The ancient Greek philosophy of Stoicism has seen a revival in recent years for its practical wisdom on how to live a good life. One of the most prominent Stoic philosophers was the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius. During his reign in the 2nd century AD, Aurelius recorded his thoughts and principles in a journal now known as Meditations. This seminal work outlines the tenets of Stoicism through the lens of Aurelius’ own self-reflections and lessons for living virtuously.
Aurelius provides insightful guidance on topics that remain fundamentally relevant today – how to find meaning, face adversity, treat others, and achieve tranquility amid the chaos of life. His enduring words reveal how principles of Stoicism can help us all lead more fulfilled lives. In this post we’ll explore 10 key life lessons from the great emperor-philosopher Marcus Aurelius and see how the wisdom of Stoicism continues to inspire.
Marcus Aurelius was one of the most influential Stoic philosophers of the Roman Empire. As emperor, he was known for his wisdom, justice, and self-control. His personal journal “Meditations” outlines key principles of Stoicism that remain insightful today. Here are 10 key life lessons from Marcus Aurelius and Stoic philosophy:
1. Accept What You Cannot Change
A core tenet of Stoicism is understanding the difference between what we can control and what we cannot. We should not waste energy worrying about things outside of our control – like other people’s actions or external events. Instead we should focus our efforts on our own thoughts, attitudes and actions. Marcus Aurelius wrote “The universe is transformation; life is opinion.” We have control over our perspectives and responses. Accept with grace what you cannot change.
2. Live According to Nature and Reason
The Stoics believed that we should live rationally and virtuously, in alignment with the natural order of the universe. They emphasized logic over emotion, and making decisions based on reason. Nature and the universe have a rational structure we can comprehend through philosophy and education. As social beings, we should use reason to determine the best way to live and interact with others.
3. Focus on Your Own Mind and Character
We have control over our inner selves – our judgments, values, desires and aversions. Marcus Aurelius reminded himself “You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.” Improving our own wisdom, self-discipline and character should be our central focus. Blaming external factors is futile. Work on yourself before trying to change others.
4. Treat Others Fairly and Kindly
How we behave toward others reflects our own inner state. Stoicism teaches us to be just, generous, and thoughtful in our dealings with others. Marcus Aurelius wrote “What injures the hive injures the bee.” We all belong to the greater human society and must consider the good of others as well as our own. Treat even difficult people with compassion.
5. Be Present in the Moment
Dwelling on the past or worrying about the future causes needless anxiety. Marcus Aurelius said “Think of yourself as dead. You have lived your life. Now take what’s left and live it properly.” Make the most of each present moment. Appreciate the here and now, and maintain mindfulness of the bigger picture.
6. Do Your Duties
The Stoics emphasized diligence, effort and pride in our work. Idle leisure was frowned upon. Marcus Aurelius wrote “At dawn, when you have trouble getting out of bed, tell yourself: ‘I have to go to work – as a human being. What do I have to complain of?’” We all have roles and duties in life. Fulfill yours wholeheartedly, no matter how small or mundane. Make the most of what you do.
7. Persevere Through Adversity
Challenges and hardships are inevitable in life. The Stoics practiced self-discipline, perseverance and resilience to overcome obstacles. Nothing worthwhile comes easy. Maintain determination and fortitude even when progress seems slow. As Marcus Aurelius put it: “The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.” Keep going.
8. Avoid Excess and Indulgence
Practicing moderation and self-restraint were key Stoic principles. While pleasure and luxury themselves aren’t bad, becoming dependent on them is foolish. Enjoying luxuries occasionally is fine, but make sure your happiness doesn’t rely on excess. Cultivate self-sufficiency. Live simply.
9. Reflect on Mortality
Stoics meditated frequently on death and the shortness of life. This wasn’t morbid but meant to cultivate presence. “You could leave life right now. Let that determine what you do and say and think.” Remembering our mortality helps keep things in perspective. Don’t take each day for granted.
10. Cultivate Self-Sufficiency
The ideal Stoic state was tranquility, achieved by reducing our dependence30 on externals. Marcus Aurelius advised himself “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.” Practice wanting less. Find contentment in simplicity.
Marcus Aurelius and the Stoics teach us to live rationally, moderately and justly. We should focus our efforts inward and fulfill our duties. By training our minds and accepting what we cannot control, we can find tranquility.
Finding Tranquility Through Stoicism: The Case of Marcus Aurelius
Marcus Aurelius was Roman Emperor from 161 to 180 AD. He was one of the most respected emperors for his wisdom, justice and self-restraint. Aurelius actively practiced and promoted Stoicism, an ancient Greek philosophy that provided a practical framework for living virtuously.
During his reign, Aurelius faced numerous challenges including war, famine, disease outbreaks and political turmoil. He drew on his Stoic principles to guide his leadership and maintain composure despite the difficulties.
Aurelius kept a personal journal known as Meditations, recording his own reflections on how to live according to Stoic ideals. These writings outlined his approach to finding meaning, building resilience and achieving tranquility amidst adversity.
Applying Stoic Principles
Aurelius focused his efforts on self-improvement rather than worrying about external factors out of his control. Some key ways he embodied Stoic teachings include:
- Practicing logic and clear reasoning to make decisions, rather than emotion
- Accepting unavoidable misfortunes while focusing energy on what he could control
- Treating others, even enemies, with justice, generosity and compassion
- Carrying out his duties wholeheartedly and leading by example
- Avoiding excess and indulgence, living simply and moderately
- Preparing mentally for his own mortality and loss
- Cultivating self-sufficiency and contentment within himself
Through these practices, Aurelius maintained tranquility and equilibrium despite the enormous pressures of leadership.
Impact and Legacy
While chaotic events swirled around him, Marcus Aurelius was able to enjoy inner peace by following Stoic principles. His Meditations continued to inspire its readers long after his death.
Aurelius’ example provides important lessons on using a philosophical framework to find meaning in the face of adversity, lead virtuously, and develop inner resilience and tranquility. His life demonstrates the power Stoicism can have in helping anyone live a good life, regardless of external circumstances.
The wisdom of Aurelius continues to resonate today. Practicing mindsets like self-reflection, focus on one’s own character, and resilience in the face of obstacles remain highly relevant for finding fulfillment and purpose. His story highlights how ancient philosophies can still provide guidance for modern challenges.
- Accept and adapt to circumstances outside your influence
- Make decisions guided by logic and virtue
- Work on improving your own character and wisdom
- Interact with others in a fair, generous manner
- Live fully in the present moment
- Carry out your responsibilities wholeheartedly
- Push forward in the face of challenges
- Practice moderation and avoid excess
- Keep the brevity of life in mind
- Seek inner tranquility and self-sufficiency
Marcus Aurelius’ enduring wisdom demonstrates how principles of Stoicism can lead to a life of fulfillment and tranquility. By focusing our efforts inward, exercising reason, fulfilling our duties, practicing resilience and moderation, reflecting on mortality and cultivating self-discipline, we can find contentment and maintain equanimity despite external events. Aurelius teaches us the power of perception and the freedom we gain when we take responsibility for our own minds. His meditations continue to provide insightful guidance for living a good life.