6 Quotes By Marcus Aurelius To Help You Be Happier Today

Applying them to your life could be your way to happiness.

Kirstie Taylor
Nov 14, 2020 · 8 min read
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Photo by Miguel Arcanjo Saddi from Pexels

There isn’t a single key to happiness. It’s not a destination. You won’t find a magic solution to live happily ever after.

But what you can do is come to terms with the realities of life, learn what you can control, and realize what does affect our happiness in a world that tries to busy us with things that don’t.

That’s why I compiled this list of quotes from Marcus Aurelius.

Who is he? Well, he’s one of the most famous names of a branch of philosophy called Stoicism.

Stoicism came about in the early 3rd century BCE. Stoic philosophers aim to help people love more resilient, aware, and happier lives but understanding what matters most.

Stoicism always felt like the one branch of philosophy that not only gets it but can help literally anyone feel happier in their life.

Not to mention that it’s been three millennia since these beliefs were formed, and they still hold up. That says a lot about how applicable their logic was.

Marcus Aurelius was a highly respected Roman Emporer. But arguably, he left a more memorable legacy in the form of a journal he wrote to himself about his observations of life called Meditations.

Here are ten quotes Marcus Aurelius shared about how anyone can live a happier life today:

“The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts.”

Our thoughts are powerful.

They shape our reality. They shred our happiness to pieces. They keep us paralyzed in fear. They can be our worst critic.

But our thoughts can also be our biggest fan. They can help us achieve our biggest dreams. They can be the reason that the present feels beautiful to live in. They can help us take nothing for granted.

What’s the difference between the two? Simply the choice to think differently.

Aurelius’s quote is a reminder that the thoughts you have every day have great control over your life. If left unchecked, your thoughts can easily leave you feeling pessimistic and loathsome of life.

How to apply this to your life:

When I have negative thought spirals, I remind myself that I’m prolonging my suffering. A feeling only exists as long as we give is energy.

Many people have a negative outlook on life. But not many people do something about it.

Take inventory of your thoughts. Do you tend to be critical of everything that happens? Do you think about the worst possible outcomes?

Replace those thoughts with positive ones. Instead of thinking about every way your work meeting could go wrong, focus on all the ways it can go right. Rather than feeling like your date was a total bust, list three reasons your date went well.

You’ll watch your life go from dread and resentment to fulfillment and happiness.

“Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.”

People get caught up in thinking that their way is right.

Then when someone else inevitably sees things differently from them, they feel personally attacked. A distance is created between them just because they both think they're right.

But the truth is beyond anyone’s capacity to know. Between people’s opinions, perceptions, and past affecting how they experience the world, it’s beyond a human’s capability to know the truth.

What’s the alternative? Living a life where you realize people’s thoughts and beliefs (including your own) are simply opinions and perspectives.

The boss who calls you an idiot at work? That’s his opinion. The idea you’ll never find love? That’s your perception.

None of this is true. None of this is permanent. It’s malleable thoughts.

How to apply this to your life:

Play an active role in reminding yourself that your experiences aren’t the truth.

For me, I question every belief that brings me down. When I thought I’d never heal from my depression, I reminded myself that I only thought that because things were hard at the moment.

The mean words that people said to me throughout life? I remind myself how those were their opinion; one based on a reason to want to hurt me.

Much of what people say is merely opinion and multiple things can be true at once. Find what works for you. Believe what feels right to you.

“You have power over your mind — not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.”

In life, you can either feel two ways.

  1. Like you’re floating along the path of life.
  2. Like you’re barely treading water.

The latter happens when you think you have more control in life than you do. Let me explain:

Say you believe if you work hard enough, you’ll receive a promotion. But, little do you know, the whole time your boss is planning to promote their nephew. It doesn’t matter how hard you work because it won’t change the result.

After losing out on the promotion, you think you failed. You blame yourself. You curse your boss’s nephew. You feel like a victim of life.

But the reality is, that promotion was never meant for you. A decision was made, and you can’t change the outcome. Living in resentment and blame will only make the blow of your boss passing you up even harder to live with.

Someone who realizes that things are out of their control wouldn’t let this loss change the way they view themself. They’d make a plan to switch companies if necessary, but they wouldn’t live in anger.

How to apply this to your life:

Determine what is and isn’t in your control.

How hard you work at your job? You can control that. Someone else’s biased choice? That’s something you can’t control.

Tricking yourself into thinking you have control over the uncontrollable would drive even the sanest person mad. One of the most freeing realizations is knowing what you have a say in.

You can focus your energy on your thoughts. You can better prepare yourself mentally for life’s inevitable obstacles.

