Summary, Quotes, and lessons: How to Think Like a Roman Emperor: The Stoic Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius by Donald J. Robertson 


Donald Robertson’s book “How to Think Like a Roman Emperor: The Stoic Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius” examines the Stoic philosophy and its application in the life and leadership of the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius. The book offers insights and practical advice on applying Stoic concepts and tactics to better one’s personal and professional life.

Here are some significant lessons from the book:

The relevance of philosophy in life: The book emphasizes the role that philosophy played in Marcus Aurelius’ life, and how it helped him manage the rigors of being a ruler while maintaining a feeling of inner calm and contentment.

The Stoic philosophy: The book presents a detailed summary of the Stoic philosophy, including its fundamental concepts, such as the concept of impermanence, the idea of living in harmony with nature, and the emphasis on leading a virtuous life. The author illustrates how Marcus Aurelius implemented Stoic principles in his own life and how these concepts might be modified and applied in current life to assist individuals to lead more fulfilled and meaningful lives.

The power of mindfulness: The book stresses the value of mindfulness and introspection in Stoic philosophy and how it may help individuals acquire clarity of thinking, alleviate stress, and nurture inner peace.

The significance of ethical principles: The book emphasizes the importance of ethical principles in Stoicism and how they might guide individuals towards a more virtuous and joyful existence.

Steps for changing desires: The book also teaches us how to change bad desires or bad habits; it also describes the lethal consequences of bad desires.

How to tolerate pain: The book focuses on the importance of pain and how it makes us strong; it also teaches us to live with pain.

How to conquer anger: The book focuses on the consequences of anger; it describes in depth how to control anger.  The stoics say that we need to overcome anger in its initial stages; the initial signs are: facial expressions change, tone of voice alters, body language changes—and our minds indulge in nasty thoughts.

Finally, “How to Think Like a Roman Emperor” is a thorough book that gives insights into Stoic philosophy and its current application. Based on Stoic ideas, the book provides readers with the skills and strategies they need to develop a more full and meaningful existence.


He used to say, “Money won’t bring you happiness,” and he really believed that.

“He showed me that there are more important things in life and that true wealth comes from being contented with whatever you have rather than desiring to have more and more.”

“And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you.”

“The philosopher Spinoza, for example, wrote: I thus perceived that I was in a state of great peril, and I compelled myself to seek with all my strength for a remedy, however uncertain it might be; as a sick man struggling with a deadly disease, when he sees that death will surely be upon him unless a remedy be found, is compelled to seek such a remedy with all his strength, inasmuch as his whole hope lies therein.”

“I am the consciousness of my own existence.”

“It reminded me of the famous inscription from the Delphic Oracle’s shrine: Know Thyself.”

“Freemasonry also celebrates the four cardinal virtues of Greek philosophy, which correspond symbolically with the four corners of the lodge: Prudence, Justice, Fortitude, and Temperance.”

“Socrates didn’t write any books on philosophy—we know about him only through the works of others, mainly dialogues written by two of his most famous students, Plato and Xenophon.”

“Doing philosophy, he said, can help us overcome our fear of death, improve our character, and even find a genuine sense of fulfillment.”

“Indeed, Socrates’s insistence that he knew that he knew nothing about certain matters, referred to as “Socratic irony,” later inspired the tradition known as Greek Skepticism.”

“Socrates faces the trumped-up charges of impiety and corrupting the youth, which would lead to his execution.”

“At one point, he explains in plain language what it means to him to be a philosopher: For I go around doing nothing but persuading both young and old among you not to care for your body or your wealth in preference to or as strongly as for the best possible state of your soul, as I say to you: “Wealth does not bring about virtue, but virtue makes wealth and everything else good for men, both individually and collectively.””

“A “philosopher,” in Socrates’s sense, is therefore a person who lives according to these values: someone who literally loves wisdom, the original meaning of the word.”

“It very soon became evident to me that Stoicism was, in fact, the school of ancient Western philosophy with the most explicitly therapeutic orientation and the largest armamentarium, or toolbox, of psychological techniques at its disposal.”

