Stoic Meaning – What does it mean to be stoic?

Marcus Aurelius is often considered one of the most prominent stoic philosophers who fully understood the stoic meaning. He is known for encompassing and revolutionizing the concepts of stoicism.

“Our life is what our thoughts make it.”

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Interestingly enough, he was able to implement stoic philosophies during a pandemic similar to the one we’re currently enduring… More on this later.

You may have heard people throw the term ’stoic’ or ’stoicism’ around vaguely and been put off by the ambiguity of the word. More and more people are being introduced to the stoic philosophy without a true understanding of the concept.

This might be you, and you may be wondering things like, “what exactly is stoicism?”, and “how can I implement stoicism in my life?” If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. 

Stoicism Defined

To add to the ambiguity, dictionaries are rather vague and don’t quite cover the entire scope of the philosophy in their stoic meaning. This is understandable as it’s difficult to summarize an entire ideology in a sentence or two. 

Regardless, this results in a disservice to the concepts of stoicism as a whole. Take these results from Merriam Webster, for example:

1 capitalized : a member of a school of philosophy founded by Zeno of Citium about 300 b.c. holding that the wise man should be free from passion, unmoved by joy or grief, and submissive to natural law
2 : one apparently or professedly indifferent to pleasure or pain

While the brief history regarding the founders is a nice touch, you probably still have a few unanswered questions. 

Not to say this stoic meaning is wrong, but it does still leave a lot to be desired. Stoicism can be defined by far more than indifference and apathy.

So, what is the stoic meaning at its core?

Placing emphasis and focus on the things in our lives we have the power to control is the foundation of stoicism. This may seem equally or even more vague than the dictionary’s stoic meaning at first glance.

However, this becomes evident throughout each of the core principles of stoicism. Read on to discover these core principles described perfectly in the writings of Meditations.

Stoicism during a Pandemic

As mentioned earlier, Marcus Aurelius was a true pioneer in stoicism.

While not an original founder, he practiced these principles during a period in time of great societal fear. The Antonine Plague was a pandemic existing in the Roman Empire from 165 to 180 AD. 

Considered one of the worst in European history, this plague was likely caused by a strain of the smallpox virus or measles. The total death count is an estimated 5 million people, potentially including Marcus himself.

It was during this time that the text now famously known as Meditations was written. This is a collection of his journal entries during the last 14 years of his life, through the full extent of the Antonine Plague.

The writing is broken down into 12 books, and it is still unclear as to whether the text was intended for publication. The themes of each of these short books are as follows:

Book One

In the first book, Marcus pays homage to those who have helped him along the way.

Book Two

In the second book, he focuses on the power of our minds and the importance of virtue over material possession. He also discusses dealing with negative people and the idea that they should not impact your thoughts or actions. Control of your thoughts is the essence of freedom.

Book Three

In the third book, emphasis is placed mindfulness and the pursuit of virtue. Speak and think truthfully and you will invoke an inner peace.

Book Four

In the fourth book, the significance of focusing on the things we can control is discussed. Finding tranquility in your mind is also essential when pursuing a virtuous life.

Book Five

In the fifth book, the focus encompasses the ideas of discipline and contribution. Doing things not with the expectation of reciprocity, as the reward of virtuous living is more than enough.

Book Six

In the sixth book, Marcus refers back to the idea of nature governance focusing on things we can control. Life may not make sense, but creating a goal within your control and pursuing virtue will lead to inner harmony.

Book Seven

In the seventh book, the ideas of tolerance and patience are emphasized. Other’s will often test you and attempt to incite irrational behavior. Despite this control your mind and a virtuous response will follow.

Book Eight

In the eighth book, Marcus harps on the idea of remaining humble and focusing on ones self. Nature will continue to shape the world around you, so stay steadfast in building your life and focus on things you can control.

Book Nine

In the ninth book, connecting with nature and people are discussed. He suggests that solitude and isolation are like cutting off your own limbs. Practice compassion, but maintain control of your thoughts of and reactions to others.

Book Ten

In the tenth book, Marcus visits the ideas of contentment and satisfaction with what you have. Accept the things that happen around you objectively. When you have control over your mind, you’re able to respond indifferently to the actions and opinions of others.

Book Eleven

In the eleventh book, the focus is placed on ambition and the acceptance of mortality. You are responsible for your life, and therefore must make the most of it. Additionally, accepting the inevitability of death becomes far easier when a virtuous life is lived.

Book Twelve

In the twelfth book, Marcus establishes that an honorable life is attainable if you allow it. Focusing on the present, the things you have control over, and the pursuit of virtue are key. External circumstances should not rule over your thoughts or actions, as command of these comes from within. The length of your life and the timing of your exit are outside of your control, so accept them with grace.

Modern Stoicism

The stoic meaning has remained largely unchanged, but stoicism has evolved since the publication of Meditations. As society evolves, the reemergence of stoic philosophy has followed suit. There are a few reasons for this, including:


The societal disconnect social media has caused over the past decade is unquestionable. This phenomenon has been studied and discussed thoroughly (here, here, and here).

To add insult to injury, a pandemic created a need for quarantine which further severs the connected fabric of society.


In times past, most individuals had various social mechanisms they could depend on for interaction, support, or solace. These included religious factions, educational institutions, social clubs, and family units to name a few.

While some do still exist to some extent, many have been untethered in recent years. The dependence of technology slowly cultivated this, while the pandemic accelerated the isolation.

Regardless, humans are social animals and depend on a sense of tribal community for optimal existence.


This theme has been amplified in the past year, but it has existed in some capacity for centuries. This is an underlying tenet in times of war, political divide, or even certain personal events.

Fear of the unknown is something most people will experience at some point, but for some, it’s an omnipresent internal battle.


In summary, stoicism is as applicable now as it was for ancient philosophers of the Roman Empire. If you allow it, the stoic philosophy has the potential to drastically improve your quality of life.

Maintaining a focus on the things you can control is the key – once you understand this, the rest will follow.

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