indifference or passivity but – joy!

There’s a lot more detail, and also some qualifications to the headlines above in the full report (below) and also recommendations for next steps. Please post a comment if you have any thoughts about what you read, including possible next steps and applications for Stoicism, now that we are developing a much more substantial evidence base.

Click here for the full report on Stoic Week 2013.

15 thoughts on “Stoic Week 2013: The Results!

  1. Angela Gilmour

    Hi Patrick you must be delighted with the results from this very successful project – well done

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  3. Nigel Glassborow

    At last!!! It is recognised that Stoicism is about joy and contentment. And, I believe, there is now a creeping recognition that seeing the individual as part of a Cosmic whole will also possibly be of benefit, if nothing else than to explain how the Stoic framework is held together as a complete life philosophy. I look forward to seeing how Stoicism Today and Stoic Week 2014 sets about addressing this issue.

    But, please one favour. One would not take Christian teachings and principles and call them a ‘therapy’ so I ask that no one comes up with the idea of suggesting that Stoicism is a ‘therapy’. CBT may be a therapy, but Stoicism is a wisdom that tries to understand and follow the path of Harmony.

    1. Donald Robertson

      I think there’s a misunderstanding here. Nobody has claimed that Stoicism *is* a therapy. However, the founders of Stoicism explicitly stated that it consists, in part, in a form of psychological therapy. Stoicism was always intended to be therapeutic, but it’s more than that as well. That’s very clear from the ancient literature. To deny the therapeutic dimension of Stoicism would definitely be more of a distortion of its historical roots than to emphasise it. Epictetus, for instance, said very bluntly: “The philosopher’s school is a doctor’s clinic.” Although, everyone who’s written on this subject, myself included, has, as far as I’m aware, always been at pains to emphasise that it’s more besides, and more ambitious in its scope than modern psychotherapy.

      1. Nigel Glassborow

        No misunderstanding. No claim that anyone has already claimed that Stoicism is a therapy. No denial that some o the Stoic ideas can be theraputic. Just a plea that we won’t end up with Stoicism being hijacked as a therapy. If CBT therapists find they can improve CBT by looking at Stoicism all well and good. But lets have no change of name. Keep CBT as CBT and let Stoicism stay as a spiritual life philosophy.

        1. Donald Robertson

          Yes but Stoicism can’t be “hijacked as a therapy” because it always already emphasised a set of therapeutic concepts and techniques. It’s part of its fundamental character to be therapeutic. Likewise: nobody’s actually suggested changing the name of CBT or Stoicism, have they? Like I said, we’ve always really emphasised that Stoicism and CBT are distinct but related, and can benefit from a fruitful dialogue, and I think most authors in this area have stressed the same point over and over again.

          1. Nigel Glassborow

            My understanding is that a therapy is ‘a treatment used to combat a disease or an abnormal condition’ (Chambers English Dictionary) or ‘the treatment of physical or mental disorders other than by surgery’ (Oxford English Dictionary).

            Stoicism is the ‘Operator’s Manual’ for a person’s ‘spark’ of the Divine Fire and the life that comes with such.

            It is not a ‘repair manual’, albeit that it does have clauses on the removal and replacement of faulty ‘programmes’ etc. Epictetus may have run a ‘hospital’ for those who had become ‘sick’ by not operating their equipment properly, but Seneca and Marcus were not trying to cure anyone – they were simply reminding us to look at the ‘Operator’s Manual’ if we are to get the most out of life.

            Stoicism is not a treatment (therapy) for disorders, diseases or abnormal conditions, albeit that it can help with such. If CBT can learn from Stoicism all well and good. My plea is that academia and intellectuals do not create the impression that Stoicism is a treatment for mental disorders by linking the word Stoicism with the word ‘therapy’. Christianity can be therapeutic, but no one would call it a therapy. Stoicism can be therapeutic, if taken in the whole, but it is not a therapy.

            Stoicism’s ‘fundamental character’ is that of a spiritual and practical life philosophy.

            I am sorry if this stance upsets some authors, but the Divine Fire, the living conscious Cosmos, is core to understanding and living the Stoic life.

