Oct 09 2018
Around 7,500 people signed up to take part in our annual Stoic Week which took place from 1-7 October. 
We recently caught up with Dr John Sellars to understand more about Stoic Week, what participants taking part had to do, and what he hopes the project will achieve. 

1. Could you tell us a bit more about yourself and your role within your department?

I’m a lecturer in the Department of Philosophy, still fairly new as I only joined Royal Holloway last September. I’m currently responsible for UG and PGR admissions.

2. Stoic Week took place last week. Could you tell us a bit more about it and what participants had to do?

Stoic Week is, as the name suggests, a week-long experiment aimed at seeing if ancient Stoic life guidance might help people today. We ask people to fill in a series of questionnaires at the beginning of the week and then again at the end to see if we can measure any shift in their subjective sense of wellbeing in the wake of ‘living like a Stoic’. Each day we suggest some key Stoic ideas to reflect on at the beginning, end, and during the day.

3. What do you hope the project will achieve?

We hope it will show that Stoicism benefits people, and the evidence thus far suggests that it does. We first ran Stoic Week in 2012, so we’ve done it a number of times now. This year around 7,500 people signed up and we estimate that around 20,000 people in total have signed up for Stoic Week since we began. It also looks as if it will show a strong correlation between holding Stoic attitudes and satisfaction with one’s life. Beyond all that, though, it’s also simply an opportunity to introduce philosophy to a wider audience.

4. How was the Stoicon event that took place in London on Saturday 29 September?

It was a great success, even if I say so myself! Tickets were sold out over a month ahead of the event. We had over 300 members of the public attend, and all those whom I spoke with enjoyed the day, which consisted of a mixture of talks and workshops. One of the talks was given by Liz Gloyn from Classics here at Royal Holloway. All the talks were filmed, with the support of a Research Strategy Fund grant, and will be available very soon.

5. What tips can you provide to anyone wanting to live like a Stoic?

Think about how you think about things (what’s often called cognitive distancing). Think about the judgements you make about situations, events, and other people. The Stoics claim that our happiness or distress is caused not by things but by the judgements we make about things. While there’s no doubt plenty of genuine suffering out there in the world, there’s also a lot of anxiety, fear, frustration, and unhappiness that’s simply the product of the way people think about what happens to them.

6. Do you have any interesting hobbies or interests?

I have an amateur interest in the history of the book and I collect early printed books from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Last year I attended the Rare Book School at Senate House to learn a bit more about medieval manuscripts.

7. What’s your favourite term at Royal Holloway and why?

Definitely the autumn term. It’s always good to catch up with students and colleagues after the summer break, and to see eager new faces. There’s always lots of energy and enthusiasm at the start of the year. In the spring, colleagues are starting to flag and students are focused on assessments, while the summer is intense with marking. So, definitely the autumn!