What is Stoicism and How Can it Turn your Life to Solid Gold?

A few weeks ago, I got a really interesting email from a guy in Norway that said something like, “Hey Mr. MM.. What you are preaching is Pure Stoicism, with a great twist and perception on today’s world … I love it!!” *

“Stoicism?” I asked, “You mean like the Stoics in Shakespearean plays that show no emotion of any sort? That doesn’t sound quite right to me.

But it turns out I had fallen into a common misconception. The Clever Norwegian pointed me to a book on the topic, which I immediately checked out of the library and read completely. It was called “A Guide to the Good Life, The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy“.

From reading the book, I learned that Stoicism was actually a shockingly advanced old philosophy that found many followers in ancient Rome. Although it has fallen widely out of favor in modern life, people in today’s society would probably identify the central ideas as “Hardcore Mustachianism”.

Stoicism, in short, is a series of mental techniques and ways of life that allow you to decrease and then virtually eliminate all negative emotions such as anger, fear, anxiety, and dissatisfaction, while simultaneously building up a tide of pure Joy inside you that eventually starts to make you jump around and boogie at unexpected moments, and occasionally shout out “AHH YEAH!!” as discreetly as possible to yourself when the Joy overflows.

Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? But over the past few years, this is exactly the transformation that has been happening to me. As I learned from the book, every good Stoic is a work in progress, and I still have much to learn and I’m not free from all negative emotions. But compared to a normal person, things are getting pretty unusually joyful up in here.

So let’s see what it’s all about.

The core of the philosophy seems to be this: To have a good and meaningful life, you need to overcome your insatiability. Most people, at best, spend their lives in a long pursuit of happiness. So today’s successful person writes out a list of desires, then starts chasing them down and satisfying the desires. The problem is that each desire, when satisfied, tends to be replaced by a new desire. So the person continues to chase. Yet after a lifetime of pursuit, the person ends up no more satisfied than he was at the beginning. Thus, he may end up wasting his life.

The solution, the Stoics realized, is to learn to want the things you already have, rather than wanting other things. The most interesting technique that will help you achieve this is Negative Visualization.

For example, suppose that you currently have a good working set of eyes. Imagine carefully what it would be like to live your life as a blind person. You would have to work very hard to rearrange your life to remain functional — learn braille, take special precautions when walking around town and when cooking eggs at home, etc. — but in the end, you could surely survive and even become happy again if you were blind. But now open your eyes. SURPRISE!! YOU HAVE THIS BONUS OF SIGHT!!!. Wow, you were already doing just fine in your blind life, but now you have working eyes too? What an incredible life – you are truly blessed with more than you even need.

It turns out that if you practice negative visualization on a regular basis, you learn to both appreciate your current life much more, and to be mentally prepared in the event of any changes in your life as well – loss of health, fortune, a loved one, etc. You have replaced negative emotions with satisfaction and even joy.

The next great trick is the one that allows you to eliminate anxiety about the present and the future. That can be done by separating your worries into things you can control, and things you can’t. Some people worry endlessly about politics and world events – so much that it affects their ability to lead a happy life, even when in reality, world politics barely even affect their lives here in the cushioned and prosperous rich world! The Stoic solution to this is to realize that politics and the actions of other countries are completely outside of your circle of influence – so you can breathe easily and completely drop all worry about them. There is a smaller subset of these events that you CAN influence – who you vote for, and possibly where you donate your money or time. To eliminate the rest of your worry, make the votes and take the local actions, and then you can be 100% worry free.

Similarly, instead of worrying about your health as many people do, you simply work to the best of your ability to optimize the body you’ve been given, and the matter is completely closed – you can confidently move on!

As an unexpected bonus, we now know that it is the act of worrying itself that causes many of a modern person’s mental and physical problems, so by eliminating worry AND taking action, you are providing yourself with a double boost.

Moving from the mental to the physical, Stoics actually enjoy experimenting with Voluntary Discomfort. As a contemporary Stoic, you might make a point of seeing how long you can leave the air conditioning off on a summer day, or try hiking in bare feet instead of shoes occasionally to feel the land and force your feet to adapt to tougher conditions than a moisture-wicking merino wool hiking sock.  It sounds absurd by modern standards, until you realize that by doing this, you are actually broadening your comfort zone, even while you eliminate your fear of discomfort. Thanks to the practice above, you are now able to enjoy yourself in a much broader range of temperatures, and appreciate the comfort of shoes when you do have them. Meanwhile, a person with the extreme opposite philosophy might become irritated if he ever has to travel in less than a first-class airplane seat or stay in less than a five star hotel or drink sub-$500-per-bottle wine. By experimenting with voluntary discomfort, we  learn to appreciate far more of our life, and can be content with a much simpler and more wholesome one.

“The more pleasures a man captures, the more masters he will have to serve”

Nature Itself told the Stoics what conditions they should learn to appreciate as humans – since they realized we are all in fact an integral part of Nature. In Mustachian terminology, all of these thoughts relating to adapting your comfort level to embrace Nature are collectively referred to as Badassity.

But there’s much more to the philosophy than sitting around trying to be happy with what you’ve got. Stoics believe that the main purpose of our productive energy is to fulfill all of our life’s obligations to our best ability, and to help our fellow humans. So a stoic is actually a hard-working person who enjoys the feeling of hard work – even extremely hard work, as it just falls into the “Voluntary Discomfort/Badassity” category described above.

