When Life Hurts, Care Less About It: The Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius

When Life Hurts, Care Less About It: The Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius

Life inevitably involves pain, hardship, and loss. We all face challenges that can lead to suffering – illness, loss of loved ones, professional setbacks, financial troubles. How can we avoid despair and maintain inner peace in the face of difficulties? The ancient philosophy of Stoicism provides wisdom that is profoundly relevant today. Marcus Aurelius, a Roman emperor and Stoic philosopher, shared principles for transcending life’s hurts in his journal Meditations. His timeless techniques teach us to care less about what we can’t control and live virtuously despite adversity. We can discover remarkable tranquility amidst pain by adjusting perspective, managing expectations, appreciating mortality, and finding purpose through serving others.

The Stoic Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius

Marcus Aurelius was a Roman emperor and philosopher who lived in the 2nd century AD. He was a proponent of Stoicism, a Greek philosophical tradition that taught that destructive emotions result from errors in judgment. The Stoics believed in using reason to understand the world, and that virtue was the highest good. Marcus Aurelius’ writings in Meditations reflect these Stoic principles.

Life is Filled With Pain – Accept it.

A core tenet of Stoicism is to accept that life inevitably involves pain, hardship, and loss. Marcus Aurelius wrote, “The art of living is more like wrestling than dancing.” The Stoics believed we don’t control what happens to us, only how we respond. By accepting the inevitability of pain, we can reduce our suffering in the face of life’s challenges.

Focus on What You Can Control

The Stoics distinguished between what is in our control and what isn’t. According to Marcus Aurelius, we have complete control over our judgments, values, desires, and thoughts but cannot control external events. He advised focusing energy on what we can control rather than worrying about what we can’t. We can find inner calm and clarity if we practice this regularly.

Let Go of Desires and Expectations

Marcus Aurelius taught that many destructive emotions arise from unhealthy desires and expectations. If we expect life to conform to our desires, we set ourselves up for constant frustration and disappointment. He advised reducing appetite for what we don’t have and being satisfied with what we do have. Managing expectations and not depending on external things for happiness leads to greater tranquility.

Be Present in Each Moment

Stoicism emphasizes being fully present and mindful. Marcus Aurelius wrote, “Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself in your way of thinking.” Each moment is an opportunity to practice presence. We can find contentment in the present by not dwelling on the past or worrying about the future.

Act Virtuously According to Nature

The Stoics believed in living virtuously in harmony with nature. Marcus Aurelius said, “A blazing fire makes flame and brightness out of everything thrown into it.” Similarly, we can handle adversity virtuously by having wisdom, justice, courage, and discipline. He reminded himself, “Always run the short way, and the short way is the natural one.” Doing what is right and comes naturally when we cultivate virtue.

Our Perspective Shapes Our Reality

A key theme in Marcus Aurelius’ writings is that our perceptions determine our reality. He wrote, “The soul becomes dyed with the color of its thoughts.” By working on our mindset and perspective, we can shape our experience of life. Challenging negative assumptions and consciously adopting a constructive mindset helps us manage life’s difficulties.

Death is Natural – Don’t Fear it.

Stoicism teaches us not to fear death. Marcus Aurelius reminded himself that just like birth, disease, and other natural things, death is inevitable and natural. Fearing death is pointless and only ruins the time we have now. He wrote, “It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live.” Accepting mortality allows us to appreciate our finite time and live fully.

Reflect on Your Mortality

Marcus Aurelius advised periodically reflecting on our mortality to overcome fear and desire. Remembering that life is ephemeral can help us clarify our priorities and detach from superficial things. He wrote, “You could leave life right now. Let that determine what you do and say and think.” Contemplating our impermanence fosters wisdom, presence, authenticity, and tranquility.

Be Kind to Others

An important aspect of Stoicism is how we treat others. Marcus Aurelius wrote, “What we do now echoes in eternity.” He reminded himself to be patient, tolerant, kind, and selfless. How we behave toward others reflects our character and affects society. Kindness creates ripples that spread goodness far and wide.

Find Purpose Through Service

Marcus Aurelius found purpose and meaning in his role as emperor by serving the Roman people. He wrote, “Where life is possible at all, a right life is possible; life in a palace is possible; therefore, a right life in a palace is possible.” We can find fulfillment in any circumstance by serving others virtuously, no matter our station in life.

The Stoic philosophy of Marcus Aurelius provides timeless wisdom on how to handle life’s difficulties with grace and tranquility. By shifting perspective, managing expectations, living virtuously, and finding purpose in service, we can reduce suffering and discover inner peace.

Case Study: How Stoicism Helped Hannah Overcome Hardship

Hannah is a 32-year-old project manager at a tech startup. She had a stable, happy life, a loving husband, and a new house. But Hannah’s life took unexpected turns over the past year, leading to pain and suffering.

First, Hannah’s husband announced he wanted a divorce. She was heartbroken, and the divorce process was contentious, leaving her drained emotionally and financially. A few months later, Hannah’s father had a severe stroke, leaving him partially paralyzed. Taking care of him took a toll on her. Hannah’s important project failed at work due to factors outside her control. Her boss blamed her for the failure, and she feared for her job security.

Understandably, Hannah struggled to cope with these simultaneous blows. She felt depressed, anxious, and angry and was drinking heavily. She fixated on the past and all the “what-ifs” about the divorce. Hannah worried excessively about her dad’s health and her career. She desperately wished life would go back to how it used to be.

Eventually, Hannah’s therapist recommended she read about Stoic philosophy. As she learned the principles Marcus Aurelius wrote about overcoming adversity, Hannah slowly started applying them to manage her situation better.

She practiced accepting the painful events instead of fighting reality. She focused on supporting her dad in the present moment rather than dwelling on the past. She redirected her energy from worrying to taking constructive actions within her control at work.

Hannah made an effort to be patient and kind with her ex-husband for the sake of their amicable divorce. She volunteered at a homeless shelter on weekends to give her life more meaning through service. Reflecting on mortality reminded Hannah to appreciate the time with her father.

Using Stoic techniques didn’t make the pain disappear. But they did help Hannah respond to the difficulties with more grace, wisdom, and inner tranquility. She reclaimed a sense of control and purpose. Her anxiety and despair reduced.

In many ways, the principles of Marcus Aurelius helped Hannah suffer less when life hurt and maintain an inner calm through the storms. She continues to practice Stoicism’s timeless wisdom as she moves forward one day at a time.

Key Takeaways

  • Marcus Aurelius’ Stoic philosophy teaches resilience in the face of hardship.
  • Accept that pain is inescapable. Don’t fight reality.
  • Direct energy toward what’s controllable; detach from what isn’t.
  • Curb desires and hopes to avoid constant frustration.
  • Dwell in the present; don’t fixate on the past or future.
  • Act with integrity, justice, bravery, and restraint. Align with nature.
  • Our thinking shapes our reality. Adopt constructive perspectives.
  • Death is inevitable; don’t be afraid. Appreciate fleeting time.
  • Reflecting on mortality provides wisdom and focus.
  • Treat people with patience, tolerance, and benevolence.
  • Find meaning through virtuous service to others.


The ancient wisdom of Marcus Aurelius provides timeless principles for remaining tranquil amid life’s life’s pains. By adjusting our viewpoint, mastering expectations, residing at the moment, behaving virtuously, accepting mortality, and discovering purpose through serving others, we can reduce suffering and uncover profound contentment. Aurelius’ Aurelius reveals how our thinking and values shape our reality. His Stoic techniques teach us to care less about what we can’t control and live with grace and wisdom despite hardship.