Stoicism have some fundamental psychological assumptions in common, particularly the “cognitive theory of emotion,” which holds that our emotions are mainly determined by our beliefs. Anxiety largely consists of the belief, for example, that “something bad is going to happen,” according to Beck.

“Socrates said that they should both try to discover how someone could become a good person, because that’s surely more important than knowing where to buy all sorts of goods.”

“So you’ll notice that I refer to modern therapeutic ideas like “cognitive distancing,” which is the ability to distinguish our thoughts from external reality, and “functional analysis,” which is evaluating the consequences of different courses of action.”

“However, I believe that for many people a combination of Stoic philosophy and CBT may be even more suited for use as a long-term preventive approach.”

“The Stoics can teach you how to find a sense of purpose in life, how to face adversity, how to conquer anger within yourself, moderate your desires, experience healthy sources of joy, endure pain and illness patiently and with dignity, exhibit courage in the face of your anxieties, cope with loss, and perhaps even confront your own mortality while remaining as unperturbed as Socrates.”

“As Marcus wrote to himself, Waste no more time arguing about what a good man should be; just be one.”

“The Stoic philosophy he follows has taught him to practice contemplating his own mortality calmly and rationally. To learn how to die, according to the Stoics, is to unlearn how to be a slave.”

“Marcus was a naturally loving and affectionate man, deeply affected by loss.”

“Now, as he lies dying, he reflects once again on those he has lost. A few years earlier, the Empress Faustina, his wife of thirty-five years, passed away. He’d lived long enough to see eight of their thirteen children die. Four of his eight daughters survived, but only one of his five sons, Commodus. Death was everywhere, though.”

“Socrates used to say that death is like some prankster in a scary mask, dressed as a bogeyman to frighten small children. The wise man carefully removes the mask and, looking behind it, he finds nothing worth fearing.”

As he does so, Marcus silently asks himself, “Where are they now?” and whispers the answer: “Nowhere … or at least nowhere of which we can speak.”

“He continues to meditate patiently, albeit drowsily, on the mortality of the emperors who preceded him. There’s nothing left of any of them now but bones and dust.”

“This train of thought is rudely interrupted by a bout of coughing that brings up blood and tissue from the ulceration at the back of his throat. The pain and discomfort of his fever vie for his attention, but Marcus turns this into another part of the meditation: he tells himself that he’s just another one of these dead men. Soon he’ll be nothing more than a name alongside theirs in the history books, and one day even his name will be forgotten.”

“As long as we can grasp the truth firmly enough that certain misfortunes are inevitable, we no longer feel the need to worry about them.”

“They felt the pain of loss but did not succumb to it.”

“He has firmly grasped the truth that death is both a natural and inevitable part of life.”

“Now lying in pain and discomfort, nearing the end, he gently reminds himself that he has already died many times along the way. First of all, Marcus the child died as he entered the imperial palace as heir to the throne, assuming the title Caesar after Hadrian passed away. After Antoninus passed away, Marcus the young Caesar had to die when he took his place as emperor of Rome. Leaving Rome behind to take command of the northern legions during the Marcomannic Wars signaled another death: a transition to a life of warfare and a sojourn in a foreign land. Now, as an old man, he faces his death not for the first time but for the last.”

“Our bodies are no longer the ones to which our mothers gave birth, as Marcus put it. Nobody is the same person he was yesterday.”

“Marcus appointed Commodus his official heir, granting him the title Caesar when he was just five years old. Commodus’s younger brother, Marcus Annius Verus, was also named Caesar, but he died shortly thereafter.”

“It feels pointless to lament over something inevitable and beyond anyone’s control.”

“However, unlike his father, Commodus is scared witless of dying. Gazing upon Marcus’s withered body, rather than being inspired to follow his father’s virtuous example, he feels repulsed and afraid.”

“Marcus wrote that nobody is so fortunate as not to have one or two individuals standing by his deathbed who will welcome his demise.”