Rewarding social interactions are a specialty of the Stoic. They believe that humans are social animals at the core, and thus we must exercise this part of our personality to maintain a balanced happiness. But at the same time, it is not rational to have any interest in fame or social status, since these are fleeting indulgences rather than sources of true happiness.

When we encounter insults from other people, we must deal with them with reason rather than anger. Either the insult is true, in which case we should be grateful for the insulter for pointing out this area in which we could improve, or it is false, in which case we should pity the insulter for his lack of accurate perception. Either way, an insult is nothing to get upset about. In the case of a True Fuckwit who not only insults us, but manages to commit major injustices to us, the best revenge is simply to live an even better life while refusing to be like that person. I have actually been through a major encounter with one of these TFs, and I while my initial anger took over a year to subside, I am happy to report that I am now exacting my “revenge” more thoroughly each day.

The core of all of these tricks and techniques is to let reason triumph over your reflexive emotions. By understanding human emotions and motivations as thoroughly as possible, Stoics are able to bend our evolutionary programming and use it for the purpose of attaining a ridiculous amount of happiness, rather than its original purpose, which is to survive and reproduce successfully.

For example, our insatiable desire for MORE of everything is not a moral failing on the part of humans. It’s a natural evolutionary program, just as simple as the programming that makes even YOU raise an eyebrow when you see an unusually curvaceous and sexy butt. Ancestors of ours who were insatiable, and always wanted more mates, more children, more food, more social standing, and more security against predators and enemies were quite simply the ones who got to produce the largest number of surviving children. But while insatiability did historically lead to more children, it does not lead to more happiness in a modern life. For happiness, you have to trick yourself into being happy with the things you’ve got.

Last in my own miniature summary of Stoicism, I’d like to point out the difference between Pleasure and Happiness. An alternative philosophy called Hedonism suggests that to have the best life, you simply maximize pleasure. But Stoics reject that, since pleasure is just one dimension of true happiness. Eating cupcakes is pleasurable, as is sex, sleeping in, drinking wine, and watching TV. Higher level pleasures might be had by driving a fancy car for the first few times, receiving compliments from important people or having millions of people ask for your autograph. But each pleasure very rapidly wears out if overused, and the Hedonist is left scrambling desperately higher up the pyramid of earthly pleasures until he runs out of money or health. Meanwhile, by focusing on Happiness – the underlying signal delivered by Pleasure, the Stoic can make it a much more consistent and tranquil companion in his life. In our society as well as those thousands of years ago, the Stoics is truly the one who has Got It Goin’ On.

And these days, he ends up becoming much richer as an almost-trivial side benefit.


* — Thanks Rolf!

  • Cecile October 2, 2011, 1:35 pm

    Thank you !
    I started reading Seneca when I was in high school, it was part of my latin class. And I loved it. So stoicisim has always more or less been part of the game for me ! That’s probably why I like your website.

    • Sam January 23, 2014, 2:43 pm

      MM- Rather than reading A Guide the Good Life, why not read the original works of the Stoics? I think they will give you a much better idea of what Stoicism is really about. These two works are not too long and are quite readable.

      Meditations – Marcus Aurelius
      The Enchiridion – Epictetus

      • PFHC September 8, 2015, 4:21 am

        Thanks! Added to the book list.

        • debbie February 27, 2016, 9:38 am

          I read somewhere, (during my work in mental health perhaps) that happiness is a hot and fleeting emotion, but joy is a warm and enduring emotion. Seems to fit with the stoic.

  • Andrius October 2, 2011, 2:21 pm


    a very interesting post. Your lifestyle does look like taking the best of Stoicism. However, I think it much more resembles the ancient philosophy of Epicureanism (mind you, the current meaning of the word Epicurean is exactly the opposite of what it meant in Ancient Greece). On the practical level both schools had much in common, but I believe that Epicureans managed to avoid a few pitfalls that the Stoics did not notice, and thus created a much more viable philosophy of life.
    So, if you would like to continue your philosophical journey, check out this site http://www.epicurus.info
    I bet you will be pleasantly surprised :)

    If you would like to discuss Stoicism or Epicureanism (I know a little bit about both schools), please, do not hesitate to write me an email – I’ve been reading your blog and learning from you for months now, so I’d be happy to give something in return :)

    Cheers from Lithuania!

    • RetiredToWin Alex March 30, 2015, 11:46 am

      Whether the following 2 key concepts brought up by MMM are the “best of Stoicism” or not, they certainly are 2 of the core mental strategies that helped me achieve “frugalistic adaptation” and reach earlier retirement.

      (1) Overcoming my insatiability: I recognized the futility of constantly trying to upgrade to the bigger house, the newer car and so on. It would have been a never-ending process that would have kept me chained to a job.

      (2) Learning to want what I already had: As I appreciated how much money I was saving not wanting what I did not already have, I grew to like and enjoy more and more what I did have. So much so that I honestly am now completely satisfied with my 1996 Dodge Dakota and my $15,ooo a year basic lifestyle.

    • JLMA September 17, 2015, 7:32 pm

      would you explain what the MAIN similarities and differences between Stoicism and Epicureanism are?

      Thank you.

