Implementing The System Of Marcus Aurelius: The Discipline Of Assent

Discipline of Assent

What really matters is not the event itself, but instead how you think about the event. Your mind is your most powerful tool, but often it is also the reason of your troubles.

The discipline of action is all about thinking the right thoughts and using reason to guide you.

Your mind can fail you at many important points. Let’s illustrate this with a few examples.

Imagine that you are riding a bike and a car drives dangerously close to you, almost hitting you.

Your instincts take over and you swerve hard in order to avoid a collision. What often happens in an incident like this is that you will start cussing out the driver, making rude gestures and lose your cool.

There are emotions at play here at different points. First, your emotions alerted you to danger and you reacted quick in order to avoid it.

This is the correct use of emotions. However what happened next right after you managed to avoid the accident is that other emotions took over and made you angry.

This is the incorrect use of emotions. Think about it. What is the use of being angry at this point?

The danger to your life is passed. The only thing that you are doing is venting your frustration, which not only serves no purpose, but could even be counterproductive as it makes you more agitated and more prone to an accident.

Instead what you should have done is assented to the first emotion that saved your life, but not assented to the second one.

Imagine another common situation. You are having an argument. Your opponent hits you with some facts which destroy your argument. His position is correct. Yours isn’t.

However instead of reconsidering your position based on these new facts, you just start repeating your illogical talking points louder and louder.

What is happening here is that you have fallen for a cognitive bias. Your ego is at stake and instead of acknowledging the validity of the other side’s arguments, you fear a loss of status on your side and instead buckle down and start wailing about incessantly.

Thinking according to Nature

For the Stoics, the biggest part of living according to Nature was using your head. You need to be able to rise above your imperfections and instead use your ability to reason.

According to current research, there are two ways of thinking that humans engage in. Daniel Kahnemann, psychologist and the winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics, calls this System 1 and System 2.

System 1 is fast and intuitive. It is based on your emotions. System 2 is slow and deliberate. It is based on reason.

Both have their place. System 1 is good for situations which require an immediate action, such as in dangerous situations as given in the first example.

However, this type of thinking is often hijacked and can lead to cognitive biases.

What you should do instead is to take a step back and engage in System 2 thinking. Thinking out things rationally and critically. This can often lead to much better solutions and actions.

Take control of your emotions

However how do you do that? This is often very hard, since emotions have a way of creeping up on you.

When you feel your emotions are starting to get the best of you, you need to have a couple of techniques under your belt in order to regain control.

One of these is distancing.

There are two kinds of distancing: physical and mental.

For me, the best way to diffuse an emotionally charged situation is to just walk away. If you feel like you are getting into a heated argument, just walk out the door.

I have done that a few times, and immediately your head cools down and the emotions start fading.

However sometimes physical distancing is not feasible, so you will have to use some mental distancing techniques. This means stop and count to 10. Or stop and recite the alphabet in your head!

Be aware of your value judgments

A value judgment is your opinion of a particular situation. Usually people judge situations as being “good” or “bad” or any other type of adjectives.

Let’s go back to the bike situation above. Why did you get mad at the driver of that car that almost hit you?

Since you judged that situation as “bad”.

However is there really any advantage to making this judgment? No. This type of judgment is really irrelevant to the situation.

You cannot change the fact that a car almost hit you. That is a done thing. It happened. Get over it.
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Implementing The System Of Marcus Aurelius: The Discipline Of Action

Discipline of Action

Above all else, Marcus Aurelius was a man of action. Unlike most people, his day did not end by reading the flowery words of philosopher-gurus and motivational quotes.

Instead he tried to put all these lessons into practice. In the ancient world, you became a philosopher not by reading, but by living.

The discipline of action was one of the three disciplines that the Roman Stoics thought were fundamental for living a worthy life. It was about taking the right actions for the right reasons.

While the discipline of desire is about what you should want, the discipline of action is about what you should do.

You need to have a purpose

You probably have several roles that you play in real life. These might be tied to your family, your job, or your personal pursuits.

Go ahead and write down the roles that you have. Make a list and then think about what you want to achieve by playing each of these roles and what duties stem from this. What is your purpose for each of them?

The list of these roles should form a fundamental part of the crafting of the overall vision for yourself for now and for the future.