“For the Stoics, death is just such a natural transformation, returning our body to the same source from which we came.”

“Never say that anything has been lost, they tell us. Only that it has returned to Nature.”

“The Stoics observed that often those who are most desperate to flee death find themselves rushing into its arms, and that seems eminently true of Commodus.”

“No number of bodyguards, as Marcus once said, is enough to shield a ruler who does not possess the goodwill of his subjects.”

“However, the Stoics taught that we can’t control the actions of others and that even supremely wise teachers, such as Socrates, have wayward children and students.”

“Like all Stoics, Marcus firmly believed that virtue must be its own reward. He was also content to accept that events in life, let alone after death, are never entirely up to us.”

“Go to the rising sun,” he said, “for I am already setting.”

“Marcus Aurelius was the last famous Stoic of the ancient world. However, the story of Stoicism began almost five hundred years prior to his death, with a shipwreck. A wealthy young Phoenician merchant from the island of Cyprus named Zeno of Citium was transporting his cargo of purple dye across the Mediterranean.”

“Greek aristocrats traditionally believed that virtue was associated with noble birth. Socrates, however, argued that classical virtues like justice, courage, and temperance were all just forms of moral wisdom, which could potentially be learned by anyone.”

“Perhaps it was at this moment that Zeno suddenly realized what the Oracle meant: he was to “take on the color of dead men” by thoroughly absorbing the teachings of wise men from previous generations, teachings such as the very philosophical doctrines he was now reading in Xenophon’s Memorabilia of Socrates.”

“” The ancient philosophy of Cynicism focused on cultivating virtue and strength of character through rigorous training that consisted of enduring various forms of “voluntary hardship.””

“He repeatedly warned himself not to become distracted by reading too many books—thus wasting time on trifling issues in logic and metaphysics—but instead to remain focused on the practical goal of living wisely.”

“Emperor Nero, by contrast, was less tolerant of political dissent from philosophers, and he executed both Thrasea and Seneca. However, Nero’s secretary owned a slave called Epictetus, who became perhaps the most famous philosophy teacher in Roman history after gaining his freedom.”

“The Stoics were prolific writers, but probably less than 1 percent of their writings survive today. The most influential texts we have today come from the three famous Roman Stoics of the Imperial era: Seneca’s various letters and essays, Epictetus’s Discourses and Handbook, and Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations.”

“Stoics argued that humans are first and foremost thinking creatures, capable of exercising reason. Although we share many instincts with other animals, our ability to think rationally is what makes us human.”

“When we reason well about life and live rationally, we exhibit the virtue of wisdom.”

“Justice is largely wisdom applied to the social sphere, our relationships with other people. Displaying courage and moderation involves mastering our fears and desires, respectively, overcoming what the Stoics called the unhealthy “passions” that otherwise interfere with our ability to live in accord with wisdom and justice.”

“Nevertheless, some external things are preferable to others, and wisdom consists precisely in our ability to make these sorts of value judgments. Life is preferable to death, wealth is preferable to poverty, health is preferable to sickness, friends are preferable to enemies, and so on.”

“The Stoics would say that things like health, wealth, and reputation are, at most, advantages or opportunities rather than being good in themselves.”

“The Stoic Sage, or wise man, needs nothing but uses everything well; the fool believes himself to “need” countless things, but he uses them all badly.”

“Reason allows us to step back and question whether what we desire is actually going to be good for us or not.”

“Seneca, as we’ll see, noted the paradox that before we can exhibit the virtues of courage and moderation, we need to have at least some trace of fear and desire to overcome.”

“Some pains have the potential to make us stronger, and some pleasures to harm us. What matters is the use we make of these experiences, and for that we need wisdom.”

“Stoic philosophy teaches us instead to transform unhealthy emotions into healthy ones.”

Epictetus’s own teacher, the Stoic Musonius Rufus, used to tell his students, “If you have leisure to praise me, I am speaking to no purpose.”

“He first taught himself to endure physical discomfort and overcome unhealthy habits. He learned to tolerate other people’s criticisms and to avoid being easily swayed by fine words or flattery.”

