You’ve probably met a few yourself: those rare and remarkable people who seem to be born with ingrained Stoicism. Here’s why Natural Born Stoics are so common throughout history . . . and why they don’t need any help finding a philosophy of life.

by Phil Van Treuren

natural born stoics

“They develop an ability to avoid needless anxiety, to enjoy the world around them, and to remain optimistic in the face of setbacks.”

William B. Irvine on Natural Born Stoics

When I was a twenty-something, I asked my grandfather if he’d been scared while going through months of radiation treatment for prostate cancer.

“No,” he said matter-of-factly. “There was nothing I could do about it, so worrying wouldn’t have made any difference.”

I doubt that my grandfather — who is now cancer-free and living independently in his 90s — has studied the works of many ancient Stoic philosophers. But he probably wouldn’t gain much from it, anyway.

naturally stoic people
The author with his grandfather in 1979

At the time I asked about his cancer treatment, my grandfather’s answer was something I couldn’t even comprehend. I never considered that people could simply choose to not worry about stuff that was out of their control.

Today — after reading my weight in books on Stoic philosophy, both ancient and modern — I realize that my grandfather had already given me a lifelong example of the right way to practice Stoicism before I even knew what the word meant.

You might have a Natural Born Stoic like my grandfather in your own life (there are plenty of them out there, after all). Stoicism is second-nature to these fortunate folks . . . but most of them probably don’t know (or care) what Stoic philosophy is.

natural stoicism

Three Reasons Why Some People Have Built-In Stoicism

It’s not impossible to simply be a born Stoic, but what seems to be spontaneous Stoicism is often the result of both nature and nurture. Even those of us who strive to think Stoically might have to overcome natural roadblocks like anxiety and depression, which make it very difficult to simply “choose” to not worry.

Here are three reasons why “congenital Stoics” exist among us, and how you can use their example to become more naturally Stoic yourself.

being stoic

#1: Stoic Thinking is Just Basic Human Nature

Stoicism wasn’t “created” by philosophers, it was identified by them. Think of ancient Stoics as scientists or psychologists, who studied basic human nature and classified the kind of thinking that lets us be happier and more resilient.

Stoicism is just a “catalogue” of the most effective ways to think — so it makes sense that plenty of people naturally discover these methods on their own. Even if we lost every word that was ever written about Stoicism, the concepts would be re-discovered by human beings again and again.

Some people are born with natural athletic ability, but most us have to train and practice to become athletic. The same goes for logical thinking: a few have it innately, while others need tools like Stoicism to learn it.

learning to be stoic

#2: Stoicism is Nurtured by Experience & Enduring Challenges

Most naturally Stoic people have one thing in common: plenty of life experiences to look back on and learn from.

Not many toddlers are Stoic, because they haven’t been around long enough to learn what kind of mindset makes life easier. As you’d expect, Stoic thinking is much easier to find in older people who’ve successfully navigated their share of challenges.

But it’s not just living a long life full of challenges that leads to a Stoic mentality. Many people who’ve had difficult lives end up bitter, blame the world, and choose to identify as victims.

The gift of “ingrained Stoicism” comes to those who’ve learned to remain grateful in spite of hardship, look for opportunity in every setback, and accept that some things are out of their control.

stoicism learn by example

#3: A Stoic Mindset Can Come From “Learning by Example”

Some people were lucky enough to have an influential mentor in their early lives who showed them how to embody Stoicism. Like many things learned through example, the real benefit we get from Stoic parents or grandparents might not come until much later in our lives — perhaps even after they’ve already left us.

When life’s inevitable hardships knock at our door, we can be bolstered by recalling the Stoic way in which our mentors faced the same challenges.

Whether they realized it or not, the actions of those who loved us in our youth are more valuable than the written words of any ancient philosopher.

A note from the author:

This article was inspired by the writing of William B. Irvine, and I first read about the concept of “congenital Stoics” in his book A Guide to the Good Life. I hope you’ll add Professor Irvine’s great books on Stoicism to your reading list.