Stoic Week: What did we learn?

Summary of Tim LeBon’s report on the statistical data compiled from participants in Stoic Week 2013.

The success of Stoic Week 2013, as a form of engagement between academia and the general public, surprised all of us. Stoic Week 2012 attracted about 80 participants but in 2013 this number shot-up and a whopping 2,441 individuals took part in the week-long Handbook-based study we’d designed, which involves trying to live like a Stoic would recommend. Those are just the people who registered and completed the online forms – there were probably others so the real number of people involved may be over 3,000.  The level of interest was fueled in part by the media attention the event attracted.

Tim LeBon compiled a superbly, detailed report on the statistical data we gathered. That’s available for public consumption in full.   (So check Tim’s report first if you have any questions about the stats.)  I’m just going to give a summary now the dust has settled and we’re planning some follow-on events. Some of these findings may come as a surprise. Some may meet the expectations of modern proponents of Stoicism – but that’s good to confirm. So what do we learn from the data?

  • Overall, scores on our Stoic Attitudes and Behaviours Scale (SABS) were positively correlated with validated measures of happiness, positive emotion, and flourishing.
  • Stoic behaviours were generally more associated with well-being than attitudes, across all three measures used.
  • Knowledge of Stoic theory was moderately correlated with wellbeing but practicing Stoicism had a stronger association in this regard.

The items most highly-correlated with well-being, which were the same across all three measures, were:

  • When an upsetting thought enters my mind the first thing I do is remind myself it’s just an impression in my mind and not the thing it claims to represent.
  • I make an effort to pay continual attention to the nature of my judgements and actions.
  • I consider myself to be a part of the human race, in the same way that a limb is a part of the human body. It is my duty to contribute to its welfare.

The last of these three was overall the one most associated with positive emotions, and the absence of negative ones.

Stoic attitudes and behaviours overall were most strongly correlated with emotions labeled “joyful” – a finding that may surprise some people. Stoicism was slightly more correlated with the presence of positive emotions than with the absence of negative ones.

On average, the three measures of well-being showed increases of 14% for Life Satisfaction, 9% increase for positive emotions and 11% decrease for negative emotions (SPANE), and 9% increase for overall well-being on the Flourishing scale. These are quite high levels of improvement for an intervention lasting only one week.

The attitude people were most likely to endorse was:

  • Peace of mind comes from abandoning fears and desires about things outside of our control.

The attitude they were least likely to endorse was:

  • The cosmos is a single, wise, living thing.

The level of Stoic attitudes and behaviours increased substantially directly following Stoic Week. The items that increased the most during Stoic Week were:

  • When an upsetting thought enters my mind the first thing I do is remind myself it’s just an impression in my mind and not the thing it claims to represent.
  • I try to anticipate future misfortunes and rehearse rising above them.

We used a very broad range of interventions – a highly “multi-component” approach. In terms of the popularity of the various strategies, there were six different audio recordings, all of which were rated approximately 4 out of 5 on average for satisfaction, Premeditation and the View from Above being marginally more popular than the Morning and Evening meditation techniques (four recordings).

However, in rank order, the most highly-rated exercises based on written guidance were:

  1. What’s in our Power? (Monday)
  2. Stoic Acceptance and Stoic Action (Wednesday)
  3. The Practice of Stoic Mindfulness (Thursday)
  4. Early-Morning Meditation
  5. Late Evening Meditation
  6. The View from Above (Sunday)

Some more data:

  • On average participants spent 38 minutes per day on the Stoic Week exercises. (Some critics of the project had been quite scathing about the amount of commitment expected being too much, but this perhaps suggests they were over-estimating the time required.)
  • Satisfaction ratings with the quality of content in the Handbook were extremely high, and up on the preceding year’s project.
  • Contrary to the claim often made that Stoicism appeals only men, participants were 51.5% males and 48.5% females.
  • Sometimes it’s claimed Stoicism doesn’t appeal to younger people but age groups were pretty evenly represented, with 17% being aged 21-30, for example, and 26% being from the most common age-range, 51-60 years.

The down-side was that we didn’t have a high completion rate for the forms, unfortunately, which affects the reliability of the data, although the findings were broadly consistent with the preceding year.  (We might need to do a more carefully-controlled study with a smaller number of participants to get a higher response rate for completion of the measures.)

When asked “How much do you think Stoicism has helped you?” the average response was 3.8 out of 5 overall. Satisfaction with the Stoic Week 2013 Handbook was extremely high, at 4.5 out of 5 overall. Over 93% of people answered “yes” to the question “Has Stoic week made you want to learn more about Stoicism?” – which is something I would, personally, regard as a resounding success!

2 replies on “Stoic Week: What did we learn?”

Unfortunately, I discovered stoicism post Stoic Week. I was wondering, will there be a Stoic Week 2014? I would love to be able to participate.

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