In a world saturated with stimuli and anxiety where relationships are increasingly ephemeral, including the relationship with ourselves, Stoicism stands as a redemptive philosophy. This current of thought that emerged in the year 300 B.C. that many consider the “First guide of self-help in the history of humanity” starts from three key precepts: develop our “ego”, worry about the others and distance ourselves from possessions.
One of the greatest exponents of Stoicism was Marcus Aurelius, a Roman emperor who in his book “Meditations” addressed different topics, some of which we can fully identify with even centuries away. The thoughts of Marcus Aurelius encourage us to search inside ourselves, learn to be self-sufficient and stop worrying so much about what the others say or think.
Advices of Marcus Aurelius for a fuller, happier and more balanced life
1. Your happiness depends on your thoughts
“A man’s life is what his thoughts make of it […] Your happiness depends on the quality of your thoughts; therefore, act accordingly and be careful not to entertain yourself in notions inadequate for virtue and reasonable nature.
“Remember that everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, it is not the truth […] If you are afflicted by something external, that pain is not due to the event itself, but to the meaning you give it, and you have the power to eliminate it at any time […] ] You have power over your mind, not over events. Realize this and you will find strength.”
The Stoic philosophers advocated self-knowledge as a way to achieve happiness. They believed that a large part of our unhappiness and frustration is self-induced because we usually don’t react to events but to the idea that we form of them. It’s about learning to separate the facts from our expectations trying to look at them from a different point of view that is more useful for us.
2. Don’t waste your energy criticizing, use it to grow
“The incapacity to observe what goes through the mind of another person rarely makes a man unhappy, but those who do not observe the movements of their own mind, cannot help but be unhappy […] Do not waste what you have left of life conjecturing about the others, unless you look for a common good. Imagining what they are doing and why, what they are thinking and planning, it stuns you and separates you from your inner guidance.
“I’ve always wondered why if we love ourselves more than the other people, we give less value to our opinions than to those of the others.”
These thoughts of Marcus Aurelius encourage us to focus on our Personal Growth and stop worrying about what the others think. Devoting time and energy to ruminating the words and attitudes of the others is useless. It’s more profitable to dedicate that time and energy to improve ourselves. In fact, we must be aware that we can only influence thoughts, attitudes and behaviors of the others through our example. It’s not by chance that Marco Aurelio affirmed: “Do not waste time discussing how a good man should be. Be one”.
3. Accept what you can control and let go what you cannot control
“It’s ridiculous not to try to avoid your own evil, which is possible, and instead trying to avoid that of the others, which is impossible […] You always have the option of not having an opinion. You do not need to be nervous or disturb your soul for things you cannot control. These things are not asking you to judge them. Leave them alone.”
One of the most valuable teachings of the Stoics is to learn to distinguish the difference between what we can control and what is beyond our control, so it’s not worth losing inner peace. Interestingly, by letting go of the need for control, we free ourselves and reach a new state of mental balance that helps us to make all things flow better. After all, in the words of Marcus Aurelius: “Nowhere can man find a retirement as peaceful and quiet as in the privacy of his soul.”
4. Live the present, fully
“Do not act as if you were to live 10,000 years. Death hangs over you. While you are alive, as long as possible, improve yourself as a person […] It is not death that a man should fear, but having never lived.”
This thought of Marcus Aurelius is not pessimistic, on the contrary, it encourages us to be fully aware of our mortality so we can extract the juice of our life every day. The fact of living continuously looking to the future or with an eye to the past takes us away the present. For this reason, we considered that we shouldn’t fear death, but not having lived, having spent our whole lives too imbued in things that don’t contribute to anything, don’t allow us connect with our essence or even become obstacles that prevent us from achieve our dreams.
5. Prepare for the worst, in the best way
“Begin every day by telling yourself: Today I will meet interference, ingratitude, insolence, disloyalty, bad will and selfishness.”
One of the greatest teachings of the Stoics is the importance of controlling our expectations, which are often at the base of our anger or frustration. Marcus Aurelius doesn’t encourage us to develop a pessimistic thinking but to not feed unrealistic expectations, so that reality doesn’t hit us so hard. He encourages us to prepare for the worst in the best way, so that nothing takes us by surprise and we don’t feel so overwhelmed or downcast when adversity knocks on our door. It’s about foreseeing all the possibilities, even those we don’t like, and preparing ourselves for that eventual scenario.