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Masters of Habit: Rituals, Lessons, and Quotes from Marcus Aurelius

Masters of Habit: Rituals, Lessons, and Quotes from Marcus Aurelius

Marcus Aurelius was Roman Emperor from 161 to 180 AD. Known as the last of the “Five Good Emperors,” Aurelius was not born into power, but rather was adopted (his biological father died when he was three years old). Historians refer to him as a kind ruler who was incredibly loyal to his duty to serve the Roman Empire. [1]

As a boy, Aurelius was taught by various private tutors and he became particularly interested in philosophy. It is even said that he went so far as to take on the dress and behavior of a philosopher by sleeping on the floor at night. (Which, apparently, made his mother rather unhappy.) We’ll never know for certain, but the story of his sleeping on the floor gives the impression that Aurelius had a natural curiosity and a desire to be a self-experimenter. If you told him, “Real philosophers sleep on the floor,” he wanted to try it out for himself.

This same thought process is evident in many of his later writings. Aurelius believed that philosophy wasn’t merely something to think about, but that it should also be practiced.

Today, Aurelius is perhaps best known for his collection of essays called Meditations (audiobook). Although we don’t know many details about Marcus’ day-to-day life, Meditations offers a glimpse into his mind, his habits, and his approach to life. The very act of writing Meditations, which took him at least 10 years, is evidence to his commitment to habit, consistency, and improvement.

Many historians believe that Aurelius practiced writing as a daily habit, regardless of the circumstances. Some of his most famous passages were written from outposts and battlefields as he sought to expand the Roman Empire. It was through these essays that he shared his thoughts on how to balance the conflict of real life with the values of philosophy.

Below, you’ll find a range of quotes from Marcus Aurelius on philosophy, habits, and life.

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Quotes from Marcus Aurelius

On fulfilling your duty…

Everything, a horse, a vine, is created for some duty. For what task, then, were you yourself created? A man’s true delight is to do the things he was made for.

On dealing with criticism…

You have power over your mind — not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.

Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.

You don’t have to turn this into something. It doesn’t have to upset you. Things can’t shape our decisions by themselves.

I have often wondered how it is that every man loves himself more than all the rest of men, but yet sets less value on his own opinion of himself than on the opinion of others.

On taking action…

It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live.

Waste no more time arguing about what a good man should be. Be one.

On asking for help…

Don’t be ashamed to need help. Like a soldier storming a wall, you have a mission to accomplish. And if you’ve been wounded and you need a comrade to pull you up? So what?

On living a good life…

Your mind will be like its habitual thoughts; for the soul becomes dyed with the color of its thoughts. Soak it then in such trains of thoughts as, for example: Where life is possible at all, a right life is possible.

When you arise in the morning think of what a privilege it is to be alive, to think, to enjoy, to love.

Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones.

Note: I’ve been told this final quote has been incorrectly attributed to Marcus Aurelius, but I left it in because I still find it useful.

Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

For more ideas, quotes, and musings from Marcus Aurelius, I highly recommend reading his book, Meditations. As far as we know, it was written mostly for his own self-improvement, so it doesn’t follow a rigid structure of any type. That said, the book is widely regarded as one of the greatest texts on Stoic philosophy and I think any reader would find something useful to take away from it.

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Link: Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

Masters of Habit is a series of mini-biographies on the rituals, routines, and mindsets of great athletes, artists, and leaders.

James Clear writes at JamesClear.com, where he shares science-based ideas for living a better life and building habits that stick. To get strategies for boosting your mental and physical performance by 10x, join his free newsletter.

This article was originally published on JamesClear.com.

Notes:

  1. I’m not a historian, but I have tried my best to deliver the facts correctly. (Which can be difficult when you’re talking about someone who lived thousands of years ago.) Much of the information in this article came from Aurelius’ own book, Meditations. Other sources include Stanford University’s Encyclopedia of Philosophy and the European Graduate School.

Featured photo credit: Helen Rickard via flickr.com

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Last Updated on July 18, 2019

What Makes People Happy? 20 Secrets of “Always Happy” People

What Makes People Happy? 20 Secrets of “Always Happy” People

Some people just seem to float through life with a relentless sense of happiness – through the toughest of times, they’re unfazed and aloof, stopping to smell the roses and drinking out of a glass half full.

They may not have much to be happy about, but the simplicity behind that fact itself may make them happy.

