Stoicism: The Key to Happiness (And Justice!)

Back when I was in graduate school, I read the book Radical Hope by Jonathan Lear. It’s a very short work of philosophical anthropology. In the book, Lear argues that the path Crow Chief Plenty Coups took–as opposed to Sitting Bull–was the best route. At the time, I offered many objections to this, seeing Sitting Bull as a role model for justice. Sitting Bull resisted colonization with everything he had in him while Plenty Coups encouraged his people to adapt to reservation life and get to work. Back in grad school, I argued that both tribes ended up basically the same, so wasn’t it better to fight injustice with everything inside you?

Fast forward to now. I have been diagnosed with schizophrenia and had to leave school. Donald Trump is the current president. I have learned a lot–and have suffered a lot. In my quest for mental health care, I went to counseling and engaged in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, a derivative of the ancient philosophy of Stoicism.

When Trump was first elected, my stomach was in knots. I lost a lot of weight. I was worried, scared and terrified. I knew services that I needed may be cut.

I see this a lot on the Left–anxiety, fear, worry.

Because I saw a great counselor, I was able to work through those emotions and come to better terms with things. I am no longer a wreck–and I haven’t been for quite some time.

This new perspective gives me a better understanding of Plenty Coups, who I previously regarded as a sell-out.

If we see Plenty Coups as being more of a Stoic than Sitting Bull, it makes sense that, when all was said and done, Plenty Coups ended up happier than Sitting Bull.

Stoicism is a philosophical position that you practice. You live it. For Stoics, the end result is virtue and a state of inner calm known as “Stoic calm.”

Stoicism brings you happiness.

That’s why it’s foundational to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.

Plenty Coups wasn’t a sell-out. But he may have had better adaptation skills than Sitting Bull. He may have had better flexibility. And he may have been happier.

A lot of people think that Stoicism entails quietism, but it doesn’t. In fact, one of the key virtues of Stoicism is the virtue of justice–a virtue that is sorely lacking, including among the Left.

Ancient Stoics famously opposed slavery, even though they thought a slave could be virtuous and, thus, happy. Maybe they were against slavery because they thought slaves could be virtuous.

At any rate, Stoicism does not entail quietism. I am fairly Stoic in my lifestyle and I care for people, help people and voted against Trump. A Stoic sees brotherly and sisterly love among humans. That’s an essential part of being Stoic. Therefore, justice is required.

For a Stoic, happiness doesn’t depend on external things. You can be poor yet happy, dying yet happy. No matter what your state, you can be virtuous.

When I was studying Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for self-betterment, I learned that, often, unhappiness stems from cognitive distortions. Therapy, then, is the task of minimizing those distortions. Once you are in a state of fewer distortions, you can make better decisions–about life, about politics, about everything.

Being a slave to the political concept of justice–the way I thought of Sitting Bull–and dying and suffering for your just cause will make you less virtuous and also less happy. You may suffer mental disturbances. And this is true even if, like Plenty Coups and Sitting Bull, your fate is virtually the same and sealed from the beginning. Isn’t is better to have lived a happy life while also considering others than to suffer mental disturbances and do basically the same?

I think so. Too boot, I think the state of inner calm I experience puts me in a position to make better choices–about justice and all else.

Plenty Coups wasn’t a sell-out. And Stoicism does not entail quietism.

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