Practical Lessons in Stoic Philosophy from Marcus Aurelius

Marcus Aurelius Meditations in Stoicism


Marcus Aurelius was an eminent Roman emperor and one of the most influential writers on the topic of Stoicism, which is a philosophy that revolves around living your life without letting yourself be ruled by negative emotions. Aurelius’ writing on Stoicism is best represented in Meditations, a book which is frequently mentioned as one of the greatest texts ever written on the topic of practical philosophy.

Below is a collection of some of the useful concepts that Aurelius shares in his writing, followed by some advice on how to implement these lessons in your life. The book itself is concise and full of other useful insights, so it’s definitely worth a read if you’re interested in the topic.


Lessons in Stoic philosophy

Understand that every man is worth just so much as the things are worth about which he busies himself.

(VII, 3)


Shame on the soul, to falter on the road of life while the body still perseveres.

(VI, 29)


If it be a thing external that causes you grief, know that it is not that which causes it, but your own opinion concerning the thing. Of this, you may rid yourself, when you will.

(VIII, 45)


The best revenge is to not be like your enemy.

(VI, 6)


You may break your heart, but men will still go on as before.

(VIII, 4)


How much time gains he who does not look to see what his neighbor says or does or thinks, but only at what he does himself.

(IV, 18)


Socrates used to call the opinions of the many by the name of “Lamiae”: bugbears to frighten children.

(XI, 23)


Short-lived are both the praiser and the praised, and rememberer and the remembered: and all this in a nook of this part of the world; and not even here do all agree, no, not any one with himself: and the whole earth too is a point.

(VIII, 21)


If it is not right, do not do it. If it is not true, do not say it.

(XII, 17)


The soul becomes dyed with the color of its thoughts.

(V, 16)


Some people, when they do someone a favor, are always looking for a chance to call it in. And some aren’t, but they’re still aware of it, still regard it as a debt. But others don’t even do that. They’re like a vine that produces grapes without looking for anything in return.

(V, 6)


No carelessness in your actions. No confusion in your words. No imprecision in your thoughts.

(VIII, 51)


A cucumber is bitter. Throw it away. There are briars in the road. Turn aside from them. This is enough. Do not add, “And why were such things made in the world?”

(VIII, 50)


Men seek retreats for themselves: houses in the country, sea-shores, and mountains. You too will desire such things very much. But this is altogether a mark of the most common sort of men, for it is in your power whenever you shall choose to retire into yourself. For nowhere either with more quiet or more freedom from trouble does a man retire than into his own soul.

(IV, 3)


All is ephemeral — fame and the famous as well.

(IV, 35)


Never esteem anything as an advantage to you that will make you break your word or lose your self-respect.

(III, 7)


A wrongdoer is often a man who has left something undone, not always one who has done something.

(IX, 5)


Do not act as if you were going to live ten thousand years.
(IV, 17)


Implementing these lessons in your life

You might not relate to all of the concepts that you saw above. Odds are, however, that there are at least a few lessons here which resonated with you; things that you think will help you improve yourself and grow closer to the person that you want to be.

Out of these lessons, pick the ones that you want to implement first. You can pick as many as you feel comfortable with, but the best thing to do is to focus on just a few lessons at first, until you’ve managed to internalize them well enough that you feel ready to move on to the next ones.

Once you’ve picked a few lessons, the next step is to simply keep them in mind. You can do this by repeating them to yourself from time to time, by writing them down on a piece of paper, or by using any other method that works for you. When doing this, the most important thing to remember is that it’s not about memorizing these lessons verbatim, but rather about remembering what they stand for.

Once you are able to keep these lessons in mind, learn to recognize opportunities where they can be applied, and whenever you encounter these opportunities, act in the way that these lessons guide you to, to the best of your ability.

For example, let’s go back to this lessons:

A cucumber is bitter. Throw it away. There are briars in the road. Turn aside from them. This is enough. Do not add, “And why were such things made in the world?”

If your goal is to implement this lesson, try to keep it in mind, and remember it the next time you encounter some minor inconvenience. Then, instead of complaining about whatever happened and fixating on it in your mind, simply accept that it happened, deal with it, and move on with your life.

This might be hard at first, but you will find that doing it becomes more and more instinctive as time passes. Once that happens, and once you feel that applying a certain lesson becomes an automatic habit, move on to other lessons, and start to implement them too.

A final thing to keep in mind is that while some of these lessons might be widely applicable, others are not the sort that you will need to implement often in your everyday life. That doesn’t mean they’re not worth remembering; when the day comes that you need them, they will be there to help you cope.


Summary and conclusions

  • Marcus Aurelius was an eminent Roman emperor and philosopher. He wrote Meditations, one of the most influential texts on the topic of Stoicism.
  • Stoicism is a life philosophy which is widely advocated for its practical lessons on helping you be in control of yourself, without succumbing to negative emotions.
  • Stoicism covers topics such as how to identify your goals, how to focus your thoughts, how to control your emotions, how to reach inner peace, and how to find motivation.
  • An important lesson that repeats itself in many forms in Stoicism is that our thoughts shape who we are, in terms of our emotions and actions, and that we can therefore control who we become by controlling what we think.
  • To implement lessons from Stoicism in your life, you should pick a few specific ones that resonate with you, and then keep them in mind until you identify an opportunity where they are relevant, at which point you should use them to guide your thoughts and actions.