Millennial Mindfulness Is Over. Now the "Lazy, Entitled" Generation Is Taking on Stoicism

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While millennials (and Gen Z for that matter) get a bad rap as being entitled personalities with whiny, me-first attitudes, the explosion of Stoic-themed posts on Tiktok exhorting right living through determination and self-control argues otherwise.

Stoicism, the grit-and-glory philosophy of Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, has been processed into edible TikTok meme bites, a la, "It's not what happens to us that matters, it's how we react to what happens to us that matters." Add to this bestselling millennial authors such as Ryan Holiday (The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph), and you’ve got an onslaught of determination-focused content as opposed to entitlement chic. After all, if you’re lazy, you’re certainly not going to like a post that suggests you “see people as opportunities to practice self-discipline in the face of unfairness.”

What’s behind this craze for the wisdom of the ancients, and how specifically does it reveal a more determined millennial and Gen Z mindset than we’ve given these groups credit for?

What Is Stoicisim?

The Oxford Languages dictionary definition of Stoicism is “an ancient Greek school of philosophy founded at Athens by Zeno of Citium. The school taught that virtue, the highest good, is based on knowledge; the wise live in harmony with the divine Reason (also identified with Fate and Providence) that governs nature, and are indifferent to the vicissitudes of fortune and to pleasure and pain.” Brigid Delaney, author of the new book Reasons Not to Worry: How to Be Stoic in Chaotic Times, writes that “Today, Stoicism is undergoing a revival. Unlike religion, with its set orthodoxies and rules, Stoicism is pliable. It has no leader or cabal guarding its purity and it can’t be co-opted by various sects or interest groups who claim it as their own.”

What Are Some Core Beliefs?

Per Modern Stoicism, core beliefs include:

  • It’s not things that upset us, but our judgements about things.
  • Negative emotions such as fear, anger, or jealousy should be avoided because they are based on mistaken judgements, are unpleasant to experience and can lead to bad actions. Anger is a temporary madness.
  • Nothing is inherently good; while we’d choose money, health, status and other gratifying states and experiences over their lack, none of these things are essential and it is possible to live a good life even without them.
  • Live consistently with nature, acknowledging that our very survival depends on the wellbeing of nature.· Be clear headed and rational, but also unselfish and social, as well as ecological and global in outlook. Value your own integrity higher than material success.

What Are Some Examples of Stoicism?

  • Keep Your Cool: Calmness is a Stoic virtue. Having a difference of opinion with someone else over religion, politics or the correct way to re-load the toilet paper roll? Respectfully disagree, without resorting to over-emotional responses.
  • Be Time-Conscious: Brigid Delaney writes that the Stoics understood that time is the most democratic currency, since we are all given a finite amount. “If you see time as the most valuable thing you have, you may feel less liable to fill your day with meetings that don’t create meaningful outcomes or less willing to spend a sunny Saturday in bed nursing a hangover or less likely to spend a weekend away with people whose company you don’t enjoy,” she writes.
  • Deflect with Humor: Especially in these conflicted times, it’s easy to become inflamed when people insult us, especially online. A quick quip is much more effective than getting into a disagreement. For example, after an enemy of Cato spat on him, he calmly wiped off the spit and said ““To all who affirm that you have no cheek, Lentulus, I’ll swear that they are mistaken.” [Ed. note: Sick burn, Cato.]
  • Don’t Expect Payback: Stoicism teaches that we can’t control others, so expecting a good deed to be repaid in kind is a recipe for disappointment.
  • Reframe Negative Experiences: The ancient Stoics found even painful experiences to be opportunities for growth. For example, author Karen Duffy uses stoicism to enable a happy life even as she suffers from a serious neurological condition that leaves her in chronic pain and frequently bedridden. By taking the viewpoint that even seriously unpleasant life events are opportunities for growth, the Stoic is making a serious pitcher of lemonade.

How Can I Try on Stoicism for Size?

You’re in luck! This week, November 6 through 12, is the annual National Stoicism Week, in which more than 40,000 volunteers participate in a week-long group experiment that seeks to determine if and how Stoic practices improve life satisfaction. Or, any week of the year, you can pick up a copy of Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations (which makes a fun appearance in feelgood holiday movie The Holdovers) for tips straight from C.E. 171 to today. Or read Delaney’s book, in which a gay feminist explains how these old dead white guys’ life tips helped her through a life crisis and continue to today. Or heck, just join the 3.2 billion views on StoicTok—because a bite-sized bit of ethics might be just what you need.

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dana dickey
Dana Dickey

Senior Editor

Dana Dickey is a PureWow Senior Editor, and during more than a decade in digital media, she has scoped out and tested top products and services across the lifestyle space...
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