They can also help you to find a purpose. There are different types of purposes: you can have one grand purpose for life, or smaller purposes based on your roles, or even ones based on actions. What is important is that all your actions are done with a purpose in mind.

Having a purpose is the basis of intrinsic motivation. This type of motivation has been shown to be the key to your ability to achieve your goals.

It helps if the vision you create is written on paper. This will make it much more likely for you to carry it out. It won’t be just an abstract concept in your head, but something concrete.

Having something concrete in front of you, a vision that you can always return to, can serve as a powerful incentive and help you in your drive.

The vision should include your:

1) roles

2) values

3) goals

The vision will serve as your guiding document, but the Stoics were all about living in the present. The past is the past and cannot be changed and the future is unknowable. You do not have control over your past or your future, only your present.

That’s why it is crucial that you take action now. Forget about the past, and stop waiting for the perfect moment in the future. Start doing things now. However how do you achieve your vision by doing this?

The key here is to take things action by action. The vision contains the big goals, but you need to break them down into mini-goals, a series of steps to get you to where you want to go.

Take things action by action
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Implementing The System Of Marcus Aurelius: The Discipline Of Desire

Discipline of Desire (Will)

What can you control?

People frequently worry about things that they cannot control. This is often the biggest sources of anxiety and unhappiness for most people.

In order to lessen this anxiety, you need to start dividing things into 3 categories: things you can control, things you can partially control, and things you cannot control.

Whenever you are faced with a problem, ask yourself this question: What can I control?

Based on the answer to this question, you can apply a simple formula.

1) For things you can control: change them up.

2) For things you can partially control: define which parts you can control, work on them, and forget about the rest.

3) For things you cannot control: forget about them.

You are stuck in traffic, there is an accident, and it is raining. You are late for work.

Which things can you control here?

You did everything as you usually do. You got up, did your morning routine and then took the car at the same time as you always do. You are usually at work on time.

This means that the fact that you are late is beyond your control. You cannot control the fact that there was an accident or it is raining. So don’t worry about it.

The only thing that you can change up for the future is maybe to consider taking public transportation.

Another exercise that you can do is to come up with the worst case scenario and prepare yourself for it. This is what the Stoics used to do. They would often imagine really drastic situations (like death) and start mentally preparing themselves for it.

You don’t even need to be that extreme. These types of extreme situations are very unlikely to happen. You can instead just prepare yourself for the realistic worst case scenario.

You are late for work? What is the worst case scenario that could happen here? You could get fired.

Is that realistic? No, not very. The most likely worst case scenario is that the boss will just look at you funny.

For any type of situation, ask yourself these two questions: What is the worst thing that could happen here? Is this scenario realistic?

Examining a situation from this perspective can have a really calming effect, so do this whenever you feel anxious or stressed. You will realize that often you have these feelings for no reason.

Focus internally.

One aspect of focusing on things that you can control is that while you can’t control what others think or do, you can to a large extent control what you yourself think and do.

That’s the reason why the Stoics focused internally. You should be your own judge of the value of what you do and create. Don’t let others be the ones who determine that.

That is why having intrinsic motivation is key if you want to achieve goals and have a happy life. You need to be internally driven, if you want to have complete control over your actions and reactions.

That is usually not the case. Many people are driven by external things like fame, money or other externalities. The problem is that these things are outside your control to a large extent (besides the fact that seeking fame as the goal of your existence is pretty vain), and that’s why focusing on them can cause a lot of unhappiness.

So how do you make intrinsic motivation a part of your system?

The first thing that you should do is to convince yourself how silly and vain some of these external pursuits are. Marcus Aurelius would often try to look at the big picture. Once you take things from a wider perspective, you will see how insignificant these things really are.

This type of an internal focus is at the basis of the discipline of desire. Realistically, you can only affect a limited amount of things, so your desire should be limited to these things. You need to want things that you can realistically get.
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A Practical Guide To Implementing The Thoughts Of Marcus Aurelius Into Your Own Life

For the Ancients, philosophy was not only about discussions on the nature of the world, but primarily it was a very practical guide to living your daily life.

A “philosopher” was not only a person who talked about things, but also a person who tried to achieve a certain goal and live according to certain principles.

The philosophers of Antiquity did not see the point of ruminating on how the world works, if the lessons of what they learned were not going to be put into practice. What is the point of talking about stuff, if you are never going to take action?

