Stoicism is my favourite form of philosophy. Unlike other strands of philosophy, stoicism can be applied to your daily life with a little work.
One of the most famous proponents of stoicism was Seneca. He was a philosopher who hailed from Córdoba, Spain and spent much of his life in Rome.
His life predated that of the famous Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, but Seneca influenced another famous Emperor, Nero.
He was appointed as Nero’s tutor by his mother Agrippina before the future Emperor rose to the throne. Despite imparting the virtues of stoicism to Nero, Seneca was unable to curb his student’s excesses.
Nero’s rule was marked by tyranny and extravagance. His reign ended abruptly in revolt as Nero fled Rome and ultimately committed suicide. Nero himself requested that Seneca commit suicide when he had grown tired of the influence of his tutor and advisor.
It may seem odd to read the writings of a man who could not dampen the excesses of an Emperor, but these failings show that Seneca was like the rest of us, fallible.
Seneca was a man who witnessed the corrupting influence that power had. He saw firsthand what it could do to those around him, and, ultimately, himself.
His writings are as relevant today as they were when he wrote them. They are easily accessible for anyone looking to gain an insight into Stoicism.
Below are a few quotes I have picked out that influenced my life in recent years. I’m sure they can do the same for you.
“Unremitting effort leads to a kind of mental dullness and lethargy”
I’m a proponent of working hard. You need to put in the necessary groundwork to be successful at anything. Without hard work, you’re going to struggle.
That said, there are limitations to how much you should work. I found this out to my cost when I was working in construction in New Zealand.
We regularly worked 10 hour days replacing wastewater pipes in Christchurch. This was to repair the damage from the earthquakes which had devastated the city. The hours were necessary to restore a key proponent of a modern city.
Without functioning wastewater pipes, you’re going to have one stinky city! I enjoyed the work, but it was hard. 10 hours of manual labour every day is tough, even when you’re used to it.
Sometimes, we worked half a day on Saturday’s, which paid more. As someone who was also travelling to different parts of the country while I lived in New Zealand, I needed all the money I could get.
Eventually, the work began to catch up with me. It got to the point where instead of enjoying the weekend, I ended up crashing halfway through Saturday.
I remember falling asleep one Saturday at 4 in the afternoon and not waking up again until 10. I was spent. All that work, while boosting my bank balance, had left me physically and mentally drained.
Work is good. It gives you direction and purpose, but there are limits. If you overdo it, you'll burn yourself out in the end. In the long run, slow and steady wins the race.
“Death is not an evil. What is it then? The one law mankind has that is free of all discrimination.”
I remember reading a passage in a book when I was ten that stopped me in my tracks. It stated that when the universe ran out of hydrogen it would die.
It was at that moment that I realised my mortality. Although I wasn’t concerned about my mortality, I was concerned about the universe dying.
If the universe died then it wouldn’t be possible for life to exist. I was plagued by this thought for a few days until I eventually forgot about it.
Looking back, it’s remarkable that I was bothered by this statement at such a young age. It’s normal to not want to die. Most of us would rather live than perish and descend into the unknown. However, thinking of death as this evil construct is not helpful.
Death is a natural part of life. It happens to us all. No matter how rich or powerful you are, you cannot escape the clutches of your inevitable fate.
Instead of looking at death negatively, we should pivot and view it another way. The inevitability of death should provide us with the motivation to live our lives to the fullest before we die.
The constant passing of time shows us the necessity of making the most of our time on this Earth. It’s easy to wait for tomorrow and go through the motions, but one day, tomorrow will not come.
“All this hurrying from place to place won’t bring you any relief, for you’re travelling in the company of your own emotions, followed by your troubles all the way.”
As a travel blogger, I love to travel! I’ve been lucky enough to visit over 40 countries and live in three different ones.
I love visiting new countries, soaking in the culture and learning about the various customs and history. One thing I have noticed when I stay in one spot for a long time is that I get restless.
The place where this was most obvious was in Barcelona. I lived there for two years, but by the end of it, I was desperate to leave. I had convinced myself that my unhappiness was to do with Barcelona and nothing to do with myself.
I wasted the last months of my time in the city sulking over the fact that I was there. If this sounds ridiculous, it was. Looking back, I want to yell at my former self. I want to tell him to wake up and appreciate the time he spent in a beautiful city.
It was only when I came home and realised that I was no happier back in England, that I realised I was the problem. Moving to a new place hadn’t solved the problem because I was bringing my problems with me wherever I went.
It’s easy to see the grass as greener on the other side, but often, it’s not. Contentment should come from within and not dependent on where you reside.
Travelling is a great way to learn about yourself and the world, but if you’re travelling to escape from your problems, you’ll soon find out that they’ve come along with you.
“A man is as unhappy as he has convinced himself he is.”
This quote stands out to me because of how true it is. Our minds are capable of incredible feats, but they can also be our worst enemies.
It resonates with me because I have experienced this on numerous occasions. I convinced myself living in Barcelona was making me miserable, when in fact, I had convinced myself this was the case.
But, it also happened when I lived in New Zealand. Living and working in Christchurch for 10 months, I was fond of the place. The city wasn’t in the best shape due to the rebuilding efforts following the earthquakes, but there was still a lot to do.