      • Marie Snyder March 16, 2017, 8:07 am

        Stoics are deontological – duty based – in their actions. They accept what comes to them without planning for the future because the future is not within our control. They tolerate hardship without attempting to alter the course of their lives. MMM tolerates some difficulties, but he had a master plan to avoid the difficulty of working for a living. Epicureans (those who follow Epicurus, not the foodies), by contrast, are teleological – focused on the outcome of their actions. They might work today in order to have more time with friends tomorrow, which is exactly what MMM did from what I can tell. His stance of enduring hardships is in order to have more and greater pleasures later, not primarily in order to learn to tolerate a difficult live. He’s calculating maximum happiness for himself, a very Epicurean thing to do, rather than Stoically acknowledging the futility of planning for the future.

        • Nick June 19, 2018, 4:05 pm

          Very interesting Marie! I partially disagree. I am currently reading A Guide to the Good Life, and one of the things the author points out is that there is a common misconception regarding Stoicism: that Stoics believe planning for the future to be futile. When it comes to goal setting, a Stoic recommends caution with regard to the goal that is chosen. Certain future outcomes are out of our control, i.e. the sun will rise tomorrow. However, we have control of our own actions and what areas to focus our actions to align ourselves with desired outcomes. We might make it a goal to leave the blinds closed so as to keep our room dark in the morning if that were a desired outcome.

  • Mr. Frugal Toque October 2, 2011, 2:39 pm

    Now, now. Let’s not beat up on the Hedonists. While the Stoics did have their beef with the Hedonists, the Hedonists (especially the Epicurean ones) were mostly fighting with the believers in an afterlife.
    The Hedonists were trying to make the point that happiness should be found in the present life, as no afterlife was guaranteed. For this they were villified as fillandering drunks by the Ancient Greek Tea Party.
    They even took the guy named Epicurus and made the adjective “epicurean”, a misunderstanding as bad as our common use of the word “stoic”. The guy’s philosophy was actually all about adjusting one’s appetites (food, sexual, consumer etc.) to a reasonable and maintainable level lest reaching great heights once in a while set up crazy expectations in the future. In this way, he could avoid fear and anxiety.

    • herbert salisbury October 3, 2011, 7:13 pm

      It often seems like MMM is talking about the tao of frugality. Which is great.

      Hedonism isn’t necessarily gluttony. I believe that hedonism is really about putting your own enjoyment of life ahead of your other issues. Do the things you enjoy doing and don’t worry so much about the other stuff.

      Is is possible to combine hedonism with zen, taoism, stoicism, etc. They work together nicely and are all about not worrying about the shit that is out of your control, and dealing with what is actually in front of you in a simple, efficient manner.

      I’ve been aspiring towards zen hedonism for years. The zen has me trying to stay unconcerned with things, ideas, and outcomes that I don’t have full control over- instead, giving my mental effort to the current time and space. The sprinkle of hedonism reminds me to enjoy the fuck out of it, since it’s all temporary anyway.

      This works very well with frugality, as you begin to enjoy the simple act of being frugal- that in itself becomes a reason to do it.


  • Ben October 2, 2011, 4:24 pm

    Ha…Imagine a world where we actually let reason triumph over emotion! Sadly, the research shows that the exact opposite is what happens in real life. Probably explains most of the world’s ills. But then one has to wonder what would life be without emotion. It could be argued that emotion is the zest of life.

    Anyway, hello Triple M. I’ve been reading you for a few months now and just wanted to chime in and say thanks and congratulate you on creating a blog that is truly brimming over with Badassity.

    I very much share your mindset and though I can’t claim to be quite as extreme/successful as you or the Extreme Early Retirement guy, I too enjoy living a life well below my means and inching ever closer to financial independence. I’m 34 and conservatively I probably need about 7-8 more years before I can walk away from outside employment and still be able to live the life I want for my wife and I. Your blog has helped keep me inspired and focused and I sit down with my wife about once a week and we read through your articles.

    Thanks again and keep up the good work brother.

    PS: One of the things I appreciate about your work is that you get that it’s about more than just money; it’s about living a conscious, deliberate, balanced life in the midst of the insane greed and consumption driven lifestyle that is the current USA.

    • Marjorie October 24, 2022, 7:19 am

      Hello Ben,
      I watched “How to gey smart on money” in Netflix where MMM is featured on. I checked him up online to see how his work look like the community. I was reading his one of the blogs about Stoicism pisted Oct 2011 where I also found your comment. Not being nosy, you said that you will be financially free and independent and out of the employment scheme. After 11 years, how far have you gone now at present? What changes were made for you to reach where you at now? Tell me a short tale. It could be a help to me.
      Thank Ben and hope to hear from you.

  • Frugal Vegan Mom October 2, 2011, 6:54 pm

    I also had that misconception about stoicism – very interesting, thanks for the enlightenment! (Thanks also to the Norweigan!) Am adding the book to my library list…

  • Martin October 2, 2011, 7:29 pm

    Irony. Seneca was asked to open his veins at the behest of the Emperor when the news of his being the wealthiest man in Rome hit the pubs’ ears.

  • Chris October 2, 2011, 8:46 pm

    I’ve been considering reading Marcus Aurelius “Meditations” for a while now. You gave me some more motivation to do so. I look forward to it! (He was a Stoic as well)

  • BeyondtheWrap October 2, 2011, 10:49 pm

    “So today’s successful person writes out a list of desires, then starts chasing them down and satisfying the desires. The problem is that each desire, when satisfied, tends to be replaced by a new desire. So the person continues to chase. Yet after a lifetime of pursuit, the person ends up no more satisfied than he was at the beginning. Thus, he may end up wasting his life.”