The “Meditations” of Marcus Aurelius were his personal notes and lessons, which he used as part of his system to put Stoic teachings into daily practice. These writings were meant as a way to strengthen his own resolve in a chaotic world, but since his time they have served as inspiration for the personal self-improvement systems of many successful people.

You don’t have to be a Stoic in order to benefit from what Marcus wrote. And there is really no need to implement everything that the Stoics taught, word for word. Instead, what I find beneficial is to pick and choose whatever fits your own personal circumstances.

Of course, this depends on what type of a person you are. Some people like to pick and choose (options), while others like to follow things to the letter (procedures). I am more on the options part of the spectrum and like to design my own things.

Other people prefer to get a complete system and apply it fully without changes. What you do at the end depends on your own personal preference.

What I outline below is my own interpretation of a system based on the teachings of Marcus Aurelius. As such, Marcus Aurelius did not develop a system of his own, instead he was applying principles that he learned from old Stoic masters.

What I am proposing here is something to help you put his thoughts into your daily practice. You can pick or choose from what I write, or you can follow it to the letter. It is up to you.

Please note that this is not a complete Stoic system. I just chose a few things from the Stoic way of doing things and combined it with some more modern findings.

If you want to implement a complete Stoic system into your own life, you should instead turn to the primary sources themselves, like those of Epictetus, or to books like “The Inner Citadel” by Pierre Hadot.

However, I find that combining the best parts of different systems and not being too rigid in their application is often the best way to go.

What is important for you to understand is that the later Stoics, such as Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius, divided a person’s way of living into three spheres or disciplines: desire (will), action, and assent (perception).

Understanding this division is key to being able to create your own system based on the teachings of Marcus Aurelius and other Stoics and putting it into your daily routine.

In the discipline of desire, you need to keep in mind that there are things that are in your control and some that aren’t. However, many people base their lives on striving for things that are outside their control and often end up unhappy when they don’t get them.

The Stoics came up with the concept of “preferred indifferents”. These are things that you might want, but whether you get them is not always up to you. Among things like this could be money, good food or other things which could make your life easier. While they are nice to have, you should be perfectly happy even if you don’t get them.

Basically, you should want only what you can realistically get. For the Stoics, the only thing you have control over is your mind, and so for them the goal of life should be to live a life of virtue. You cannot control the acts of others, but you can control what you yourself do.
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Marcus Aurelius: How To Have Character

A man’s character is what defines him and what carries him through life. It is character that drives your choices and helps you deal with difficulties. The Stoics believed that virtue was the end-goal of anyone’s conduct and one of the few things that you truly had control over in this world.

A man can rise or fall just due to the virtues or faults of his character and it is often this that leaves a legacy. Marcus Aurelius is one of these men, who even after almost two thousand years is remembered for the strengths of his character and shown as a role model for conduct in times of difficulties.

Cassius Dio, Roman Senator and historian, who lived through the times of Marcus Aurelius, as well as those of his son, Commodus, had this to say about Marcus:

“He didn’t have the luck which he deserved, but was confronted throughout his reign by a multitude of disasters. That is why I admire him more than any other, for it was amidst these extraordinary and unparalleled difficulties that he was able to survive, and to save the Empire.”

Marcus Aurelius was not perfect, and he himself acknowledged it, but instead of falling prey to temptations, he struggled every day to reach perfection and lead the life of a philosopher. With the word “philosopher” we don’t mean someone who delivers hard to understand discourses on the meaning of life, but instead a man who tries to overcome his faults and live life according to reason, always striving to improve himself.

In order to do that, he kept a personal journal, where he noted down his thoughts and daily lessons. This journal was meant to be private, but did not remain so, and instead has been passed down to us as the “Meditations”. It is full of wisdom, which can be applied to your own life.

What types of things can you learn from the way Marcus conducted himself in daily life and which traits should you adopt? The first Book of the “Meditations” describes well the things that he learned from others.

Marcus Aurelius, just like anyone, was a man who learned from others. It was the people around him who shaped him.

You too were most likely shaped by those closest to you. I was lucky to have a good family, and wrote an article on what I learned from my grandfathers.

This is the first thing that you can take away: be thankful for what you have.

