Stoicism: Death Is the Gateway to Life

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Obstacle Is The Way" by Ryan Holiday. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What is Stoicism’s take on death? How can Stoicism help us come to terms with, and even appreciate our mortality?

In Stoicism, death is viewed as a constant reminder of the fragility and transience of life. In this sense, death is a gift as it helps us to appreciate what’s most important in life.

Read about Stoicism’s take on death and mortality.

What Is Stoicism’s Take on Death?

We often act as though we’re invincible, that we have plenty of time left. We focus on trivial things, such as making more money, getting a promotion, or buying a bigger house. We make plans for the future.

But when we’re mindful of our mortality, we think differently. Awareness that our days are numbered creates a sense of urgency and puts our daily preoccupations into perspective. While this might sound depressing, it’s actually energizing and motivating. Each day becomes a gift.

Instead of denying or being afraid of their mortality, Stoics embrace it.

Confronting Death the Stoic Way: De Montaigne

In 1560 Frenchman Michel de Montaigne was thrown from a horse and nearly killed. This near-death experience changed his life. It eliminated his fear of death, energized him, and created an insatiable curiosity about mortality. It also gave him a sense of purpose: He spent the rest of his life reflecting on, studying, and writing about the day he nearly died.

Similarly, you should spend time meditating on death and being mindful of your mortality—doing so will improve your life.

Being aware of death helps you appreciate what’s most important. With a sense that you’re on a deadline, you do what you need to do. When your time is up, you want to know you did your best. 

Meanwhile, if you can derive value from confronting mortality, you can do the same with every other obstacle.

Stoicism: Death Is the Gateway to Life

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Here's what you'll find in our full The Obstacle Is The Way summary :

  • Why you should think of any obstacles as opportunities
  • How Stoicism can show you the way to overcome challenges
  • How Theodore Roosevelt's struggle with asthma prepared him for future struggles

Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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