Is stoicism a thing on the past? Or can you learn something from the great philosopher Marcus Aurelius?
When we hear the word “stoic” we often think of a grumpy old man who seems detached from emotion, but stoicism itself is a different concept entirely. Stoicism focuses on what we can and cannot control in our lives. Many say that practicing stoicism helped them control their mood and prevented them from becoming overly stressed about things that would normally ruin their day.
So who was Marcus Aurelius?
Marcus Aurelius was considered the last of the five good kings of Rome. He was regarded as a ruler who genuinely cared about his people and wrote several meditations on how one can live a truly good life. In his meditations, he mentions ten rules for living a truly great life. They are as follows:
- Be grateful- If you’ve ever kept a gratitude journal you know the power that gratitude holds. If you’ve had a bad day, you can feel miserable or you can be grateful that you have home to come back to, or a pet to greet you when you come home each day. It takes a lot of effort at first to practice gratitude but it becomes very easy once you get into the habit of it.
2. Show empathy- Practicing empathy can be difficult if someone has wronged us, but focusing on them doing us wrong does not improve our situation, and quite often the slight was not intentional or not quite how we interpret it. When you can look at a situation and think “They probably didn’t mean to come off as rude” or “They must be having a bad day, it’s not personal” you can eliminate a great amount of stress for yourself. Even people are intentionally trying to slight us, that says more about them than it does about ourselves. You will benefit far more from being able to shrug off the action of others.
3. Be mindful- Mindful meditation is a rather popular practice of mindfulness but there are many forms to choose from. Mindfulness is like a muscle and the more you use it the better you get at it. The goal of mindfulness is to allow your thoughts to come and go without getting distracted by any in particular. If you have a though you simply acknowledge it and bring your mind back to the present. Quite often people associate their identities to the thoughts they have, but this is not the case. Quite often people will have intrusive thoughts about things they would never dream of doing and would never act upon. The key to mindfulness is to acknowledge the thought you are having, and then let it go. Sometimes we will try to bury a thought by trying to distract ourselves with other thoughts, which never works. Even if it’s an unpleasant thought, it’s best to stop and recognize the thought and remember that thoughts are like passing clouds. They are there, but they are not part of who you are. You can have a fleeting negative thought and still be a good person.
4. Practice virtuousness- Most of us have principles we value such as being truthful or dependable. Marcus Aurelius believed that even when we don’t receive recognition for the good we do, it is still worth doing none the less. Most people want to be praised for being a good person, and who wouldn’t? But at the end of the day every person has a finite amount of time in their lifetime and it’s more important that you think you’re a good person, even if maybe no one else does. If you always do what you think is right, you will be at peace within yourself.
5. Willingly contribute- One should wake up each day thinking about how they can help the people in their lives. The people who are happiest tend to be those who find purpose in helping others. If you’ve ever spent the day helping a friend with a really important task or volunteering for a cause you really care about you know that deep feeling of satisfaction you get once the day is over. You could do everything that makes you happy in your life but if you are not helping others you’re not going to feel the satisfaction one gets from helping the people that matter most to them.
6. Revenge is not necessary- Marcus Aurelius believed that the best revenge was being absolutely nothing like your opponent. Though a Nast comment make instinctually make you want to lash out, that doesn’t mean that you should give in to the temptation. This can be linked back to #2 Showing empathy. If we can go about our days not assuming everything is a personal attack we will enjoy ourselves far more. Even when the attack may indeed be personal it is more beneficial to try and resolve problems in a calm respectful manner, even if the other party is not being respectful. In the end people who are being cruel are lashing out about something that likely has nothing to do with you, so why let it put you in a bad mood? The people who are skilled in letting slights go or air on the side of believing slights are not intentional are far happier and relaxed than people who sit around plotting their revenge, and generally they live longer due to that lack of stress.
7. Have patience- Patience is a difficult skill to master but it is one of the best skills one can master. As we know, stress can shorten your lifespan along with general feelings of unhappiness. Think if the last time you were impatient or went off on someone because they were not understanding you, you likely didn’t feel good after the fact. No one loses their cool and feels great after, so even just from a selfish perspective, you will benefit greatly from working on your patience. As a result the people around you will benefit from being able to properly understand you and experience you in a happier state.
8. Maintain social relationships- We are social creatures by nature. The relationships we have with others has a huge impact on our moods and our thinking. If you’re spending all your time with people who don’t make you feel good or you don’t have much of a connection with, you’d be best to go seek out people who have the same values as you do. If you’re looking for people with high aspirations and expectations of themselves you need to go and find out where these people are. For our own wellbeing we need to spend time with others but these benefits only occur when we are around quality people. You want to really nurture your healthy relationships by spending quality time and doing what you can to continue building a strong bond.
9. Be genuine, modest, serene, and truthful- This sounds like a mash-up of four separate ideas put into one bullet point, but it is not. Aurelius believed these were essential attributes one needed to truly be a great person. One you’ve got one, it’s much easier to acquire the others. After all, it’s going to be very hard to be genuine without also being truthful. If you’re genuine, modest, and truthful, you’ll find your life is quite peaceful which will help you be in a state of serenity. Think of the people you admire most, chances are at least one of these attributes applies to them.
10. Accept and appreciate yourself- The most important relationship you’ll ever have is with yourself. Even if the entire world respected you, it wouldn’t make you happy if you don’t respect yourself. If you do what’s right for the sake of doing what’s right, even if no one else sees it or acknowledges it, you’ll know you did it. We like ourselves more when we keep the promises we make to ourselves. Those who are happiest like themselves and don’t much care if others don’t.
Those we Marcus Aurelius’s 10 ideas to be a great person, do you agree or disagree with him? Why or why not? Let us know in the comments!