“To the gods I am indebted for having good grandfathers, good parents, a good sister, good teachers, good associates, good kinsmen and friends, nearly everything good.”

Marcus was always thanking his good fortunes. Many people are not so lucky, but even in the worst of times, they can find things to be thankful for.

More than 250 years after the times of Marcus Aurelius, when the Roman Empire in the West had fallen, Boethius, one of the last true Romans of Antiquity, was sitting in jail having an imaginary discussion with himself. He was condemned to die, but realized that even in such a dire situation, he can find positive things. One of these was that his family was OK.

Once you adopt this wider perspective on your situation, going about adopting other positive traits will be made much easier.

So which were the traits that Marcus Aurelius adopted?

Good morals and not raising your temper:

“From my grandfather Verus I learned good morals and the government of my temper.”

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The Wisdom Of Marcus Aurelius: How To Gather The Strength To Survive In Adversity

In one of his most famous works “The Republic”, Plato presents the notion of philosopher kings. These are wise rulers who live a simple life and rule for the benefits of their own communities.

One of two things needs to happen in order for philosopher kings to rule:

“Philosophers must become kings, or those now called kings must genuinely and adequately philosophize.”

Unfortunately, most people in power are far from wise and often become less wise the longer they are in power.

However, in history, one man stands out as the archetype of a philosopher king. One man truly reflects the image of a wise ruler. That man is Marcus Aurelius.

Marcus Aurelius was the last of the so-called Five Good Emperors: Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, Antoninus Pius, and Marcus Aurelius. The other four Emperors who preceded him are remembered as the most able administrators and generals that the Empire had ever known and for ruling wisely and justly.

They left a legacy of “Pax Romana”, an era of peace and prosperity that had hardly been rivaled until modern times.

Marcus Aurelius ruled at a time when the Roman Empire was at the peak of its power, although during his time, you could see the first chinks in the imperial armor begin to develop.

Germanic tribes were starting to stir up trouble north of the border and Marcus Aurelius spent a large portion of his life on campaign across the Limes Romanus.

On one bleak day in his camp located on a river which is now called Hron in today’s Slovakia, he started to keep a personal journal in order to reflect on things and to keep himself rooted. This journal later became what we know as the “Meditations”, a series of thoughts and wise sayings collected into 12 books (or chapters).

These were supposed to be only personal lessons and reflections and were not meant to be shared with the outside world, but soon thereafter ended up being published anyways and distributed far and wide.

Their influence was immense, since many of these sayings and thoughts had very practical applications for anyone, irrespective of their social standing or situation in life.

The power of this work stems from the fact that Marcus Aurelius was a man with tremendous responsibilities and power, yet he managed to keep sane and humble amid all the surrounding chaos.

Most people will never get to be in the same position as him, but can find themselves in very similar situations. “Meditations” give solutions to common everyday problems, and can help you gain a wider perspective on things, as well as to develop mental strength and resilience.

They are based on Stoic teachings, but incorporate a wide variety of other influences as well. One source of inspiration for Marcus Aurelius was Epictetus, who we have already visited in a previous article. The fact that an Emperor drew on the wisdom of a former slave just further demonstrates the fact that these teachings can be taken by anyone and applied in any walk of life.

There are some very powerful lessons to be learned and used:

1) Human nature is the way it is. You need to learn to live with it.

One passage that immediately struck me when reading it, was this:

“Begin each day by telling yourself: Today I shall be meeting with interference, ingratitude, insolence, disloyalty, ill-will, and selfishness – all of them due to the offenders’ ignorance of what is good or evil.”

Another translation of the same passage reads:

“Begin the morning by saying to yourself: I shall meet with the busy-body, the ungrateful, arrogant, deceitful, envious, unsocial. All these things happen to them by reason of their ignorance of what is good and evil.”

It is amazing how this passage (irrespective of the way it is translated) reflects one of the most common problems that people face in their lives even today.

There will always be people who will try to bring you down. You might be the nicest, most unselfish, most helpful person ever, but there will still be people who will hate you or try to cause you harm.

“No man can rob us of our free will.”

There are bad people everywhere. This is a fact of life. You should remind yourself of this, but don’t let it bother you.

This is due to the basics of human nature. People are inherently selfish and this is due to inner drives.

Humans, just like any living being, are driven to survive and this means having access to resources in order to be able to do that. This implies behaviors which maximize their own chances.

