Skip to main content

Stoicism makes people happy and it’s nothing to do with having a stiff upper lip

Stoicism makes people happy and it’s nothing to do with having a stiff upper lip

  • Date13 October 2020

Recent research by Royal Holloway has shown that the ancient philosophy of Stoicism has nothing to do with a ‘stiff upper lip’ and in fact can help people become more happy and satisfied in their lives - expressing emotions, rather than supressing them.


During the height of the lockdown in the UK, the non-profit organisation Modern Stoicism ran a free four-week online course, ‘Stoic Resilience and Mindfulness Training’ with more than 2,500 people who signed up to study ideas and follow practices taken from the ancient philosophy of Stoicism.

Those who took part wanted to see if they might improve their daily lives and, in particular, to see if they might improve their resilience.

By the end of the survey, participants reported an average 13% increase in resilience, along with an increase in life satisfaction of 14%, an increase in positive emotions of 11% and a decrease in negative emotions of 15%.

Perhaps most interesting of all, the results showed a small negative correlation between the popular image of ‘stiff upper lip’ lower case stoicism and ancient Stoicism proper, and after a month of Stoic training, ‘stiff upper lip’ stoicism actually reduced, while attitudes of ancient Stoicism increased.

Dr John Sellars, from the Department of Politics, International Relations and Philosophy at Royal Holloway, said: “This new study has shown that ancient Stoic guidance about how to live does not encourage people to suppress their emotions in unhealthy ways, but significantly improves resilience in difficult circumstances.

“This is an important result because many people remain suspicious about the benefit of Stoicism, due to the popular image of ‘stiff upper lip’ stoicism.

“People looking to improve their resilience should look to Stoicism as a useful resource.

“Anyone curious to test this for themselves can do so via Stoic Week which runs 19th to 25th October.”

Stoic Week is a global online experiment trying to see if people can benefit from following the ancient philosophy of Stoicism.

Since its inception in 2012, more than 20,000 people have signed up and so far the results have been consistently positive – people do benefit from ‘living like a Stoic’.

The online course is free and there is a series of questionnaires to complete in advance, guided advice for each day of the week, and a second set of questionnaires at the end.

What is Stoicism?

Here are some key Stoic ideas:

  1. Acknowledge that you can’t control much of what goes on in your life.
  2. See that your emotions are the product of how you think about the world.
  3. Accept that bad things are bound to happen to you from time to time, just as they do to everyone else.
  4. See yourself as part of a larger whole, not an isolated individual; part of the human race, part of Nature.
  5. Think of everything you have as not your own, but simply on loan, that one day will be taken back.

Read more about Stoicism.

Explore Royal Holloway

Get help paying for your studies at Royal Holloway through a range of scholarships and bursaries.

There are lots of exciting ways to get involved at Royal Holloway. Discover new interests and enjoy existing ones.

Heading to university is exciting. Finding the right place to live will get you off to a good start.

Whether you need support with your health or practical advice on budgeting or finding part-time work, we can help.

Discover more about our academic departments and schools.

Find out why Royal Holloway is in the top 25% of UK universities for research rated ‘world-leading’ or ‘internationally excellent’.

Royal Holloway is a research intensive university and our academics collaborate across disciplines to achieve excellence.

Discover world-class research at Royal Holloway.

Discover more about who we are today, and our vision for the future.

Royal Holloway began as two pioneering colleges for the education of women in the 19th century, and their spirit lives on today.

We’ve played a role in thousands of careers, some of them particularly remarkable.

Find about our decision-making processes and the people who lead and manage Royal Holloway today.