What is the definition of happiness? The four Stoic Virtues


December 02, 2020

We all have our ideas about happiness and how to achieve happiness. My question to you is: Is it short term happiness? Or is it long term fulfillment? Of course, we can enjoy the finer things in life, however, we should not forget long term happiness and fulfillment. In this article, I explain what real happiness meant to the Stoics and how they were able to lead fulfilling lives and achieve long term happiness.


According to the Stoics, the highest in life you can aim for is a virtue and all the rest will follow. The Stoics believed in these four main virtues:

  • Wisdom
  • Courage
  • Temperance
  • Justice

Let’s go discuss these in detail


“The chief task in life is simply this: to identify and separate matters so that I can say clearly to myself which are externals not under my >control, and which have to do with the choices I actually control. Where then do I look for good and evil? Not to uncontrollable externals, but within myself to the choices that are my own”

— Epictetus

As you can see this is not about reading books and gain a lot of wisdom.

This is about the ability to look within yourself and focus on the influences you control. This way the improvement you seek is always within your control and what the Stoics referred to as wisdom.


“‘If you seek tranquillity, do less.’ Or (more accurately) do what’s essential—what the logos of a social being requires, and in the requisite way. Which brings a double satisfaction: to do less, better. Because most of what we say and do is not essential. If you can eliminate it, you’ll have more time, and more tranquillity. Ask yourself at every moment, ‘Is this necessary?’”

— Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 4.24

This is about controlling your desires, about not attaching emotional value to those. I’m talking about emotional and material desires. It’s okay to want nice things, but don’t let it consume you, stay in control.

It’s about the ability having control over your mind.


“Don’t you know life is like a military campaign? One must serve on watch, another in reconnaissance, another on the front line… . So it is for us—each person’s life is a kind of battle, and a long and varied one too. You must keep watch like a soldier and do everything commanded… . You have been stationed in a key post, not some lowly place, and not for a short time but for life.”

— Epictetus, Discourses, 3.24.31–36

This is about standing your ground. To dare to take that path of most resistance, to take that fear head-on. Because you know it will make you stronger. The courage the hold on and appreciate the process. The courage to say no to things that don’t add anything to your life.


“And a commitment to justice in your own acts. Which means: thought and action resulting in the common good. What you were born to do.”

— Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 9.31

This is about following your path and doing what is right. Steven Pressfield talks about this in his book The war of art.

He says to follow your path, you need to fight resistance and resistance comes in all shapes and forms. If you fight it the path is laid out for you. For example if you want to work out, resistance will be there in the form of a couch and television. If you want pursue proffesional goals, resistance is there in the form of wasting time on social media. If you want to have a powerfull relationship with your spouse, resistance will be there in in the form of temptations. And I could keep writing down more examples, but you get the point.

Summed up in De Officiis, the definition of the justice virtue:

  • That no one do harm to another.
  • That one use common possessions as common; private as belonging to their owners.
  • We are not born for ourselves alone.
  • Men were brought into being for the sake of men, that they might do good to one another.
  • We ought to follow nature as a guide, to contribute our part to the common good.
  • Good faith, steadfastness, and truth.


When you read through these virtues, you might notice it is not that complex and that is true.

The Stoics were all about making things look simple. Compare it to an iPhone, which is very easy to use. Only made possible by complex technology and a lot of thinking.

Live by these four virtues and feel a sense of purpose!

Michael Awad

I'm fascinated by the power of a strong mindset. I combine this with being a web developer, which keeps me motivated. But how, you may ask? That's what I share on this website. For more information about me personally, check out the about me page: About Me

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