One of these primal behaviors is status seeking, since being higher in status means having better access to key resources.

These people who are trying to trip you up might see you as a threat to their own ambitions and power.

This survival drive is also probably the reason why status-seeking cognitive biases (as I describe them in my Cognitive Biases Framework) developed and continue to be part of how people behave.

Even if people know they are behaving badly, they often try to rationalize what they do.

“With what are you discontented? Is it with the badness of men? Recall to your mind this conclusion, that rational animals exist for one another, and that to endure is a part of justice, and that men do wrong involuntarily.”

In Book 4, Marcus explores this further. He notes the social nature of people (as well as other animals), and that many of the things that people do are deeply ingrained in the psyche.

I explored this in a bit more detail in the article on my cognitive biases framework, where I have created the categories of ego-based biases, as well as social-animal based biases.

One first principle on which I based my framework is that humans are primarily social animals and the brain developed some internal patterns in order to promote this.

Cognitive biases evolved to be because in many ways they boosted an individual’s chances of survival, and hence are usually involuntary. As Marcus noted, oftentimes men do wrong due to internal processes in their brains and are not really conscious of doing wrong. This is exactly how cognitive biases work.

Another factor that drives a person’s behavior is the internal principles that they have.

In Book 4, Marcus gives this advice:

“Examine men’s ruling principles, even those of the wise, what kind of things they avoid, and what kind they pursue.”

In Book 9, he gives similar advice:

“Penetrate inwards into men’s leading principles, and you will see what judges you are afraid of, and what kind of judges they are of themselves.”

This is very helpful and useful when dealing with other people. Look at people’s principles and you will see what type of a person they are.

When you develop the skill of being able to judge a person’s driving principles, you will be in a better position to be aware of people who are potential threats to you and also to be able to develop a strategy of what to do when they try to bring you down.

In one respect man is the nearest thing to me, so far as I must do good to men and endure them. But so far as some men make themselves obstacles to my proper acts, man becomes to me one of the things which are indifferent, no less than the sun or wind or a wild beast.

Now it is true that these may impede my action, but they are no impediments to my affects and disposition, which have the power of acting conditionally and changing: for the mind converts and changes every hindrance to its activity into an aid; and so that which is a hindrance is made a furtherance to an act; and that which is an obstacle on the road helps us on this road.

This passage illustrates Marcus’ thinking on what to do about people who try to bring you down. The first thing was not to give a fuck. Of course, Marcus put it much more eloquently, but essentially, this is what it boils down to.

This is also a good strategy for overcoming obstacles of any kind. You can always spin negative things into something positive. For example you can look at failures as learning opportunities, and this way failures will no longer be obstacles on your road, but instead help you to get to wherever you want to go.

The second part of that above quote is very interesting in terms of what to do when an obstacle comes your way. The translation of this passage by Pierre Hadot in his book “The Inner Citadel” makes this much more clear:

“People can perfectly well prevent me from carrying out such and such an action. Thanks, however, to action “with a reserve clause” and to “turning obstacles upside down,” there can be no obstacle to my intention, nor to my disposition. For my thought can “turn upside down” everything that presents an obstacle to my action, and transform the obstacle into an object toward which my impulse to act ought preferably to tend. That which impeded action thus becomes profitable to action, and that which blocked the road allows me to advance along the road.”

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Diogenes Of Oinoanda: The Ancient Secret To Happiness Discovered On A Philosopher’s Stone – Find Out What It Is

If you walk around the upper valley of the River Xanthus in what is now southern Turkey, you might come across a large hilltop which is littered with ancient ruins. The area seems deserted and there are few signs to point to the fact that millennia ago, this site was home to a large city.

Unlike many of the commercial centers of the Mediterranean, the ancient city of Oinoanda was not situated on the crossroads of any major trade routes. Its economy relied on growing wine and olives, and tight relationships with its surrounding areas. This did not make it a fabulously wealthy city, but did ensure a certain level of prosperity.

Unfortunately, not much is known about the history of the city, but archaeologists have uncovered one very interesting find.

They discovered the remains of a wall which was originally over 80 meters long and covered with old Epicurean writings. It had been erected by Diogenes of Oinoanda in order to:

To help those who come after us.