    I don’t think this is a fair generalization. Someone who is always chasing their desires is not necessarily unhappy. Perhaps it is the act of chasing itself that brings satisfaction. It probably depends on your personality whether you’d be happier by choosing to be satisfied already or by chasing your desires.

    • rjack October 3, 2011, 5:53 am

      It is cllinging to the desire that is the problem. This can lead to a lifetime of “I’ll be happy, when I get/complete…”.

      By the way, Zen Buddhism has many of the same ideas as stoicism. For instance, one of the great vows is “Desire are inexhaustible, I vow to put an end to them.”

  • Yabusame October 3, 2011, 6:08 am

    I did some ‘negative visualisation’ over the weekend. I dug out a tree stump. Hard work in the doing, but a lot of satisfaction in the done.

    One tree stump down, three to go…

    • MMM October 3, 2011, 9:35 am

      Nice project.. is that “Negative Visualization”, or is it “Voluntary Discomfort”? :-) ….

  • Gerard October 3, 2011, 6:25 am

    Cool post, the kind of stuff you don’t usually find in the “how to clip coupons to get cheaper prepackaged food” sites. A couple of thoughts:

    1. When you expose yourself to heat or cold, you don’t just train your mind, you actually change your body. Your capillaries near the surface of your skin change (after a couple of months). So you don’t just tolerate the heat/cold better, you actually ARE cooler/warmer.

    2. As other posters say, a lot of philosophies share the basic idea of freedom from desire, the “I do not want what I haven’t got” thing. But I wonder: don’t we fall into the same trap ourselves? Instead of saying “I’ll be happy/satisfied when I get that new car,” we say “I’ll be happy/satisfied when I pay off that bill, or save 25 times my needed retirement income.” I know I need to work on this in myself — the replacement of one object of desire with another.

    • MMM October 3, 2011, 9:47 am

      Yeah, Gerard and BeyondtheWrap have a good point – I suspect it is rooted in my own failure to express Stoicism properly rather than an actual flaw in the philosophy.

      We’re still supposed to work towards goals, and enjoy that work. But we need to make the satisfaction as separate as possible from the goal attainment.

      So instead of saying, “My goal is to make myself happy by reaching financial independence”, a Stoic says, “My goal is to enjoy the very methods which lead to financial independence, and become better at them each day”.

      I didn’t feel suffering or dissatisfaction while I was working and saving for retirement. Instead, I enjoyed the challenge of the software jobs and trying to do my best at creating good stuff and influencing my coworkers in a positive way. I also enjoyed the challenge of optimizing my lifestyle so it was as efficient as possible (and thus non-wasteful in both a monetary and environmental sense). After retirement, I didn’t get a sudden happiness boost, I just changed the things I focused on. Efficiency became an even more interesting pursuit, and learning became much more important – since all of a sudden, my mental energy was freed up for reading and writing!

      Finally, a more Stoic way to think about financial independence is as “Fiscal Health”. If you are in debt (even a mortgage), or if you have to maintain a certain inflexible type of job even to support yourself, you might be unhealthy. Once your savings and low lifestyle costs allow you to choose any job you like, perhaps even an unpaid one like me being Mr. Money Mustache right now, then you are financially healthy. To go beyond this level of health(wealth) and pursue money indefinitely even when you have plenty, is probably a sign of the insatiability we are trying to avoid.

  • Stashette October 3, 2011, 8:08 am

    This article reminds me of my vacation philosophy.

    When most people go on vacation, they want to live in a state of luxury that they can’t acheive at home. Then they come home and their regular life seems deficient.

    Whenever I go on vacation, I like to rough it as much as possible. I camp or stay in spartan hotels, ride crowded local buses, and eat street food. Part of this is the adventure of a new experience, but it also makes me appreciate the comforts of home even more. Running water, a bed, and roof over my head seem divine after just a few days of rough camping.

    • Joy April 29, 2012, 9:25 pm

      If you remember this comment, it hit a chord with me, and I decided to respond…

      I think you just described my new motto of traveling. I’ve always enjoyed “roughing it,” then was with a very non-roughing-it guy for awhile.

      When we broke up, I was interested to see if I would enjoy it again, and I did (staying in hostels in Madrid, doing things on the cheap). I like the adrenaline rush of hoofing it around a city or taking the subway, as opposed to hiding myself in cabs, and hope to even live abroad in this way one day.

      Yet doing Madrid and Paris “on the cheap” also made me appreciate my home much more, instead of leaving me paralyzed with a desire to travel again or a sensation of being “trapped” in my current environment. Just like you said.

      The nice thing is, when you travel that way, you meet others on the same path. Then you encourage each other, have more stories to tell, and feel even more renewed energy to strike out in similar ways in the future.

      Kinda like “Mustachianville” here …. LOL.

  • GP October 3, 2011, 8:16 am

    Tom Wolfe’s ‘A man in full’ has stoicism as a significant theme, as one of the major characters becomes a stoic and towards the end of the book persuades another of the characters to follow a similar path.

  • Kevin M October 3, 2011, 9:42 am

    Great piece MMM, that book might appear on my wish list soon!

    And great comment by Stashette about vacationing, I never thought of that!

    • MMM October 3, 2011, 9:52 am

      Very true! Camping, the more natural the better, seems like a perfect modern embodiment of stoicism.

      Also, I think Stashette is a hilarious username :-)

  • Brave New Life October 3, 2011, 10:13 am

    I think it’s interesting how many comments have said ” is very similar to stoicism.”

