What does a good life look like to you? How did Stoics believe that one should live their life?
In Stoicism, a good life is not necessarily a life of fulfilled dreams and accomplished ambitions. According to Marcus Aurelius, a life lived well is one lived in accordance with two simple principles: willingly giving help and ridding yourself of anxiety.
Here is what it means to live a good life, according to Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius.
A Life Well Lived
Someone who’s living well will be consistent in his or her thoughts and actions. However, to live in a consistent way, one must have a consistent goal. Since individual people are naturally changeable, the only way to have a consistent goal is to work for the good of all people.
Ultimately, it doesn’t take much to live happily. According to Stoicism, a good life is not necessarily a life in which you’ve accomplished everything you’ve dreamed of. Even if you’ve given up on your dreams of being a great scientist or philosopher, you should never give up on helping others, serving the gods, and seeking inner freedom.
Principle #1: Stay focused on your tasks, and remember that your job is always to be a good person who helps others.
Principle #2: Don’t think about running away from anxiety or other unpleasant feelings—they’re inside you, and you can’t run from them. Instead, think of throwing those feelings away.
Principle 1: Give Help Willingly
Knowing and acknowledging when you need help is part of being strict with yourself—it means letting go of pride. Similarly, knowing when and how to help others is a key part of compassion.
When faced with a task, you should honestly consider whether you’re up to it. If so, then you should do the task immediately and without complaint. If not, then you should turn it over to someone better suited. However, if you’re not up to the task and there’s no one else who can do it, then you must simply do the best you can.
If you do find yourself stuck with a difficult task, there’s no shame in asking for help with it. Like a wounded soldier who needs help to climb over a wall, there will be times when you find your abilities insufficient.
This guideline applies to intellectual matters, as well. Sometimes you’ll need help understanding something, or you’ll realize that you’ve made a mistake. Remember that you’re always free to change your mind and accept corrections—this is another form of accepting help.
When it comes to helping others, you should remember that everything is connected through logos. Therefore, in helping others you also help yourself. How could you ever object to doing something that helps you?
When helping others, choose your words and tone carefully. You must speak plainly and accurately and not come across as overbearing.
Principle 2: Let Go of Anxiety
Anxiety prevents you from living a good and peaceful life: Therefore, you need ways to let go of your anxiety. Here are some ways to do that.
First, consider this: Either all things are driven by logos, or everything is completely random. If the former is true, then everything can and must work out for the best. If the latter is true, then what you do can’t possibly matter—there’s no way you can control events to make them better or worse. Either thought should bring you peace.
Second, always stop at your first impressions. If a loved one is sick, that’s all you need to consider. There’s no reason to fret that he or she might die from the disease. If you simply accept events for what they are, rather than trying to figure out what they might mean, then you’ll be at peace.
Third, appreciate the things you have, but don’t overvalue them. In other words, don’t be so attached to your possessions that you’re afraid to lose them. As for things you don’t yet possess, those might as well not exist—there’s no sense in worrying about them either.
If anxiety does creep in, soothe yourself with prayer. Prayers won’t change the world, but they may be able to change you. For example, instead of praying for something you want, you can pray to stop wanting it. Instead of praying that your loved ones will be safe, you can pray to be free of fear and worry for them.
Finally, understand that you only have three options at any given moment:
- To continue living, which you’re already used to
- To end your life by choice
- To die naturally, having fulfilled your duties
The fact that you always have those options—and only those options—is a good reason to be optimistic rather than worrisome. None of the options are harmful, and choosing the right one at any given moment should be easy. That’s all you ever have to do.
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