Towards the end of my time in the city, I couldn’t wait to leave. My friends and I decided to go to the North Island for a week after Christmas. I decided I would stay there for a few weeks before heading on to Australia and meeting them again in the Philippines.
As the days progressed towards Christmas, I was more and more desperate to leave. Despite being with a great bunch of friends who I had a lot of fun with, I couldn’t wait to go. I was blinded by my dislike of the city.
The funny thing is, I look back at these times now and miss them. Christchurch wasn’t the worst place in the world, I just convinced myself it was. If I had had a positive mindset, I would have been much happier.
Sometimes, we need to get out of our heads now and again and appreciate what’s in front of us.
“Whatever can happen at any time can happen today.”
One of the biggest mistakes in life is to leave things until tomorrow. Procrastination is easy to slip into and hard to beat if you don’t address it.
It’s easy to forget that extraordinary things can happen at any time. We look back at events such as 9/11, with an odd sense of certainty, but it could have happened at any time.
A major problem with our lives is that we think they will last forever. This misplaced certainty leads us to become complacent. Instead of doing what we can today, we tend to put it off until tomorrow.
The problem with this is that eventually, tomorrow doesn’t come. You can be involved in an accident at any time, so why couldn’t it happen today?
If we postpone our lives until tomorrow then we are not truly living. We live in an uncertain world, as the Coronavirus has shown. Anything can, and will, happen.
By recognising that what can happen at any time can happen today, we can take charge of our lives. Living in the moment is often derided as a short-sighted way to live.
But it’s important to remember that being present in the moment is essential to leading a happy and meaningful life
“Only an absolute fool values a man according to his clothes, or according to his social position, which after all is only something that we wear like clothing.”
Our society is obsessed with celebrity and our appearance. The primary place you can see this is Instagram. The app has morphed from a place where you share photos into a marketplace where we are the product.
We chase vanity metrics such as followers and likes. The more followers you have the more important you are. Of course, this isn’t true, a person’s value is not measured on how many followers they have. Rather, it should be measured on the quality of a person’s character.
Judging others is part of being human. We all know we shouldn’t do it, but it’s hard not to. It’s often an instinctive reaction. The adage is that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, the same is true of people.
When I worked in construction in New Zealand, I used to do my shopping after work sometimes. I would walk into the shop still wearing my work clothes, dirty and sweaty.
New Zealand is a tolerant country with a culture of hard work, but even there I could sense people judging me based on what I was wearing. It was at that point that I realised how odd this practice is.
Here we all are going about our daily business, interacting with people we have never met before and making snap judgements about them. Just typing that out exposes how ludicrous it is.
Our value as people is based on much more than our appearance. Anyone can look sharp in a suit or beautiful in a dress. Instead of being overawed by a person’s appearance, we should judge them on their actions and character.
This is a greater indicator of a person’s value than the clothes they wear or the number of followers they have.
“We suffer more in imagination than in reality.”
When I first read this quote, I had to read it again to take it in. It’s a short sentence, but it’s one that makes perfect sense.
For years, I was the embodiment of that sentence. I had a terrible tendency to dwell on things and let them affect me. When I worked in a betting shop this happened all too often.
Most of the time, the customers were nice and friendly. However, on the odd occasion, you would get angry people complaining, or one of the normally nice people would become angry.
Countless times I remember interactions with customers that became hostile after a few minutes. A lot of these revolved around money. It’s amazing how people can change when large sums of money are involved.
A lot of these encounters would be misunderstandings, but, occasionally, you would come across people who were just plain nasty and wanted to rip the company off.
After the encounters had ended, I found myself dwelling on what had happened for a day or two. I couldn’t help replaying the incidents over and over in my mind. Questioning whether I had done the right thing or not.
I was tormenting myself about something that had already happened. Instead of letting it go and accepting it, I couldn’t help but try and right the wrong in my mind.
Sometimes, you have to let things be. We cannot control everything all of the time and have it turn out how we would like. Accepting this stops you from tormenting yourself internally when things, in reality, are nowhere near as bad as you think.
“Life, if well lived, is long enough.”
During my thirty years on this planet, I have done a lot. I have lived in three separate countries, worked in a variety of jobs and visited numerous places.
Even though I haven’t accomplished everything I want, I feel I have lived a good life so far. One of the greatest tragedies in life is to not actually live at all.
This stems from our lack of understanding of our mortality. 30 years is a long time, it feels like an eternity. However, in terms of the existence of human civilisation, my life has been a drop in the ocean.
We think that because we have been on this Earth for a certain number of years that we still have time left. That it’s ok to postpone our desires because we still have lots of time left.
The fallacy in this line of thinking is that we have no way of knowing whether that’s the case or not. The problem with life is that it’s long enough to convince us it lasts forever but short enough to waste.
Due to the brevity of life, we should endeavour to make the most of it while we still can. You could die young, but if you made the most of your time, is that not better than someone who is 90, but has barely lived?
We don’t know when our time will be up. All we know is that one day, it will be. This should spur us on to make the most of whatever time we have on this planet. Even if it’s only a short time, if we live our lives to the fullest, we can have no complaints when we do depart.
While none of us wants to depart before our time, a real tragedy is living into old age without really living at all. Endeavour to make the most of your life while you still can. You never know when your time might be up.