When it comes down to it, we want to live a happy life and realize our full potential. Take a moment to think about that:
If you became all that you imagined you could ever be and found happiness in the process, what else would be left?
Here are eleven Stoic principles to tap into for a more fulfilling life:
1. The mind is your power
You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.
– Marcus Aurelius
One of the things that has helped Stoicism resurge in popularity is that it has much in common with the philosophy that often accompanies mindfulness meditation (and this won’t be the last time you see me say it).
This first principle has everything to do with self-awareness, and realizing that by controlling your mind you’re able to live a happier, more peaceful life.
All you have control over is your own mind. You can work to affect outside circumstances, but that’s an effort that’s inconsistent at best. By learning to master the mind, you’ll master your life and realize a power far greater than anything outside yourself.
2. Time is your most precious resource
Not to live as if you had endless years ahead of you. Death overshadows you. While you’re alive and able– be good.
– Marcus Aurelius
We understand on a logical basis that our time is finite. However, the way that most of us live is contradictory to that. We waste years at jobs we hate, stay with people we’re not fully happy to be with, and overall accept situations that don’t make us feel completely fulfilled.
Remind yourself regularly that time is your most precious resource. You only have so long to live, so strive diligently to live in a way that will leave you with no regrets.
3. Be present
Nothing, to my way of thinking, is a better proof of a well ordered mind than a man’s ability to stop just where he is and pass some time in his own company.
The ability to quietly be with yourself, peacefully present and aware of what is occurring around you, is a sign you have worked hard on the quality of your mind.
However, the cool thing is, you can start practicing this now without any background or training at all. Simply take a moment to be with yourself quietly. Notice the feeling of breath on your lips, the rising of your chest, sensations in the body, and any sensory experiences around you such as passing cars or bright light.
To simply be in the moment is a powerful experience full of benefits. Take advantage of it.
4. Be grateful for what you have
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.
The benefits of gratitude are now backed by research, but Marcus Aurelius and other Stoics spoke of its power ages before us.
Be grateful for what you have. Not because it’s all that you have or that you won’t obtain more, but because of the shift in mindset that gratitude creates. Gratitude shifts the mind from “I need,” “I don’t have enough of” and “I wish I had” to “I’m so happy I have,” “I’m grateful I’m” and “I’m glad I could.”
The effort necessary to change this is minimal, but the difference in how you feel over time is monumental.
5. Remember your why
When you’re working towards a big goal, figuring out your why– that is, why you want what you’re working towards– is one of the most important things of all.
Not as much because it motivates you when things are good, though. It’s more because knowing why you’re working so hard helps you hang on when things go bad.
Use this wisdom from Aurelius in these moments:
At dawn, when you have trouble getting getting out of bed, tell yourself: ‘I have to go to work — as a human being. What do I have to complain of, if I’m going to do what I was born for — the things I was brought into the world to do? Or is this what I was created for? To huddle under the blankets and stay warm?’
So you were born to feel ‘nice’? Instead of doing things and experiencing them? Don’t you see the plants, the birds, the ants and spiders and bees going about their individual tasks, putting the world in order, as best they can? And you’re not willing to do your job as a human being? Why aren’t you running to do what your nature demands?
You don’t love yourself enough. Or you’d love your nature too, and what it demands of you.
6. Don’t look for happiness in the material
Wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants.
Excessive materialism is just another sign of what I call “the void”– it’s a result of the feeling that something is missing within us, something we keep filling with material things.
The thing is, the idea that material items make us happy was created by ad guys trying to sell more products. It’s not based on any sort of factual information or scientific research. Sure, it does feel good when we go from not having enough to being able to afford things we’ve never owned, but that’s a very short-lived form of joy that can hardly be considered real happiness.
Seek real, long-lasting happiness through being with people you love doing things you love.
7. See that everything we experience originates from within
Today I escaped anxiety. Or no, I discarded it, because it was within me, in my own perceptions– not outside.
– Marcus Aurelius
It’s easy to forget that everything we experience happens in the space between our ears: fear, anger, regret, joy, sorrow, peace, second-guessing, overthinking, stress, confidence, and everything in between.
Our emotions define our experiences. And it’s in the brain that we decide what emotions to respond with based on those experiences.
See that everything we experience originates from within and you’ll realize that you have a great deal more control than you thought over how you feel on a day-to-day basis.
Learn to manage the domain of your emotions and you’ll learn how to master a big part of happiness.
8. Have a role model to measure your character
Choose someone whose way of life as well as words, and whose very face as mirroring the character that lies behind it, have won your approval. Be always pointing him out to yourself either as your guardian or as your model. This is a need, in my view, for someone as a standard against which our characters can measure themselves. Without a ruler to do it against you won’t make the crooked straight.
It’s hard to measure your progress as a human being without anything to measure it against. Similarly, it’s bad to measure yourself against people who are not positive role models.
You need to find someone that inspired you because of their great character, who represents the qualities you find most desirable. Once you’ve found someone you can aspire to be like, you’l have a benchmark you can consistently use to gauge your progress.
9. Change your perspective on failure
Does what’s happened keep you from acting with justice, generosity, self-control, sanity, prudence, honesty, humility, straightforwardness, and all other qualities that allow a person’s nature to fulfill itself? So remember this principle when something threatens to cause you pain: the thing itself was no misfortune at all; to endure it and prevail is great good fortune.
– Marcus Aurelius
It’s natural to see failure as a negative. After all, you’ve attempted something and it wasn’t successful. However, your ultimate mission should be to become the best version of yourself possible (and then using that potential to serve others).
If you look at things in that way, each failure becomes a valuable opportunity for personal growth, an opportunity to use as a stepping stone to almost inevitable success.
10. Apply what you learn
Don’t just say you have read books. Show that through them you have learned to think better, to be a more discriminating and reflective person. Books are the training weights of the mind. They are very helpful, but it would be a bad mistake to suppose that one has made progress simply by having internalized their contents.
Nowadays, it’s easy to consume large quantities of information and obtain knowledge. However, there’s very little correlation between gathering knowledge and actual achievement.
By that I mean that you need to actively make an effort to apply what you learn. Not everything, of course, but when you read a book or learn something that improves your craft, take meticulous notes and make a game plan for applying that newfound knowledge.
As you apply this principle more and more, over time, it will become a part of you. That’s when you really benefit from knowledge.
11. Reflect on how you spend your time
A key point to bear in mind: The value of attentiveness varies in proportion to its object. You’re better off not giving the small things more time than they deserve.
– Marcus Aurelius
On any given day, how much time do you spend towards what matters most to you? Spending time with your family? Working on your craft? Taking care of yourself?
Do you spend hours on social media? Gossip sites? Randomly scrolling through Reddit until you realize an hour has passed by and you’ve done nothing productive?
High-achievers tend to be great at prioritizing what is most important to them, so reflect on what you spend your time doing and make the necessary changes to realize the life of your dreams.