    What I take fro this is that most philosophies share common thoughts because they all involved the act of thinking about how life should be lived. When real thought is put into this, certain truths and techniques arise. The thing is, most people go through life without a philosophy, which is how they get caught up in the unhappy pleasure seeking lives.

    I’ve gotten caught up more than once in non-stoicly seeking my early retirement, as if that is the goal itself. Fortunately, I usually let reason take over and remind myself that this is not the goal, and it will not drive happiness in and of itself.

    Thanks for the book recommendation, I just reserved it at the library. Will pick it up on my way home.

  • Marcia @Frugal Healthy Simple October 3, 2011, 12:22 pm

    Thank you for this post. I didn’t realize the meaning of Stoicism.

    I can see these tendencies in my family. I come from a big family. My father was always happy with what he had. I have several sisters who are also. Yet my mom and my brother are always complaining and dissatisfied.

    I like your point about enjoying where you are while you get to financial independence. Truth be told, I could quit my job right now and live off my spouse’s salary. But I enjoy my work. However, I always try to consider and be aware if I am still enjoying it. If it becomes “not fun” anymore, I’d quit.

    And also, understanding what you can and can’t change is HUGE. I’ve been under a lot of stress lately (training a new boss…meaning, training him to learn my boundaries). On top of that, I have a mother who is very ill, unhappy, unhealthy, and complains in my ear for an hour every week over the phone. Over and over again. It makes me so sad, but I have to remind myself that I DO NOT HAVE THE POWER TO CHANGE HER. She may be digging herself an early grave, but there is nothing I can do about it.

    Also, I like stashette’s point about vacation. We do take “luxury” (for us) vacations every few years. As we’ve gotten older, our requirements have gotten bigger too – less Motel 6, more Hampton Inn (free breakfast, pool, and a fridge). But I’ve been trying to do more camping – we can afford to go more often, and we don’t have to go far from home. We aren’t experts by any means – our meals tend to be cold sandwiches and fruit, not so much of the burgers or steaks. But going to sleep early, waking up with the sun, hiking and enjoying the stars – it’s a lot of fun and helps me relax.

  • Bakari Kafele October 3, 2011, 12:50 pm

    For two (non-consecutive) days in college I actually blindfolded myself for 24 hours, just to find out what it would be like. I made a cane from a walking cane with a soda bottle on the end, and put some sunglasses over my blindfold. Since I couldn’t ride my bike to school, I caught the bus.t turns out that, while it is definitely difficult, its much easier than one would assume.

    Thanks for summarizing the book for us. Sounds like I have been a stoic all my life, and not even known it. http://apps.biodieselhauling.org/Blog/?e=6351&d=02/04/2008&s=Evil%20will%20always%20win.%20But%20its%20OK

    • AmeriKen October 26, 2018, 2:15 pm

      Bravo, you did what I have only thought about doing. We share the same goal which I refer to as appreceative awareness. Once watched a feature on my favorite American play, Our Town which is all about this. The guy concluded by saying that we couldn’t practically be consciously working to appreciate everything on a daily basis which is correct but I’ve discovered a while back that we can change our attitudes towards everything we experience or possess with a bit of conscious effort when we do have the time to ruminate about things. One of the best moves I’ve ever made was to eliminate the habit of the comparison game. Like the second best move was to being it back in an entirely new form. This being to imagine going back in time in a fantasy form of thought, like dropping in on Henry Thoreau with a twelve pack of great beer and maybe a pocket calculator or an I pad, that sort of thing. Very gently steer the conversation toward technological development and his dislike of the railroad that he used to travel for lecturing. Bring out a few exhibits, like the aluminum beer cans which would be worth more than gold in his day. Then using my powers of empathy look at these items through his eyes and drill the experience into my memory. Actually I thing just living an ordinary life for a while back then for a while would do it. The privations would be well endurable it if I were able to being some video back.

  • Naomi October 3, 2011, 1:32 pm

    I just reserved a copy at the library. I can’t wait to read it.

    • MMM October 3, 2011, 2:13 pm

      Wow, I feel like Oprah Winfrey with all these people reading books after I talk about them. I should note that I found the book itself to be a bit slow at times, with big tracts of academic chitchat about the actual Romans themselves.

      With the book’s stated purpose of being a “Guide to the Good Life”, I feel that the author could have trimmed these parts out and gotten the book even thinner. But that could just be my preference – I think every author should have a goal of keeping single-topic nonfiction books like this under 200 pages. Pack those sentences efficiently, there is no time to waste!

      Despite the non-concise writing style, this William B Irvine guy who wrote it seems like quite a neat guy. He’s a professor in Dayton, Ohio.

      • K November 3, 2014, 6:39 pm

        What a surprise to see Dr. Irvine’s work show up here at MMM! He was my favorite undergraduate professor long, long ago when I was still just a pup. Great teacher, great person.

  • adam prinsen October 3, 2011, 7:07 pm

    well this just made my day.
    I learned a new term: True fucktard!!…thanks Mr. MM…you enlighten my horizons.

  • shanoboy October 4, 2011, 6:31 am

    Thanks for this post Mr. MM. You have truly made me smile.

  • et October 4, 2011, 10:07 am

    You can listen to William B. Irvine discuss his book here: http://www.cbc.ca/ideas/episodes/2010/12/30/a-guide-to-the-good-life-1/

  • Vance Woodward October 7, 2011, 6:53 am

    Nice post. I like the idea of finding joy in what you already have.