Epicurean teachings had helped him a lot in his own life and he wanted to give back to his wider community. Another part of the inscription describes the purpose:

The majority of people suffer from a common disease, as in a plague, with their false notions about things, and their number is increasing. I wished to use this stoa to advertise publicly the medicines that bring salvation.

Unfortunately only a part of the inscription remains and even that is broken up into pieces of various sizes, but those parts that have been uncovered so far give us a glimpse into life in those ancient days.

However, more importantly, the writings also preserve ancient wisdom, much of which is still pertinent even today. This wisdom dealt with the eternal question of almost every person: How should you live your life? It gave advice on how to lead a good life and how to achieve something that almost everyone strives for: happiness.

The rise and influence of Epicureanism

In the times of the late Roman Republic and the early Empire, Epicureanism (together with Stoicism) was one of the most important philosophical schools that many Romans adhered to.

Cicero, while arguing against the Epicureans, still corresponded with and counted among his friends many Epicureans, including Atticus, a wealthy Roman who retired to Athens. Many famous Roman poets such as Horace or Lucretius were Epicureans, and even the great Gaius Julius Caesar was a fan.

While Epicureanism was pretty popular in Ancient Rome, it had actually started in Ancient Greece and its founder was Epicurus.

Epicurus was born on the island of Samos in 341 BC, but spent most of his life living in Athens, his father being a citizen of that city. There he founded his own school of philosophy, called the Garden, where he taught until his death in 270 BC.

Once he died, his school was taken over by one of his disciples, Hermarchus, and continued to grow. Its influence grew far and wide and by late Roman Republic times, it was one of the major philosophical schools in the Mediterranean region.

However, it began to decline in the 3rd century AD and died out completely when Christianity took over the Roman Empire. Many of the Christian writers penned extensive treatises against Epicureanism, in the process grossly misinterpreting its message. Epicureanism became a synonym of hedonism, when in fact it preached something totally different.

Epicurean ideals weren’t revived until the Renaissance, and later the Age of Enlightenment. Many famous figures of that era were influenced by them, and their thoughts in turn shaped the way society looks today.

If you are an American, you have “the pursuit of happiness” enshrined in your founding documents as an inalienable right. Have you ever wondered why that is?

The reason is that Thomas Jefferson was a big fan of Epicurus and Epicureanism. In one of his letters he wrote:

I too am an Epicurean.

Since he was one of the principal drafters of the American Declaration of Independence, some of these ancient ideas found their way into it. That pursuit of happiness comes from this.

Thomas Jefferson was greatly influenced by the works of Epicurus and they formed a foundation for his worldview and the way he lived. In fact, Epicurus had such a huge impact on his life that he sometimes called him his Master.

While the traditional teachings of Epicurus taught to “live unknown”, that is to try to steer away from politics, public life and all the chaos associated with them, Thomas Jefferson (just like many other famous people influenced by this philosophy) put his own distinct spin on Epicureanism and combined it with a life in the public spotlight.

Many hardcore Epicureans preach dettachment from society and tending your own little garden somewhere in the corner as the epitomy of life. However, you can get the benefits of these teachings even without withdrawing from public life completely.

How to do this? Thomas Jefferson is a good example. He was an Epicurean at heart, yet he still managed to become one of the principal figures of the American Revolution and the 3rd US President.

So Epicureanism has many paths which you can take. You can either take the road of Epicurus himself and some of his followers and withdraw from the hustle and bustle of society to tend your own Garden, or take the example of people influenced by Epicureanism like Thomas Jefferson, and tend your own Garden, while still trying to influence the society you live in.

The main tenets of Epicureanism
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Epictetus – The Wisdom Of A Stoic Master: The Secrets To Living A Good Life Revealed

One of the most important questions we ask ourselves is about the way we should live our lives. What is really important and how should we act?

Luckily, there is guidance available and some of the most profound thoughts on this were formed already two thousand years ago.

These words of wisdom were uttered by a man named Epictetus, who went on to influence the lives of some of the most powerful men of his era, all the way up to Emperor Marcus Aurelius.

Yet this man was born a slave and supposedly had one of his legs maimed by a former cruel master, so that he always walked with a limp. This did not detter him from living a good life and achieving happiness.

Epictetus was not a theoretical philosopher living in his own world, but instead tried to make his philosophy down-to-earth and practical. This advice can be taken and applied in the real world as a guide for your day-to-day life.