It’s all a matter of perspective, conscious effort and self-awareness. Listed below are a number of reasons why some people are always happy.

1. They Manage Their Expectations

They’re not crushed when they don’t get what they want – or misled into expecting to get the most out of every situation. They approach every situation pragmatically, hoping for the best but being prepared for the worst.

2. They Don’t Set Unrealistic Standards

Similar to the last point, they don’t live their lives in a constant pursuit towards impossible visions of perfection, only to always find themselves falling short of what they want.

3. They Don’t Take Anything for Granted

Happiness rests with feeling fulfilled – those who fail to stop and appreciate what they have every now and again will never experience true fulfillment.

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4. They’re Not Materialistic

There are arguing viewpoints on whether or not money can really buy happiness; if it can, then we know from experience that we can never be satisfied because there will always be something newer or better that we want. Who has ever had enough money?

5. They Don’t Dwell

They don’t sweat the small things or waste time worrying about things that don’t really matter at the end of the day. They don’t let negative thoughts latch onto them and drain them or distract them. Life’s too short to worry.

6. They Care About Themselves First

They’re independent, care for themselves and understand that they must put their needs first in order to accommodate the needs of others.

They indulge, aim to get what they want, make time for themselves and are extremely self-reliant.

7. They Enjoy the Little Things

They stop to smell the roses. They’re accustomed to find serenity when it’s available, to welcome entertainment or a stimulating discussion with a stranger when it crosses their path. They don’t overlook the small things in life that can be just as important.

8. They Can Adapt

They’re not afraid of change and they work to make the most out of new circumstances, good or bad. They thrive under pressure, are not overwhelmed easily and always embrace a change of pace.

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9. They Experiment

They try new things, experience new flavors and never shy away from something they have yet to experience. They never order twice from the same menu.

10. They Take Their Time

They don’t unnecessarily rush through life. They work on their own schedule to the extent that they can and maneuver through life at their own relaxing pace.

11. They Employ Different Perspectives

They’re not stuck in one perspective; a loss can result in a new opportunity, hitting rock bottom can mean that there’s no where to go but up.

12. They Seek to Learn

Their constant pursuit of knowledge keeps them inspired and interested in life. They cherish information and are on a life-long quest to learn as much as they can.

13. They Always Have a Plan

They don’t find themselves drifting without purpose. When something doesn’t go as planned, they have a plan for every letter in the alphabet to fall back on.

14. They Give Respect to Get It

They are respectful and, in turn, are seen as respectable; the respect they exude earns them the respect they deserve.

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15. They Consider Every Opportunity

They always have their eyes open for a new road, a new avenue worth exploring. They know how to recognize opportune moments and pounce on them to make the most of every situation. Success is inevitable for them.

16. They Always Seek to Improve

Perpetual self-improvement is the key towards their ongoing thirst for success. Whatever it is they do, they take pride in getting better and better, from social interactions to mundane tasks. Their pursuit at being the best eventually materializes.

17. They Don’t Take Life Too Seriously

They’re not ones to get offended easily over-analyze or complicate matters. They laugh at their own faults and misfortunes.

18. They Live in the Moment

They don’t live for tomorrow or dwell on what may have happened yesterday. Every day is a new opportunity, a new chapter. They live in the now, and in doing so, get the most out of every moment.

You can learn how to do so too: How to Live in the Moment and Stop Worrying About the Past or Future

19. They Say Yes

Much more often than they say no. They don’t have to be badgered to go out, don’t shy away from new opportunities or anything that may seem inconvenient.

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20. They’re Self-Aware

Most important, they’re wholly aware of themselves. They self-reflect and are conscious of their states of mind. If somethings bothering them, they fix it.

We’re all susceptible to feeling down every now and again, but we are all equipped with the necessary solutions that just have to be discovered.

Lack of confidence, inability to feel fulfilled, and susceptibility to stress are all matters that can be controlled through the way we handle our lives and perceive our circumstances.

Learn about How Self-Reflection Gives You a Happier and More Successful Life.

Final Thoughts

The main philosophy employed by the happiest includes the idea that life’s simply too short: life’s too short to let things get you down, to take things for granted, to pursue absolute and unrealistic perfection.

For some, employing these characteristics is a second nature – they do it without knowing. For others, a conscious effort must be put forth every now and again. Self-Awareness is key.

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Featured photo credit: Charles Postiaux via unsplash.com

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