In times of uncertainty, we often see a resurgence of interest in philosophical theories, as a way to look at life within a wider context. Greek Stoicism may not seem the most likely source of comfort in times of change, but in fact it raises some useful food for thought in terms of how we perceive the world, deal with transition and build resilience in the face of challenges.
Essentially, it’s important to make the distinction between the change we can control, and that which is outside of our influence and masters of this theory are the Greek Stoic philosophers.
In a A Manual for Living, Greek and Stoic philosopher, Epictetus, wrote:
“Happiness and freedom begin with a clear understanding of one principle: Some things are within our control, and some things are not. 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.”
The first of his two foundational principles is that some things are within our control and some are not, and that a lot of unhappiness is caused by thinking that we can control things that we can’t.
The second is that it’s not events or things that upset us, but how we judge what has happened and our subsequent value judgements generate our emotional responses. This part is very much within our power however and the paradox of stoicism is that we have little control over anything, yet at the same time we have the potential for complete control over our own happiness.
Obviously, this is much easier said than done but there is a lot to be said for incorporating some of this stoic thinking into our daily lives, especially in times of flux. It is also helpful rhetoric in terms of approaching your financial planning and investments.
Good financial planning is all about mapping out what we can control and factoring in the ‘what ifs’ such as ill health or redundancy, to give us that peace of mind in times of uncertainty.
In relation to investments, behavioural finance studies have revealed that investors suffer a number of wealth-damaging psychological preconceptions and biases. The emotional impacts of regret, pride, greed and panic tend to result in trying to guess market timing and the excessive taking or avoidance of risk. Poor investment behaviour is likely to have a negative effect on investment returns. Consequently, a quantitative process is at the heart of what we do at Progeny. Not only does it filter the investment world down to a manageable level of fund choices but also strips out any emotional bias.
Epictetus may have lived 2,000 years ago but his principles still make a lot of sense, as a way to bring some calm, order and mental resilience to our busy, modern world.