His powerful words served as inspiration for many people undergoing hard times. Picture this: a man sitting in a prison with no knowledge whether he will ever get out.

The man could feel no hope, but instead his thoughts are turned inwards and draw inspiration from Epictetus.

There is a great similarity to the tale of Boethius and his reflections on life that I already wrote about. However the year is 1967 and the man is James Stockdale, an American pilot captured by the Vietnamese and put in a prisoner of war camp.

Stockdale credited the works of Epictetus for showing him the way on how to survive this ordeal. If these words could guide a man in such desperate times, just imagine what they could do for you.

We know the philosophy of Epictetus primarily through the works of his pupil, Arrian. Arrian noted down the teachings of Epictetus in two surviving works: “The Discourses” and “Enchiridion”, which is the Greek word for handbook.

It is the “Enchiridion” which is the most easily accessible work, as it is short and contains many practical lessons for your own life. It doesn’t take long to read, but can really change the way you view life in a very fundamental way.

All people search for happiness, but they usually go about it in the wrong way. They don’t realize that happiness can only come from within, from things that you have control over.

What are the things that you have control over? Your thoughts and your actions.

The main idea of the Stoics was that you should live a simple life, where you don’t concern yourself with things that you cannot control, and instead focus on the things that you can.

The world is what it is, random things will happen, and they might block your progress. Learn to accept it.

Living a simple life, where you act in a disciplined way, and where you act in accordance with your moral principles (virtue), will lead you to happiness.

For it is within you, that both your destruction and deliverance lie.” Epictetus

Below are some of the main lessons from the “Enchiridion”:
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The Consolation Of Philosophy: How A Man About To Die Found Happiness

It is a time of decay. Rome, once the mighty capital of an Empire spanning three continents, is a rotting, crumbling shadow of its former self.

The old institutions of the city, like the formerly powerful Senate, are still there, but entering the last few decades of their existence.

The ruler of Rome is no longer a Roman, but instead a barbarian King named Theodoric.

Theodoric was the King of the Ostrogoths, a Germanic tribe which had been previously settled in Pannonia on the banks of the Danube River. Always in search of land, they had then moved downriver into the Balkans.

From their settlements deep in Lower Moesia, the Ostrogoths had been pillaging the Eastern Roman Empire, even threatening the capital of Constantinople itself.

In order to protect his lands, the Eastern Roman Emperor Zeno urged Theodoric to instead turn his wrath towards Italy.

There the ruler was Odoacer, the Germanic chieftain and King who had overthrown the last Western Roman Emperor, Romulus Augustus. Thus he had ended the Empire in the West for all eternity.

Theodoric sent all his forces into battle and defeated Odoacer, founding an Ostrogothic Kingdom in Italy. Rome became just another city in his kingdom.

It is 523 AD, and a man is sitting in a darkly-lit cell, awaiting trial for a crime he did not commit. He was falsely accused and brought down by dishonest men who coveted his position.

The man, in his mid-40s, takes up a pen and starts writing. One question bothers him: How is it that in a supposedly just world, good men suffer bad things, while evil men often triumph?

Boethius, or in his full name Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius, was born into an ancient Roman noble family. Among his ancestors he could count Roman emperors, consuls and senators. He was a senator himself, who rose to become a consul, and later a high-ranking official in the court of Theodoric.

Boethius had jumped to the aid of a friend who was falsely accused of treason against Theodoric and for that had been in turn accused of treason himself. His enemies brought out false witnesses against him and he was thrown in jail.

Being a man of learning, Boethius used the time during which he was locked up for productive purposes. As a scholar of ancient philosophy, he used his knowledge to draft a manuscript which in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance would become one of the most influential works of Late Antiquity. It is called “The Consolation of Philosophy”.

It was a dark time in the man’s life, knowing that his days were numbered and he was about to die. This was made even more difficult by the fact that this situation was not of his doing. He had tried to be a good and honest man, but shady and dishonest men brought him down.

An honest man was about to be executed based on false accusations, while crooked men were enjoying riches and privilege. This state of affairs caused him to lose sleep. How could this be in a world supposedly ruled by a just God?

This is the question that many people have asked themselves throughout history and continue asking themselves now. Why do good people get punished and bad people rewarded?
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