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Mennesket påvirkes ikke af hændelser, men af sin indstilling til dem - Epictetus -
Nogle af os er stressede. Andre arbejder for meget, mens de kæmper med nye ansvar, der følger med forældreskab, eller at komme ud af et dårligt forhold og indgå i et andet. Hvad det end er, hvad du end gennemlever, så er der visdom fra stoikerne, som kan hjælpe.

Tilhængere af denne gamle og uudgrundelige filosofi har fundet sig selv i centrum for nogle af historiens mest krævende prøver, fra den franske revolution til den amerikanske borgerkrig i, til Vietnams fangelejre. Bill Clinton læste efter sigende den romerske kejser og stoiker Marcus Aurelius' Meditationer én gang om året og man kan forestille sig at han gav Hillary en kopi efter hendes sønderknusende nederlag ved det amerikanske præsidentvalg.

Stoicisme er en filosofisk skole som blev grundlagt i Athen i den første del af det 3. århundrede og siden bredte sig til Rom, hvor den blev en pragmatisk måde at tilnærme sig livets problemer. Den centrale meddelelse var, vi kontrollerer ikke det, som sker med os, vi kontrollerer, hvordan vi reagerer.

The Stoics were really writing and thinking about one thing: how to live. The questions they asked were not arcane or academic but practical and real. "What do I do about my anger?" "What do I do if someone insults me?" "I'm afraid to die; why is that?" "How can I deal with the difficult situations I face?" "How can I deal with the success or power I hold?"

There also happens to be a decent amount of advice on how to live under the looming threat of a tyrant ("I may wish to be free from torture, but if the time comes for me to endure it, I'll wish to bear it courageously with bravery and honor," wrote the Roman philosopher Seneca). All of which makes Stoic philosophy particularly well-suited to the world we live in.

While it would be hard to find a word dealt a greater injustice at the hands of the English language than "stoicism"— with its mistaken connotations of austerity and lack of emotion — in fact, nothing could be more necessary for our times than a good dose of Stoic philosophy.

When the news media provokes us with overwhelming amounts of information, Epictetus, another Roman philosopher, cuts through the noise: "If you wish to improve, be content to appear clueless or stupid in extraneous matters." When it feels like people are ruder and more selfish than ever, Marcus Aurelius urges us to ask when we ourselves have behaved the same way - and says that the best revenge is simply "to not be like that".

When the natural inclination is to focus on achievement and money, Seneca's reminder to his father-in-law, who had just been removed from a prominent position, rings true: "Believe me, it's better to produce the balance sheet of your own life than that of the grain market."

In their writings - often private letters or diaries - and in their lectures, the Stoics struggled to come up with real, actionable answers. They held duty and honor as sacred obligations and they believed that every obstacle they faced was simply an opportunity - to test themselves and be better.

Now Stoicism is finding resonance with new followers. Just last month in New York, a conference called Stoicon was declared to be the largest gathering of Stoics in history.

This kind of philosophy is not an idle pursuit but a crucial tool. As Seneca said, "Where then do I look for good and evil? Not to uncontrollable externals, but within myself to the choices that are my own."

About the author

Ryan Holiday is the author of The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance, and the Art of Living (Profile Books, £9.99). To order a copy for £8.19, go to bookshop.theguardian.com