    About the idea of dividing things up into what you can and can’t control, don’t you think that a lot of joy comes from overcoming things that you thought you couldn’t control? Or is the idea that you should just give up on whatever you apparently can’t control?

    I guess there’s a bit of a challenge there: focus on what you can change and ignore what you can’t change, but don’t let that cause you to give up too easily when you face obstacles.

    Either way, here’s to defeating the TFs in life by being happy.

    • Bakari Kafele October 7, 2011, 8:44 am

      Its is summarized by the Lord’s Prayer:

      Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change
      …………….the courage to change the things I can
      ……….and the wisdom to know the difference

      Feelings, intelligence, courage… that’s what Dorothy’s companions wanted from the Wizard of Oz.

      • daniel October 8, 2011, 3:08 pm

        Sorry, not the Lord’s Prayer. From Wikipedia: “The Serenity Prayer is the common name for an originally untitled prayer by the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr. The prayer has been adopted by Alcoholics Anonymous and other twelve-step programs.

        The best-known form is:

        God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
        Courage to change the things I can,
        And wisdom to know the difference.

        • Bakari Kafele October 8, 2011, 4:17 pm

          ah, correct, thank you.

          I get them mixed up, because they use them both in AA.
          I went to AA a lot as a kid.

  • JJ October 9, 2011, 1:32 pm

    The state of being content with what one has was already written in the Torah thousands of years ago *He who is happy with what he has” (Ethics of the Fathers 4:1)

    • MMM October 9, 2011, 1:58 pm

      Yup, you and various other commenters are right. The greatest ideas of today were already invented, and forgotten, and re-discovered, many times in the many generations that preceded us. But since we’re in one of those “largely forgotten” stages, sometimes it helps to have a bearded face from a fifty dollar bill with a hand-drawn mustache remind us all using an unusual writing style.

  • Ryan Molden October 15, 2011, 11:27 am

    You also might enjoy Tibor Scitovky’s The Joyless Economy, it is also fairly mustachian in its examination of the hedonic treadmill which is the concept that our desires/needs are always increasing as we satisfy our old ‘needs’, adjust to our new level of comfort and ‘discover’ new needs, rinse, lather and repeat…or don’t :).

  • SD October 16, 2011, 7:52 am

    I earlier wrote on my reminder to see what exactly Stoicism means ..then I found your post…it nicely explains all this and more…thanks a lot..

  • WordPress Developer October 23, 2011, 5:07 am

    Definitely one for my Christmas reading list ;)

  • Vincent December 16, 2011, 9:10 pm

    I read this article a couple months ago, I believe around the time you posted this. I must say, it really has changed my perspective and overall satisfaction I get from life! I can’t believe I’ve never left a comment on here until now, but thank you for enlarging my mind. :)

  • Peter January 11, 2012, 2:46 pm

    Over the last three or four years, I really have changed the way I look at life. The “take care of things you can control, forget the things you can’t” lifestyle is a great one and one I now swear by. Didn’t know it was a part of stoicism.
    I know it can be hard to think that you should just forget about certain things (national politics was my vice), but it just isn’t worth it. The toll it takes on you mentally and, probably, physically at some point just isn’t worth the worry. Plus, factor in the pointless discussions with people who will never change their minds on anything, it is just aggravating.
    In my opinion, stoicism is a part of living within your means, just not necessarily financially.
    I am interested in trying some of the other ideas. I will have to pick up the book!

  • James January 16, 2012, 12:30 pm

    My wife got me this book for Christmas,(at my request due to your recommendation) and I’m slowly making my way through it. You are very correct that he makes it much longer than it needs to be, though the Greek/Roman background is still interesting. I found your post here to be as good as the book in communicating the important message. It helps that I’ve got tendencies toward stoicism anyway, I think my German heritage helps in that regard.

    We took my son to a water park for his birthday, and I was too cheap to pay for a locker to store our stuff while we went swimming. So I walked out through the parking lot through snow and 10 degree weather to throw it all in the back of the car. Of course all I had on was a swim suit, and my feet burned like fire by the time I got back inside. But it was terrifically invigorating, and made me appreciate something as simple as shoes in the winter. Voluntary discomfort is easy to come by up here in Northern WI… :)

  • Jon February 1, 2012, 10:45 am

    Stoics have a LOT of good ideas that resonate with me, many of which I haphazardly discovered for myself in my life already. But with any school of thought, I’ll find occasional instances where I disagree with the philosophy.

    So I’ve found it’s best to take the good out of anything I come across and integrate it into my own personal philosophy on life, rather than say “I’m a Stoic” or “I’m Epicurean” or “I follow the philosophy of Aristotle”. The most accurate thing for me to say is “I am me.”

    I think each of us follow our own personal philosophy anyway, which is just as similar AND unique as our faces are from one another.

  • Sir Sideburns 'Stash-a-lot February 16, 2012, 2:17 pm

    I picked this book up Tuesday from the library. I just finished it last night. It kept me up until 2:20am, so I’m hurting a little today, but I secretly love when books do that to me. Voluntary Discomfort, you know.

    I recommend it, but feel like it barely scratched the surface. Now it’s time to really dig into some source material, as the reading list at the back suggests.

    • Mr. Money Mustache February 16, 2012, 2:41 pm

      Hmm.. Sir Sideburns Stash-a-lot, eh? An SSS that is reading MMM. I like it. But you need a good avatar to go with that name.

