Stoicism is an ancient Greek philosophy that was founded at around 300 B.C. Stoicism’s core assertion is that true wisdom and happiness comes from self-control and fortitude. Stoic philosophy encourages one to see the world for what it is from a rational and realistic perspective, rather than get caught up in our emotions and how we feel in the moment. The ultimate goal of stoicism is to develop clear judgement, inner calm, and freedom from suffering.
Marcus Aurelius is perhaps the most well-known stoic. He was the emperor of Rome from 161–180 A.D. Aurelius wrote his Meditations book for his own use as a guide for self-improvement. It is a very raw collection of notes reflecting his true thoughts and feeling, written in a very simple and straightforward manner, perhaps reflecting his stoic philosophy. I’m going to share with you here 5 life-long lessons on mental strength I learned from this timeless classic. There are many quotes from this book that one will find useful; I’ve chosen the most thought-provoking ones to share with you today.
"If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment."
This one is all mental. How many times in our lives has there been a small thing that ticked us off far more than it should have? We can get so angry with trivial things like being stuck in traffic, losing our cell phone, or just slow internet. These things get us frustrated, totally throwing off our day and slowing us down over something so small and really insignificant! Is being stuck in traffic really going to be the end of the world? (p.s I doubt it).
There might even be a bigger problem. Maybe you have a terrible coworker? Maybe you’re being bullied? Getting over a bad breakup? All in all these things always seem to effect us, triggering our emotions and getting us stressed out….
But it doesn’t have to be this way. The only reason you you feel pain, stress, or suffering is because you think you do. You can choose not to be in pain. choose not to care about that lost cell phone or bad breakup. You still have a lot going for you. You still have friends and family. You still have food. You can still go out and live your life how you want to live it. The main point is: you can choose to be happy.
"Do not act as if you were going to live ten thousand years. Death hangs over you. While you live, while it is in your power, be good."
Humans can take things for granted; a lot. The thing we probably take for granted the most is our time. It’s actually quite mind boggling how much time we waste. Try tracking how many minutes or hours you spend on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Netflix, or other sources of entertainment. Imagine if instead you used that time to bond with your family and friends; your relationship with them would improve a lot. What about using some of that time to work on a passion project after work? It might just turn into your greatest joy, maybe even a business one day.
Beyond that, what about the little things we do every day. When you see someone, do you smile or look away? Do you treat people with kindness or aggression? We can all do our part in making this world a happier one to be in and part of that is doing the little things to spread some joy in the world.
As Aurelius said, while you still can, use your time wisely and be good.
"The object of life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane."
So often we follow the opinions of others. We went through elementary schools and high schools, taught the same things as everyone else and in the same ways. Everyone values fitting in with the crowd, being cool and popular. But what unique value does that bring into the world? Are you truly happy not being yourself and acting like others?
What Aurelius is suggesting is that life is a constant battle of trying to be unique and thinking for yourself. People who follow the crowd become average and ordinary. But people whom are themselves, who love their own uniqueness and share that with the world are far better off. They are happy and truly at peace with themselves, and as a result they offer the world their own unique value that can’t come from being like everyone else.
"Accept whatever comes to you woven in the pattern of your destiny, for what could more aptly fit your needs?"
Never complain about circumstance. Never complain about back luck. Never complain about disadvantages. Yes those things are real, but does it really help to dwell on them? Having negative thoughts about these things will never actually move you forward. You must have a constant sense of positivism and opportunity.
Think of everything that comes your way as something positive. Lost your job? Maybe it was a blessing in disguise, a wake up call to work harder or pursue something different. Maybe your “bad luck” is just a lot of mistakes on your part and you should be more careful. In everything that happens to us there is both a lesson and an opportunity for self-improvement. If we approach everything that comes our way with a positive attitude and a fiery boldness, we undoubtedly turn all situations into favorable ones in one way or another.
"Waste no more time arguing about what a good man should be. Be one."
People are inherently quite judgemental. We’re always gossiping about others. Oh so and so is like this, Mr. Doe does this and that. We spend so much time judging others that we fail to look at ourselves. Are we so good and noble?
We should focus on ourselves and our own self-improvement. Don’t worry about if your neighbour is good or bad. You should be concerned if you yourself are making the right decisions. Be good, do what you think is right, and do what is good. If you truly believe in yourself and that you are making the good and right choices, then there is no need to worry about the opinions of others.
Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations is a timeless stoic classic.