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Marcus Aurelius (121-180 AD) was a stoic philosopher and last good Emperor of the Roman Empire. The epitome of a philosopher king as described by the Greeks and a personality sought for by every nation. “He who lives in harmony with himself lives in harmony with the universe.”
The first rule is to keep an untroubled spirit. The second is to look things in the face and know them for what they are.
When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive – to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.
Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself, in your way of thinking.
The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts: therefore, guard them accordingly, and take care that you entertain no notions unsuitable to virtue and a reasonable nature.
Our life is what our thoughts make it.
The object of life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane.
It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live.
How much more grievous are the consequences of anger than the causes of it.
A man’s worth is no greater than his ambitions.
It is in the power of the soul to maintain its own serenity and tranquility.
Remember that very little is needed to make a happy life.
Every living organism is fulfilled when it follows the right path for its own nature.
He who lives in harmony with himself lives in harmony with the universe.
The happiness and unhappiness of the rational, social animal depends not on what he feels but on what he does; just as his virtue and vice consist not in feeling but in doing.
Life is neither good or evil, but only a place for good and evil.
If it is not right do not do it; if it is not true do not say it.
While you live, while it is in your power, be good.
The happiness of those who want to be popular depends on others; the happiness of those who seek pleasure fluctuates with moods outside their control; but the happiness of the wise grows out of their own free acts.
Be satisfied with success in even the smallest matter, and think that even such a result is no trifle.
The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts.
No man is happy who does not think himself so.
Everything that exists is the seed of that which will be.
The soul becomes dyed with the color of its thoughts.
Let not your mind run on what you lack as much as on what you have already.
Here is the rule to remember in the future, When anything tempts you to be bitter: think not, ‘This is a misfortune’ but ‘To bear this worthily is good fortune.’
You must become an old man in good time if you wish to be an old man long.
Perhaps there are none more lazy, or more truly ignorant, than your everlasting readers.
Where a man can live, he can also live well.
Misfortune nobly born is good fortune.
Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones.
Be satisfied if you can live the rest of your life, however short, as your nature demands.
Or is it your reputation that’s bothering you? But look at how soon we’re all forgotten. The abyss of endless time that swallows it all.
Before long, all existing things will be transformed, to rise like smoke, or be dispersed in fragments.
That which has died falls not out of the universe. If it stays here, it also changes here, and is dissolved into its proper parts, which are elements of the universe and of thyself. And these too change, and they murmur not.
if the elements themselves suffer nothing by their perpetual conversion of one into another, that dissolution, and alteration, which is so common unto all, why should it be feared by any? Is not this according to nature? But nothing that is according to nature can be evil.
Soon you will have forgotten the world, and soon the world will have forgotten you.
How many together with whom I came into the world are already gone out of it.
Death smiles at us all, all a man can do is smile back.
Despise not death, but welcome it, for nature wills it like all else.
Think of yourself as dead. You have lived your life. Now, take what’s left and live it properly.
In everything that you do, pause and ask yourself if death is a dreadful thing because it deprives you of this
The memory of everything is very soon overwhelmed in time.
How ridiculous and unrealistic is the man who is astonished at anything that happens in life.
We are too much accustomed to attribute to a single cause that which is the product of several, and the majority of our controversies come from that.
“It loved to happen.”
Do not indulge in dreams of having what you have not, but reckon up the chief of the blessings you do possess, and then thankfully remember how you would crave for them if they were not yours.
No one can lose either the past or the future – how could anyone be deprived of what he does not possess? … It is only the present moment of which either stands to be deprived
As far as you can, get into the habit of asking yourself in relation to any action taken by another: “What is his point of reference here?” But begin with yourself: examine yourself first.
A person’s worth is measured by the worth of what he values.
Whenever you want to cheer yourself up, consider the good qualities of your companions, for example, the energy of one, the modesty of another, the generosity of yet another, and some other quality of another; for nothing cheers the heart as much as the images of excellence reflected in the character of our companions, all brought before us as fully as possible. Therefore, keep these images ready at hand.
A man should always have these two rules in readiness. First, to do only what the reason of your ruling and legislating faculties suggest for the service of man. Second, to change your opinion whenever anyone at hand sets you right and unsettles you in an opinion, but this change of opinion should come only because you are persuaded that something is just or to the public advantage, not because it appears pleasant or increases your reputation.
I remember reading The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius the summer of 1955 and one line I remember applying in my life was, “You must become an old man in good time if you wish to be an old man long.” I may have read a different translation, or modified it myself, but in my experience it was, “Think old thoughts when you are young and you may live to be old.”
The quote, “The first rule is to keep an untroubled spirit. The second is to look things in the face and know them for what they are,” is the essence of a good life for a thinking person. It seems essential to know things for what they are, and if you follow Marcus’ life strategy it is possible, but it is probably beyond the mental and emotional capacity of most people to do so. To keep an untroubled spirit, most of the time, can be accomplished by most people and so it is appropriate to place it first in his first principles. It is possible to live right through one’s own death being in harmony with one’s personal life destiny, and still on one’s self-chosen ideal path.
The thought behind Marcus’ statement, “Misfortune nobly born is good fortune.” is meaningful to those people who have been besieged by chronic misfortunes every day of their lives. Such would be the life of a Roman Emperor that, being responsible to some degree for every person in the Empire, every person’s problems would become his problems. In addition to those, some of his problems would be life-threatening to him personally, sometimes by assassination by his most trusted friends and allies. Developing a stoic attitude would be comforting to a person with his problems, and his writings are valuable for everyone because they help all of us journey along our own generally easier life paths with greater tranquility.