Strength comes from knowing how you perceive what happens to you in life is the real determiner of your happiness.

“If someone is able to show me that what I think or do is not right, I will happily change, for I seek the truth, by which no one was ever truly harmed. It is the person who continues in his self-deception and ignorance who is harmed.”

The moment you stop being open to learning from life is the moment you stop growing. Because no one can possibly know everything.

But that doesn’t stop people from believing they do.

A man who has farmed for decades could be plowing his land ineffectively because of a hook he didn’t know could unlatch to allow the blades to dig deeper into the soil.

But if a younger man were to tell the farmer that he’s been plowing wrong, the farmer might ignore the younger man because he believes he knows best.

He’ll carry on, yielding less crop than his neighboring farmers, all because he thinks that he’s too wise to learn from someone younger.

How to apply this to your life:

Keep an open mindset up until the very day you die.

People come from all different walks of life. There’s something that can be learned from anyone. Being open to new ways of living and thinking could be the difference between feeling stuck and experiencing happiness in ways you didn’t know you could.

If there’s ever a moment you think you know everything — whether that be in life, your career, or in love — remind yourself that only a fool would believe that there’s nothing left to learn.

“Remember that very little is needed to make a happy life.”

Let’s compare modern life to the time that Marcus Aurelius grew up in.

Sure, he was a Roman Emporer; afforded much more than most people. But he didn’t have fancy cars, designer shoes, and the latest iPhone. Does that mean he couldn’t be happy?

Not at all. It means that our perception of what would make us happy changes with time. That with the invention of new technology and more designer items, people believe they need those things to feel happy.

But the reality is, humans need very little to be happy.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a great example of what does matters most in life: physical safety, water, food, and the feeling of belonging. Even financial stability could be included.

But when you can’t enjoy a breath of fresh air or the look of the sun’s rays on a flower, you’ve set your expectations too high for life. And all you’re doing is making yourself miserable.

How to apply this to your life:

Learn to enjoy the smallest things in life. You’ve heard this sentiment before, but if you can find reasons to be happy throughout your day, you’re winning.

Many people talk about writing in gratitude journals in the morning or at night. But I challenge you to take a step further.

When I find myself feeling down, I list five reasons to be grateful in that moment.

I might be driving when I start to reflect back on past failures. Instead of entertaining those thoughts, I feel gratitude for having a car, the beautiful day, my health, the water that’s in the bottle next to me, and my friends.

Instead of believing happiness can be bought by my next purchase, I remember that feeling is fleeting. True happiness is all around us.

“The art of living is more like wrestling than dancing.”

As I said above, believing that life can ever get to a point of being pain-free will be one of the biggest obstacles you have to overcome.

Because life won’t ever be smooth sailing. You won’t get to a point where you’ll move through life without tripping.

It’ll always be hard. There’s no way around that.

But the people who succeed, the ones who are the most satisfied, are the people who learn to be happy through all of the darkness.

Instead of expecting to dance their way through, they pivot. They duck. They stay optimistic and keep going. They don’t ever let their guard down or think that they’ve achieved eternal happiness.

How to apply this to your life:

A common practice amongst people who follow Stoic philosophy is to be prepared for different situations.

When I first got into writing, there were a lot of ways things could turn out. I could do well and soar into virality amongst writers I respect. Or my writing could totally flop and I’d have to find a new career.

As much as I’d hope the former would happen, preparing myself for the latter was realistic. That way, no matter the outcome, I won’t feel blind-sighted.

The same goes for your life. Don’t dwell in worst-case-scenarios but have a plan for certain outcomes. This isn’t a nihilist way of thinking, but a realistic way of experiencing life.

Stoicism is not a complicated philosophy. It simply aims to help people learn what we do have control over and what matter most in life.

When you apply these ideas from Marcus Aurelius to your life, you’ll be able to live a happier life, free of the limitations our minds can make for us.

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The Ascent

A community of storytellers documenting the journey to happiness and fulfillment.

Kirstie Taylor

Written by

Dating, relationship, and self-love writer. Anxious with dating? >> https://kirstietaylor.substack.com // IG: @WordsWithKirstie // info (at) kirstietaylor.com

The Ascent

A community of storytellers documenting the journey to happiness & fulfillment. Join thousands of others making the climb on Medium.

Kirstie Taylor

Written by

Dating, relationship, and self-love writer. Anxious with dating? >> https://kirstietaylor.substack.com // IG: @WordsWithKirstie // info (at) kirstietaylor.com

The Ascent

A community of storytellers documenting the journey to happiness & fulfillment. Join thousands of others making the climb on Medium.

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