In this day and age, many people feel lost. They don’t know in what direction their life should be headed, how to overcome the different challenges that life throws at them, or just how to be relaxed and happy. Oftentimes they try to find outside sources to help them in this. The self-help industry is worth billions of dollars and keeps on growing.
Many people spend huge sums of money to try to get answers to their questions. They often don’t know which advice to choose and how to proceed with changing things that need changing.
If you really want to get to the core of self-improvement, happiness and success, it is time to get back to the basics. A wise man once said, that whatever question people have today, a wise man from thousands of years ago had already provided the answer.
The people of yesteryear lived hard, and challenging lives, but that did not stop them from working on improving themselves, achieving their goals and enjoying the little things.
Whatever question you might have, whatever challenge you are trying to overcome, the answer can most likely be found in the one of the books below. Best of all, all of them can be found totally free on the internet.
1. Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
Marcus Aurelius was the Emperor of the Roman Empire at a time when the pressure from the barbarians in the North was growing stronger. He spent much of his reign on campaign. Yet he was also a philosopher driven on improving himself and living life as a good person.
As a way to drive his own self-improvement, he started writing a journal for himself. This is what later became the “Meditations”.
This books contains different quotations of things he was thinking about, different reflections, worries, challenges, snippets of wisdom. He had to face and overcome many challenges in his life and this book contains a summary of what he learned on the way. It can serve as a good source of inspiration for you in the modern world, since many of the challenges were of internal nature. You are most likely facing the same challenges today. If you want answers to common everyday problems, this book provides them.
“Never regard something as doing you good if it makes you betray a trust or lose your sense of shame or makes you show hatred, suspicion, ill-will or hypocrisy or a desire for things best done behind closed doors.”
2. Enchiridion of Epictetus (compiled by Arrian, a disciple of Epictetus)
Epictetus is considered one of the greatest Stoic philosophers of the ancient world. He was a Greek who lived during the time of the Roman Empire and his teachings inspired countless people to live a life of balance.
His sayings were compiled by Arrian, one of his disciplies, in order to serve as sources of wisdom for all the generations to come. One of the basic tenets of Stoic philosophy is to focus on things that you can change and not worry about the rest and this little book teaches how to do that. The advice it gives can serve as useful guide for people struggling in a world of instant gratification and temptation.
“When you imagine some pleasure, beware that it does not carry you away, like other imaginations. Wait a while, and give yourself pause. Next remember two things: how long you will enjoy the pleasure, and also how long you will afterwards repent and revile yourself. And set on the other side the joy and self-satisfaction you will feel if you refrain. And if the moment seems come to realize it, take heed that you be not overcome by the winning sweetness and attraction of it; set in the other scale the thought how much better is the consciousness of having vanquished it.“
3. Nichomachean Ethics by Aristotle
Aristotle is considered one of the greatest philosophers of the ancient world and one of his greatest most enduring works is the Nichomachean Ethics. It is a hard read, but those who finish it are rewarded with a different perspective on things, most notably on what is happiness.
How will you achieve happiness according to Aristotle? By being a good person, for only a virtuous person can truly be happy.
“The pleasures arising from thinking and learning will make us think and learn all the more.”
4. Art of War by Sun Tzu
One of the most well-known works from Ancient China is the Art of War, compiled by Sun Tzu. It was originally meant as a guide for generals, teaching them how to win battles and wars, but in the modern world, it has been used in different contexts, for example in the business world. It contains much practical wisdom on what types of tactics to use in order to overcome challenges and can serve as an inspiration for strategy in any walk of life.
“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”
5. Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu
Lao Tzu was the founder of Taoism and the Tao Te Ching is the main source of his teachings. The book contains different types of advice for different life situations and for different types of people. It has to be read several times in order to get the full impact of the sayings and to discover how to apply them to your life.
“When you are content to be simply yourself and don’t compare or compete, everyone will respect you.”
6. Parallel Lives by Plutarch
One of the best ways to become a better, more accomplished person is by learning about other great people and how they got to the top. You should adopt their virtues and discard their vices and you too can become great.
This was the main aim of the Parallel Lives by Plutarch. By writing the biographies of great Greeks and Romans and especially focusing on their traits of character, he tried to create a teaching aid for people struggling to find their own path to greatness. By studying what other great people did to become great, you can make your own path to superstardom much easier. Their lives can serve as a source of inspiration.
If you want to know what it takes to become great, this book is the one you should turn to.
“It is not reasonable that he who does not shoot should hit the mark, nor that he who does not stand fast at his post should win the day, or that the helpless man should succeed or the coward prosper.“
7. The Art of Love by Ovid
Since time immemorial guys struggled with one thing: how to get the girl. Two thousand years ago, one man came with the answer. Ovid, a Roman poet, wrote a very detailed manual on how to pick up girls, what to say and what to do. It became such a best-seller, that it angered the more traditional authorities, which had Ovid banned from the city of Rome and sent into exile.
The book is divided into 3 parts, with the first two books giving very practical advice to guys on how to find, seduce and keep a woman, while book 3 reverses the tables and gives advice to women on how to find a guy. The Art of Love proved such a success, that Ovid even wrote a sequel, which dealt with how to fall out of love and mend a broken heart.
“If you want to be loved, be lovable.“
8. On the Orator by Cicero
Cicero is considered one of the greatest statesmen and orators of the Roman Republic. Giving speeches was his life and he became very good at it. Speaking in public and generally having conversations is a thing that is still a need for many in today’s world. Cicero wrote one of the greatest manuals on this ever. His advice on how to deliver a speech, move your audience and convince them of your truth is still as pertinent today as it was over two thousand years ago.
If you don’t know how to efficiently engage in conversation or if you need to give speeches, pick up his book as soon as possible.
“Brevity is the best recommendation of speech, whether in a senator or an orator.“
9. Anabasis by Xenophon
During the height of the Persian Empire, one pretender for the Persian throne hired a group of ten thousand Greek mercenaries and marched them to the territory of modern Iraq to confront his brother, the ruler, and try to overthrow him from the throne. However, he died in the ensuing battle, meaning that the Greek troops were now stuck thousands of miles from home, in enemy territory, with no supplies and no friends.
This was the beginning of one of the greatest adventures and stories of courage ever told. Xenophon was one of the participants in the expedition and one of the commanders of the retreat. The troops marched thousands of miles, battling enemies left and right, to finally make it home. The truth is sometimes stranger and more powerful than fiction and this story qualifies. Pick up the book, if you want to read a riveting story full of adventure and one that can inspire you to overcome obstacles that you think are insurmountable.
10. Analects of Confucius (compiled by his disciples)
Confucius is the person who arguably had the greatest effect on the evolution of Chinese society out of anyone. Much of his wisdom is compiled in a book called the Analects. There you have a collection of sayings of this great teacher and philosopher. This book is considered one of the central tenets of Confucianism and can serve as a great source of practical wisdom for many situations.
“The man who moves a mountain begins by carrying away small stones.”
Featured photo credit: Man Jumping In Old Temple Ruins/Ed Gregory via stokpic.com