          2. Donald Robertson

            Well, first of all, it’s not that what you’re saying upsets anyone. It’s just that it seems to be fundamentally incorrect. There’s not normally any controversy about this: a central feature of Stoicism was its “therapeutic” dimension. The medical analogy, the description of philosophy as consisting of a form of medicine for the mind, more specifically for the “passions” or irrational fears and desires, was well established in Hellenistic philosophy in general. Stoicism was, however, the branch of philosophy most explicitly and emphatically associated with the concept of psychological therapy. Marcus and Seneca both refer to this. Seneca, for example, describes himself as as like an invalid discussing how his treatment is going with the man in the bed beside him. For the founders of Stoicism, we all suffer from mental disorders, as they put it themselves. The main difference from modern psychotherapy was that they considered this to be a universal fact of the human condition. In other words, I think if you look into the literature of Stoicism more closely you’ll find that this therapeutic dimension is already there and, in fact, a dominant feature of ancient Stoic philosophy in general. You might want to say the Stoics weren’t primarily concerned with problems that would meet modern diagnostic criteria (DSM-IV-TR) but that would be a trivial observation because all modern psychologists accept that psychiatric diagnoses are merely “syndromes”, they’re largely just labels for the more severe forms of ordinary emotional disturbance, and lie on a continuum with everyday experiences. So modern psychotherapy necessarily deals with “ordinary anxiety” as well as its pathological forms and with preventative measures, which we tend to call “emotional-resilience building”. In that respect, the overlap with ancient Stoicism seems very clear and pretty uncontroversial.

          3. Nigel Glassborow

            I am not quite sure why you have a problem with my claiming that Stoicism should not be called a therapy. I have agreed that aspects of Stoicism can be of therapeutic use which does not seem to satisfy you. But having aspects that are therapeutic does not make Stoicism as a whole a therapy any more than aspects of Christianity being therapeutic makes it a therapy.

            Having looked at the early Stoic literature very closely over the last 25 years, I would say that you are to some degree misunderstanding the use of analogies by the Stoics of old.

            Your continued attempts to ‘defend’ its ‘therapeutic’ benefits offers no logical argument as to why it should be called a ‘therapy’.

            If you have read the Stoic literature you will know that Stoicism is meant to be taken as a ‘sphere’. The Stoics of old claimed that the whole Stoic framework is needed for it to be understood properly and for it to work.

            And this includes the teachings about the Divine Fire, the universal deity that we Stoic’s recognise as being key to the understanding as to how the rest of the Stoic teachings and practices hold together.

            The understanding that we as individuals are a ‘spark of the Divine Fire’ places Stoicism in the category of a spiritual and practical life philosophy. Stoicism is a rational world-view, a rational teaching and a rational belief. It is not a therapy.

        2. Rich

          This is a really interesting discussion – thanks to the both of you. I actually sort of agree with both points of view. Stoicism very clearly and openly has relevance as a therapy, while also being essentially spiritual.I think Nigel maybe concerned that Stoicism goes the same way as mindfulness, and becomes somehow trivialised by becoming a ‘fad’ by being sold as a sort of cure-all, shorn of the ethical/spiritual aspects that are actually so vital to the philosophy when considered as a whole.

  4. Steven

    William B. Irvine mentions joy in the title of his popular book ‘A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy’. Quote from a review: “…and you won’t have to read that far into it before the phrase ‘stoic joy’ ceases sounding like an oxymoron and becomes a workable proposition. I’d like to see further work on this aspect by Stoicism Today in the future.

  5. Eric Ederer, MPH

    It is good you are doing this scientific study. This helps show that Stoicism works, and is not a random collection of perplexing ancient adages and letters. If I have any others insights regarding the study, I will let you know. I am really glad you are doing this useful work.

    1. timlebon

      Thanks. I think you put that very well. I think the two types of research we have done – one intervention -based and the other cross-sectional certainly point in that direction. I was reading only today about another study where they were investigating whether supplements reduced cancer risks, and they actually found they increased the risk – which goes to show that sometimes the results can go the other way. In fact, the correlational study (the SABS) – points to quite a strong association between Stoicism and well-being. It also offers hints as to the most “active ingredients” in Stoicism, at least as far as well-being is concerned. What we would like to do next is enhance the SABS so it includes any Stoic ideas and practices that might be important that we are missing and also to make it more understandable to non-Stoics. Then we want to test out the next version with other people, including those without much interest in Stoicism.
      Hopefully the results so far will generate enough interest and momentum for further research to take place

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