One of the criticisms of some of the more modern writing about Stoicism is that it reduces the philosophy down to a mere “lifehack.” This is supposed to be a bad thing because the word evokes all the slocky, short-term, short-cut focused productivity tricks of the online world. If that’s what people are taking away from Stoicism, they are missing a lot, sure. BUT many of the most central teachings of Stoicism are lifehacks—and really effective ones too.
-Isn’t dividing things up into categories of what’s in our control and not in our control, as Epictetus advises, and focusing only on the former, not an incredible breakthrough?
-Isn’t meditating in advance about what can go wrong—and how to either prevent it or prepare for it—not a way to become stronger and more resilient?
-Isn’t practicing “winnowing your thoughts,” as Marcus advises, to the point where if someone asks “What are you thinking?” you could actually clearly answer, not a trick to develop mental clarity?
-Isn’t getting familiar with poverty or loss—as Seneca supposedly did once a month—a way to reduce fear and anxiety?
-Isn’t expressing gratitude constantly, as Seneca advised that “in all things we should try to make ourselves be as grateful as possible,” a path to daily contentment and joy?
-Isn’t following Marcus’s advice to “watch the stars in their courses and imagine yourself running alongside them,” not an easy way to remind yourself how small we are and lose yourself in nature?
-Isn’t a little dictum like “Wherever a person is, there is an opportunity for kindness” as Seneca said, or as Marcus said “If it’s not right, don’t do it. If it’s not true, don’t say it,” a helpful reminder to have at the ready?
No question there is a lot more to Stoicism than these exercises and hacks. But if there wasn’t, the philosophy would still be life-changing and still contain a lifetime’s worth of wisdom (that requires a lifetime’s worth of work to master). So who cares if some people dismiss the focus on this as lifehacking.
If it makes you better, go for it.