  • Mike June 30, 2012, 7:41 pm

    My goodness, I feel live I’ve come home! A visitor to my own blog just referred me to your site today and I come here and find this, a fellow stoic! I’m in the process of doing a multi-part examination of stoicism on my own site– http://livetheneweconomy.com/blog/2012/6/22/the-power-of-negative-visualization.html is the latest post– and I come here and find this excellent post and blog. And an active community too! Maybe I’ll just quit blogging and write comments over here. I love it and the site!

  • Erica / Northwest Edible Life September 25, 2012, 2:25 am

    As I am currently wearing an eye patch due to some unexpected complications from recent eye muscle surgery that has left me with (hopefully temporary) double vision and no depth perception, your example of lost eyesight hit home a bit harder than I’d care to admit. I have toughed it up through a few things but nothing has been as scary as the loss of control of my eyes. This was a great post. I’m gonna check out that book.

  • Robert Griffin III October 5, 2012, 11:48 am

    Awesome, awesome post! I do some executive coaching for Silicon Valley start-ups, and just added Stoicism to the mix over the weekend for a session on Wed night. What I love about Seneca is that he is like a cocktail: one part badass, one part Charlie Wilson (bringing down the Soviet Union from a hot tub in vegas with strippers and coke) and one part Stoic philosophy. He kept getting in trouble for seducing Imperial Princesses. Pimp!

    The Soul of the Billion Dollar Deal: https://docs.google.com/document/pub?id=1yfif3fDhxCXNPWC_XL5ISFUIPdHhrj_hGMxz-DG4peM

  • Mike H May 10, 2013, 7:30 am

    This is just what I needed. Thanks Mr. Money Mustache!

  • Mike May 21, 2013, 8:48 pm

    Wow. I started this book and reading through the mmm archives at the same time. This overlap just made me crap my pants in excitement.

  • Jason Ellis July 25, 2013, 11:03 am

    Very comforting words. Leading a simpler life is something I’ve recently uncovered as a real passion of mine. Thanks for making the path of simplicity less complex for a newbie like me. I choose Stoicism over Envy :)

  • Zalo August 7, 2013, 11:30 pm

    I think the secret to life is a combination of hedonism and stoicism: to do what makes you happy, long-term.

  • mike August 20, 2013, 12:27 am

    Rather than attempting to eliminate negative emotions, I like the Buddhist approach of becoming more comfortable with them. “Broadening your comfort zone” for emotional tumults, if you will.

    I’m not sure if one can eliminate negative emotions beyond willful and skillful manipulation of environment and circumstance (which are viable and intelligent strategies in many situations). However, within the Buddhist framework, pushing away uncomfortable emotional states is no more productive than pushing away uncomfortable physical states. Instead, the idea is to gradually reduce their power over you through careful, objective scrutinization and mindfulness. One trains in paying close attention to the physical sensations of the emotion and in dropping the story line that unfailingly accompanies and escalates the emotion. In doing so, we learn to create a space between the emotional impulse and action. In time, we also get better at creating a space between the emotional impulse and the reflexive thought patterns that follow. We acknowledge the emotion. Open ourselves to it without judgement. And allow it to pass, as we know it will.

    This same approach is used with good emotions as well. That is not to say that we should not enjoy them, only that it behooves us to recognize their fleeting and transient nature and not cling to them, lest they too become a source of suffering.

    • Mr. Money Mustache August 20, 2013, 7:10 am

      Beautiful – thanks Mike!

    • Geraldine March 15, 2015, 3:36 am

      Exactly. And again you can find a modern version of this thought in the work of Viktor Frankl, who said that the time lapse between the emotionally driven impulse and the actual action is the human free will or if you want to follow the Greeks, the ratio.
      Most religions and philosophical schools take up this subject, read Kant for example who basically wrote about nothing else. The topic will never loose its actuality because of the dichotomous nature of us humans. Our brains being parted into a rational, planning, far – sighted structure – the frontal lobe of the cerebrum – and older emotionally driven and short-sighted structures forming the limbic system. The problem is that our limbic system works much faster than our cerebrum and, hence, overrules many of our ‘good’ decisions. Talk of the devil and the angel sitting on your shoulders, just that the devil reacts more quickly and screams into your ear, while the angel first has to wake up and then whispers into your other ear. We are not as rational as we wish we were, and it’s exactly that little time lapse marketing agencies try to tap into, so that our more instinct driven structures take over, even if its to our disadvantage. Everybody works that way, so there is no reason to beat ourself up about it.
      The problem I see with the stoic approach is that to their time marketing psychology wasn’t invented yet, internet, e-mail etc. were not invented, fast food was not invented, so their environment was in fact much less hostile than ours is today. Also, the stoic approach as described in this post seems to suggest that you can just ‘decide’ to act like that. Most people can’t, it takes dedicated year long training like followed by Buddhist monks, dedicated Yogis, or old school philosophers hiding away from daily life in their schools, to reach to this stage. I think one should not underestimate the dedication and effort these people put into reaching the stage of emotional control and indifference that is at the aim of f.ex. stoicism or buddhist enlightenment.

      That said, I don’t mean to say that you can’t profit by trying to include elements of these schools into your life but for us common everydayers, I think psychology and neural science have more to contribute than ancient philosophical schools. For a good read take for example ‘The chimp paradox’ by neuroscientist Steve Peters or ‘The willpower instinct’ by psychologist Kelly MacGonigal (yeah that’s her name ;) ). Both books will teach you proven techniques through which you can turn down the volume of the devil’s voice so that you actually can start to listen to the angel. Just my two cents!

