Christopher Thompsett, first year undergraduate student of Classics at Exeter University, offers his view of the Live like a Stoic trial, 2012. This report will be published in the forthcoming journal Pegasus, published by the Classics Dept. here at Exeter.
Stoic Week: The Student View
From the 26th November to the 2nd of December 2012, volunteers worldwide participated in the first ‘Stoic Week’, an endeavour which would put to the test the philosophical school of Stoicism in applying its ethical theories to contemporary life. ‘Stoic Week’ was set up as a satellite of the Classics and Ancient History Department’s recent work on Health and Wellbeing in the Ancient World, which is considering what may be learned from the Ancient World’s practices in psychotherapy and diet for modern day living. The team which organised it included Professor Christopher Gill, Professor of Ancient Thought here at Exeter and Dr. John Sellars, lecturer in philosophy at Birkbeck in London. Making the work truly interdisciplinary, however, was the involvement of leading psychotherapeutic professionals, such as Dr. Donald Robertson, author of The Philosophy of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (which examines the Stoic roots of this therapy), and Tim LeBon, author of Wise Therapy, who, among other things, provided wellbeing surveys and questionnaires for the measurement of any psychological benefits. What started as a project for students taking Roman Philosophy here ended up attracting interest from all parts of the world, with 130 officially taking part. In this report, I hope to give some personal reactions to the events of the week in which we followed Stoic principles, reactions from fellow students, and also those who shared their experiences online through the blogosphere and in the press.
For those with a very short amount of time for this, a one sentence management summary of the findings is
Extremely promising, interesting results, much scope for further , more focussed research
N.B. Please read the limitations of the research section of the full report before quoting from this post or the report. Although the findings are very promising, further research is required before more definitive conclusions can be drawn. 10 Things we know now as a result of Exeter Stoic week that we didn’t know before
1) Participating in Stoic week led to approximately a 10% increase on a number of well-validated and widely used measures of well-being.
2) Participants felt both that the one week had increased their knowledge of Stoicism considerably and also expressed a thirst for more knowledge about Stoicism
3) Some Stoic exercises are much more popular and perceived as much more useful than others
4) Stoicism (as experienced in Stoic week) appears to be much more effective at reducing distress than it does at facilitating positive emotions.
5) Stoicism (as experienced in Stoic week) appears to help with some aspects of life satisfaction more than others.
6) Stoicism (as experienced in Stoic week) appears to help with some aspects of flourishing more than others.
7) Stoicism (as experienced in Stoic week) appears to help with reducing some negative emotions more than others.
8) Many participants perceived that Stoic week had helped them roughly equally with various areas of their lives including relationships, becoming a better person and becoming wiser.
9) The detailed “Overall Experience of Stoic week” questionnaire provided us with participants’ experiences of a whole range of topics including :
b. Satisfaction with Stoic week
c. Use of social media
d. How participants would like to take their own experience forward
e. Feedback on the booklet
10) Whilst there are significant Limitations in the methodology and scope the of research so far, there is reason to think that further more focused research would be worthwhile.
To find out a lot more detail, download the full report on Stoic week here.
Mentally review the whole of the preceding day three times from beginning to end,
and even the days before if necessary. 1.1. What done amiss? Ask yourself what mistakes you made and condemn (not yourself
but) what actions you did badly; do so in a moderate and rational manner. 1.2. What done? Ask yourself what virtue, i.e., what strength or wisdom you showed,
and sincerely praise yourself for what you did well. 1.3. What left undone? Ask yourself what could be done better, i.e., what you should do
instead next time if a similar situation occurs.
This exercise also proved to be the most popular of the Stoic exercises in the booklet. Why not try it tonight?
‘A fine reflection from Plato. One who would converse about human beings should look on all things earthly as though from some point far above, upon herds,
armies, and agriculture, marriages and divorces, births and deaths, the clamour of law courts, deserted wastes, alien peoples of every kind, festivals, lamentations, and
markets, this intermixture of everything and ordered combination of opposites.’
The ‘View from Above’ is a guided visualization which is aimed at
instilling a sense of the ‘bigger picture’, and of understanding your role in wider
community of humankind. Continue reading →
The answers are all in and there’s a lot of interesting responses to the Stoic Week questionnaires . The results will be posted on this site soon can now be read here. As a taster and teaser, here are some of the questions to which we hope Stoic Week will provide answers.
1. Did participating in Stoic week lead to a change in well-being?
2) Did participants increase their knowledge of Stoicism? Do they want to learn more about Stoicism?
3) Were some Stoic exercises more popular and more useful than others? If so which ones were perceived as being the best?
4) Is Stoicism (as experienced in Stoic week) more effective at reducing distress or facilitating positive emotions. Or does it do both equally?
5) Does Stoicism help with some aspects of life satisfaction (such as accepting what has happened) much more than others? If so, which ones?
6) Does Stoicism help with some aspects of flourishing (such as meaning and purpose) much more than others.? If so, which ones can it help most with?
7) Does Stoicism help with reducing some negative emotions (such as anger) more than others. If so, which ones?
8) Did Stoic Week help people improve relationships, become a better person or becoming wiser? What other benefits did participants notice?
9) What was it like to be part of Stoic Week?
* How satisfied were participants with Stoic week?
* How did participants use social media?
* How would participants like to take their own experience forward ?
* How did participants find the booklet?
* How did participants find the web site?
10) Would further research be worthwhile? What are the most interesting possibilities that could be part of Stoic fortnight in 2013?
Many, many thanks go to all those who took part in the Stoic week, and especially those who have given very useful feedback for our next Stoic experiment in the spring!
Over the next few days, some interesting results from this feedback will be posted on the blog. In the meantime, here is a roundup of press interest in Stoic Week, and also some thoughtful (and inspiring) blog posts:
What next, though? You can vote in the poll below (up to three choices) for any ancient philosophy you fancy doing as an alternative to #Stoicweek in the future. Underneath is a roundup of recent posts in case you missed anything…
Don’t forget to retake the surveys below for analysis, and also to take the general feedback questionnaire. Your responses will be really helpful for designing the Stoic Fortnight in Spring 2013. Continue reading →