The ancient Stoics were nothing short of extraordinary. Their wisdom about how to live a full life is still applicable today. It’s been passed down through the generations from books written by the likes of Epictetus, Marcus Aurelias, and Seneca. Seneca imparticular, often spoke about the shortness of life and how to take full advantage of it.
Life is short. We all have limited time available to us. Limited time to enjoy the sweetness and happy moments life has to offer us. It’s important we take full advantage of it. These 5 Stoic quotes from Seneca will put the shortness of life into perspective and remind us how we can make full use of it.
“You act like mortals in all that you fear, and like immortals in all that you desire”
What is it that you want most? What are your big goals and ambitions? Most people waste away their time on things that aren’t really aligned with their big goals, even though time may not always be on their side.
People say “When I’m 65, I’ll retire and travel the world!”
But what guarantee do you have that you’ll live that long? What if you grow sick, or too physically weak to travel anywhere?
Others wish to start a business but are sticking to their day-jobs for the time being, or are working on their business just on the side. That’s at least 8 hours a day, 5 days a weak, and most of your energy, dedicated to doing a job you don’t like. The business, the real dream, is left with the scraps of time.
This is not meant to cast a dark shadow on the future, but rather to put the real value of time into perspective. You don’t know how much time you have left to live or what life is going to throw at you along the way. Live for your goals and dreams and what you long for, today.
“The greatest obstacle to living is expectancy, which hangs upon tomorrow and loses today. You are arranging what lies in Fortune’s control, and abandoning what lies in yours. What are you looking at? To what goal are you straining? The whole future lies in uncertainty: live immediately.”
More on living for today, here Seneca stresses the importance of not leaving life to “Fortune’s control.”
Fortune may not always be on your side. You might not be offered that promotion — perhaps office politics. You might not have more time or money to travel later — kids, less than ideal jobs, economic down-turns, or a death in the family can completely throw your plans off. Looking to the future is a game of chance and a fool’s errand.
Instead, focus on what lies in front of you today. If you were to die tomorrow, what would you want to be doing today, so that you can look back on your life and say that you gave it your all?
Do not expect things to happen for you in the future. If it happens, great! But they may not. The future is uncertain, today is guaranteed. Live today’s day first.
“It is not that we have so little time but that we lose so much. … The life we receive is not short but we make it so; we are not ill provided but use what we have wastefully.”
A common question people like to ask the elderly, often on their deathbeds is: “do you have any regrets?”
The average life expectancy in the US in 2020 is 79 years old. By 2050, it’s estimated that that number will have climbed to 83 years old. That’s a long time to experience life’s wild ride, with many opportunities for regret.
Often times you’ll hear things like “I wish I didn’t work so much” or “I wish I spent more time with my family.” These regrets come from people who didn’t make full use of their time.
What could be more valuable than doing work that you love and spending time with your family? The answer should always be nothing! Yet “friends” and colleagues and society as a whole are always pressuring us to get a regular corporate job and hammer 8 to 12 hours a day at a job, in a profession that we may not like at all.
What a horrible waste!
Time will fly by. It’s not there forever. Spending time on what you love and with whom you love will always bring you the most joy and happiness in your life. 80 years is a long time for life if you know how to use it.
“As far as I am concerned, I know that I have lost not wealth but distractions. The body’s needs are few: it wants to be free from cold, to banish hunger and thirst with nourishment; if we long for anything more we are exerting ourselves to serve our vices, not our needs.”
Seneca wrote this quote when he was arrested and the officers took away all of his possessions. He was a wealthy man, with servants and fine clothes and jewelry, yet not powerful enough to defend himself from arrest.
This did not bother him. Seneca used to have a monthly practice where he chose one day each month to live like someone much poorer than he was. He did not call upon her servants that day, he took cold showers, and prepared all of his food himself. This cleansing exercise taught him to live by his own means, without many possessions or as he calls them “vices.”
Understand, you really don’t need many things to live and survive in this life. We own so many things these days: designer clothes, Apple smartphones, fancy accessories, and way, way overpriced cars.
But we don’t really need any of those things to survive and thrive. As Seneca puts it “The body’s needs are few: it wants to be free from cold, to banish hunger and thirst with nourishment.” Anything else is just an extra exertion of stress, energy, and time for our vices. It’s not meeting any real need.
Remember this when times are tougher, like economic downturns or harsh breakups. You can survive, and in fact, thrive even when you have much less than you’re currently working with. The happiest times and memories in our lives are often those we spend with family, friends, and significant others. The times we laugh, adventure, and have fun. Those times don’t cost a thing.
“People are frugal in guarding their personal property; but as soon as it comes to squandering time they are most wasteful of the one thing in which it is right to be stingy.”
Embed this message in your mind: time is the most valuable resource you have.
Time is the only resource that is finite. Money, work, and all the fancy things which we buy will always be in abundance throughout the world. You can always get more of it. But once you’ve used your time, you’re really out.
Seneca is stressing here how most people are stingy with things like money or whatever they’ve bought with their money. If a friend wants to borrow some cash or someone touches their phone, they freak out!
But when they’re watching Netflix at home or letting social media distractions from Facebook enter their headspace, time is thrown away. They don’t seem to notice that they’re wasting their most valuable resource.
Instead of watching Netflix, spend that time on something more valuable and productive. Call your parents, learn a new skill, exercise, volunteer for a cause, work on your business, the list is endless! All of those things are far more valuable to you and will bring you far more joy than Netflix time.
Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
Letters from a Stoic by Seneca
The Discourses by Epictetus