      • Amonymous June 10, 2016, 2:54 am

        Check out Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman. We were required to read this for our Psychology class in college and it changed my life :)

  • Chris October 15, 2013, 5:00 pm

    This post more than other has sent me on a path to better my life. From here I checked out A Guide to the Good Life from my library and have been on my way.

    I really believe that by mastering these stoic techniques a lot of what you say and suggest on your site will fall naturally into place. Logic is such a big part of stoicism, I just can’t deny the logic behind nearly everything you write.

    Thanks so much Mr. Money Mustache for opening my eyes. I’ve even gone so far as to start my own blog to help myself learn about stoicism and journal my progress and missteps. It’s still fairly early stages but it would benefit from some Mustachian eyes www. stoicism.ca

  • Chris Moon October 16, 2013, 12:00 am

    I’m 63 and wish you’d written this 45 years ago :) but hey it’s never too late to learn and that’s what I love about life
    Great blog Mr. M thank you.

  • Andrew Sugermeyer January 7, 2014, 12:17 pm

    Your definition of Happiness, and the route to it, closely resembles Robert Pirsig’s discussion of Quality, in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (a must-read for any Mustachian). Maintaining peace and contentment in a Quality life (capitalization intended) means avoiding dwelling on static patterns as much as possible (the iPad, the comfy couch, or sometimes, more somberly, the pain of past loss or the regret of missed opportunity) and remaining always on the knife-edge of direct experience. We all have flashes of this experience (the first time you hear a great song, or ride a new roller coaster, or fall in love). The trick of life is to remain always open to these experiences without amassing the *clutter* that so often comes along with them, which, for us Americans, is usually actual physical clutter. Solid thoughts here about how to go about this.

    • Craig From Az November 23, 2014, 4:20 pm

      I’ve read that book twice, and I never understood it. I got more from your paragraph than I ever got from the book itself. Thanks for the synopsis!

  • Leslie February 2, 2014, 7:36 pm

    From a fellow stoic,

    My husband has recently commented on how I’ve become a stoic lately.

    So far from what I’ve researched, it’s a good thing.

    My stoicism comes from realizing I was chasing the wrong things in life in order to be happy. Everything you need is on the inside of you- & this is the most awesome thing cause it does give you unending joy.

    But it’s not something I had to learn to do or even try to do. There were a lot of issues I had to get over from my childhood that poured over into my marriage.

    There could be a tornado outside & I’d be calm as a Hindu cow lol.

    What’s important to me is how I treat people, love, happiness & family.

  • Miss Serendip April 3, 2014, 8:20 am

    Interesting: Though Epicurus is often thought to be the opposite of Stoicism, (his followers’ famous “eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die”) he actually happens to be quite the Senior Mustachian – “If you wish to make Pythocles wealthy, don’t give him more money; rather, reduce his desires.” Epicurus was actually out to find the most happiness in life by paring your desires down to a minimum core, which are then easily satisfied. Fascinating how our materialistic world cravings have changed our perception of old-timey philosophers, eh?

  • Mara May 12, 2014, 8:36 am

    I loved this!

    This may be the reason why I kinda don’t mind listening to infomertials of things I already have (mother in law loves to send us crap from infomertials that she finds in ebay–) hahah

  • Michelle May 18, 2014, 7:59 am

    For the past four years I taught humanities classes to engineering students up at CU. I introduced them to Stoicism through Epictetus’ “Enchiridion,” James Bond Stockdale’s essay “Courage Under Fire,” and Marcus Aurelius’ “Meditations.” These are all short, amazing reads. I hadn’t heard of the book you mention here but will be sure to check it out from the library! I also told them about your website…

  • Bailey Klinger May 24, 2014, 5:13 pm

    There is a group from University of Exeter that has put together a bunch of great resources for people interested in Stocism, most usefully are the exercises in integrating Stocism successfully into your daily life (which is the hard but really rewarding part). They have a free one-week course from 2013 (http://blogs.exeter.ac.uk/stoicismtoday/introduction-to-online-course/), and just last week launched a longer course, also online and free (http://modernstoicism.com/). Highly recommended!

    Now we just need to tell them that the Marcus Aurelius of financial planners so their students can get on the mustache train…

  • jasno June 4, 2014, 5:42 pm

    The best revenge is to live well? I agree, but still think this quote from the show Frasier is delightful:
    “Ludwig, maddened by the poisoning of his entire family, wreaks vengeance on Gunther in the third act by living well. Whereupon Woton, upon discovering this deception, wreaks vengeance on Gunther in the third act again by living even better than the Duke.”
    -Niles Crane, Frasier

  • Brad August 27, 2014, 9:36 am

    I’m sure someone has mentioned this but I wanted to share a fantastic book I found on Stoicism.
    It’s called the Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday. Here is an Amazon link but I’m sure it’s available at the local library. http://www.amazon.com/The-Obstacle-Is-Way-Timeless/dp/1591846358

  • Josie November 24, 2014, 12:58 pm

    I love this article. I have been trying to explain my philosophy of life with people I care about that don’t understand it ..only if the would read more than a paragraph..ughh


  • 30 Something Dude December 8, 2014, 3:42 pm

    A good summary of Stoicism and some actionable exercises that you can practice to get the stoic quality. This has been one of my favourite philosophies, and we’re in good company: Tim Ferriss, Ryan Holiday, and Robert Greene all recommend this philosophy.


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