10 Powerful Lessons from Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations (Stoic Philosophy)
In this post, we’re going to break down 10 powerful lessons (for everyday life) from the Stoic philosophy found in Marcus Aurelius‘ Meditations. First, we’ll briefly introduce Meditations for those not familiar with the Emperor’s Journal.
During his time as Roman Emperor (from 161–180 AD) Marcus Aurelius was one of the most powerful men in the world.
He ruled the massive empire of Rome so well that he was regarded as “The Last Good Emperor”.
Despite all of the power and wealth at this fingertips, how did Marcus Aurelius keep from becoming a greedy, egotistical tyrant?
He checked himself. Every night.
The Emperor kept a nightly journal. He wrote in it the philosophy that would make him the great “Philosopher-King” we know him as today. His writings tackled challenges such as happiness, revenge, death…he even wrote about dealing with annoying people.
Turns out this “Journal” of his would become one of the greatest philosophical works…..ever.
Marcus Aurelius’ writings wouldn’t be officially published until centuries after his death, under the title Meditations.
There are a bunch of different translations (It was originally written in greek) of Meditations available to us today. We recommend either the translation by Gregory Hays or David and Scott Hicks. They’re both recent works that use modern, easy-to-read language.
Now let’s take a look at 10 powerful quotes from these recent translations and see how we could use the Stoic Philosophy to live better lives in our modern world.
“You have power over your mind, not outside events. Realize this and you find strength”
This idea is essentially the foundation of Stoic Philosophy.
Your mind is the one thing you can have total control over in life. It’s not easy with the number of distractions, advertisements and sensational media stories we have to deal with today.
However, there is great power in the realization that in the end, you control what you think.
Not your parents, not your friends, not the multimillion-dollar advertising company trying to get you to buy that thing you don’t need…..No one but you can control your mind.
“The universe is change, life is an opinion”.
This is probably more relevant to our generation than anyone who came before us.
In the last 20 years alone, technology has drastically changed the way we communicate, learn, travel, eat, sleep…..almost everything!
You have no control over these changes. But you can control what you think about them.
You could be scared of change, hate the change, complain about change (“things just aren’t what they used to be!”)…..
Or you can love change. You could see it as a new opportunity; A new door opening for you to learn and grow as a person.
It’s up to you.
“Every event is the right one. Look closely and you will see”.
Nobody ever writes a biography of a guy who had a problem-free life.
When something really bad happens to you, it needed to happen.
When it first happens, you might not be able to understand the purpose of it. But down the road, when you’re back on your feet and enjoying some success again, you’ll look back and understand.
Maybe it was the motivation you needed. Maybe it led you to a person or idea that changed your life.
Either way, it was necessary.
“Stop debating what a good person should be and just be one.”
Nobody wants to be told what to do.
So how are you going to tell someone how to be a good person?
You can’t. But you can show them.
People hate being criticized, but love being inspired.
So the next time you want to tell someone how to live their life, look inward first. Be the change you want to see in others and you will inspire others to do the same.
“We live only in the present, in this fleet-footed moment. The rest is lost and behind us or ahead of us and may never be found.”
We get upset over a past that we can’t change and worry about a future we may never see.
When you think about it rationally, it makes no sense. But we all do it. So did Marcus Aurelius. That’s why he had to write this passage to remind himself to live in the present moment.
Unless time travel is invented before you die, you will never change the past.
And you can worry all you want about the future BUT there’s no guarantee you’ll even make it to tomorrow.
Yeah, it sounds grim but it’s the absolute truth. When you realize this truth, you’ll stop dwelling on the past and stressing the future, and start enjoying the one thing you’ve got: The Present.
Watching the sunset, tasting good food, making someone else smile. These are the most basic, but awesome things that can only be experienced in the present.
“The measure of a man is the worth of the things he cares about”
We have a limited number of cares to give out in life.
The things (and people) we care about should be carefully considered. Ask yourself “is this thing worth my time? Will I be happy I spent X amount of my precious time focusing on this?”
The things you focus on most will define you as a person.
The good news is that you have the power to choose what you care about.
“It’s silly to try to escape other peoples faults, they’re inescapable. Just try to escape your own.”
Everyone will annoy you sometimes. You can’t avoid it.
But guess what? You can be annoying too.
If you become familiar with your own faults, you will be more patient with other people when their faults come out.
This is a very useful trait to practice…..
since every person on this planet has faults.
“If you don’t have a consistent goal in life, you can’t live in a consistent way”
Goals are necessary to make the present meaningful.
Just because Marcus Aurelius stresses living in the present doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a future goal to work towards.
Our goals determine how we spend our time.
Without goals, we can be easily distracted and pulled off course. This will lead to us doing things we don’t really enjoy around people we don’t really like.
And we won’t even know how we ended up there.
So in order to make the most out of the present, aspiring to a challenging goal is necessary.
“How much time he gains who does not look to see what his neighbor says or does or thinks, but only at what he does himself, to make it just and holy”
Worrying about what someone else is thinking, saying or doing will not make your life better.
It’s actually the opposite. Doing this is just a waste of time.
You know what the right thing to do is.
Whether or not the person next to you is doing it shouldn’t matter.
All that matters, in the end, is that you’re doing the right thing.
“When you wake up in the morning think of what a privilege it is to be alive, to think, to enjoy, to love.”
Be grateful every morning. There are people who didn’t get to wake up today.
How you begin your day will determine how the rest of it will go.
By taking a few minutes when you wake up to be grateful, you’re getting ahead.
Gratitude is the most useful emotion. Exercise it and you will reap the benefits.
— Originally Posted on StoicElite.com
So there you have 10 useful lessons from the Stoic Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius.
If you enjoy Stoic Philosophy, you can check out our other pages which include the Great Stoics Seneca and Epictetus. You can also check out a breakdown of another powerful work of stoicism: On the Shortness of Life by Seneca.