Are Emotions Really in Our Control?

Stoics believe we have more say in how we feel than we realize.

3 min readNov 16, 2023


Photo by Afif Ramdhasuma on Unsplash

Emotions can be fleeting sometimes right?

We all have moments of happiness that fade or anger that burns bright but cools off soon after. Stoicism has some interesting ideas about the nature of feelings and emotions that make you think. Rather than seeing emotions as things that just happen to us beyond our control, Stoics believe we have more say in how we feel than we realize.

Obviously, there are events in life beyond our choosing that trigger emotions — breakups, losses, financial troubles. Stoics don’t deny painful experiences cause pain. But they argue it’s not the events themselves that determine our feelings, it’s our judgments and beliefs about those events. Our perspectives, not external realities, are the true drivers of emotions.

Makes sense right? We’ve all had pretty similar experiences that one person found deeply upsetting while another shrugged off. So if two people can feel totally differently about the same thing, emotions can’t purely be stimulus-based reactions, there must be an interpretive layer too. Our thoughts colour how we experience life.

The Stoic view is that by examining those thoughts more carefully, we can influence our emotional experience in a healthier way. For example, if you feel anger building, they say don’t just act on it — slow down, and deeply consider what’s really angering you and why. Chances are your initial judgments don’t hold up as well to scrutiny.

And once we question our interpretations fueling emotions, we open the door to alternative perspectives. That allows us to transform the way we feel by shifting our views. Stoics call this developing Premeditation — training ourselves to thoughtfully reassess how we’re judging situations before responding emotionally.

Premeditation takes practice but pays off. The more familiar we become with catching unjustified thoughts, the less control they gain over us. Emotions may arise spontaneously at first, but we always have a say in whether to nourish those feelings or replace them with wiser judgments. Over time, our reasoned selves can better override visceral reactions.




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