“Cynic philosophers often ate a very simple diet of cheap black bread and lentils, or lupin seeds, and drank mainly water. According to Musonius Rufus, the teacher of Epictetus, Stoics should likewise eat simple, healthy food that is easy to prepare, and they should do so with mindfulness and in moderation, not greedily.”

“According to legend, Diogenes the Cynic did this by stripping naked and embracing frozen statues in winter or rolling in hot sand under the summer sun.”

“In The Meditations, Marcus names Epictetus as an exemplary philosopher alongside Socrates and Chrysippus,10 and quotes him more than any other author.”

“The most he ever did in response to outspoken critics was to address their remarks politely in speeches or pamphlets, whereas Hadrian would have had them banished or beheaded. Marcus famously pledged that not a single senator would be executed during his reign, and, as we will see, he maintained this promise even when several of them betrayed him during a civil war in the east. He believed that true strength consisted of one’s ability to show kindness, not violence or aggression.”

“His natural freedom from vanity helped him to follow reason more consistently and see things more clearly—unlike Hadrian, he didn’t always have to be right.”

“We know Fronto worried that philosophers sometimes lacked the eloquence required by statesmen and emperors and risked making bad decisions under the influence of their peculiar doctrines.”

“We’re told that Plato’s saying was always on Marcus’s lips: those states prospered where the philosophers were kings or the kings philosophers.”

“The master ought not come to the pupil, but the pupil to the master.”

“Their philosophy contained within itself a moral and psychological therapy (therapeia) for minds troubled by anger, fear, sadness, and unhealthy desires.”

“Reason, our greatest blessing, is also our greatest curse.”

“You are just an impression and not at all the things you claim to represent,” or “It is not things that upset us but our judgments about them.”

“On the other hand, if you have assented to the impression that something is intrinsically bad or catastrophic, then a full-blown “passion” develops, which can quickly spiral out of control.”

“Bravery would consist in carrying on regardless and dealing with the situation rationally.”

“Seneca likewise noted that certain misfortunes strike the wise man without incapacitating him, such as physical pain, illness, the loss of friends or children, or the catastrophes inflicted by defeat in war. 19 They graze him but do not wound him. Indeed, Seneca also points out that there is no virtue in enduring things we do not feel.”

“Simplicity frees us from affectation and the trouble it brings. For Stoics, this honesty and simplicity of language requires two main things: conciseness and objectivity.”

“According to Stoic philosophy, when we assign intrinsic values like “good” or “bad” to external events, we’re behaving irrationally and even exhibiting a form of self-deception.”

We exaggerate, overgeneralize, omit information, and use strong language and colorful metaphors: “She’s always being a bitch!” “That bastard shot me down in flames!” “This job is complete bullshit!”

“Indeed, nothing is so conducive to greatness of mind, he said, as the ability to examine events rationally and view them realistically by stripping them down to their essential characteristics in this way.”

Shakespeare’s Hamlet exclaims, “There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.”

“Epictetus tells his students that if they can avoid being swept along with false and upsetting impressions, they will remain grounded in the objective representations they initially perceived.”

“Decatastrophizing involves reevaluating the probability and severity of something bad happening and framing it in more realistic terms.”

“Another common method of decatastrophizing is for cognitive therapists to ask clients repeatedly, “What next?” Mental images of feared events often rapidly escalate to the worst, most anxiety-provoking part and then remain glued there as if the upsetting experience were somehow timeless.”

“Anxiety can often be reduced simply by moving the image past the worst point and imagining, in a realistic and noncatastrophic way, what’s most likely to happen in the hours, days, weeks, or months that follow.”

“The more clearly formulated your coping plan is and the more confident you are about putting it into practice, the less anxious you will tend to feel.”

“Seneca’s consolations to her include the argument that death is a release from all the pain of life, a barrier beyond which our suffering cannot extend, which returns us to the same restful state we were in before we were born.”

Epictetus: “It’s not things that upset us but our judgments about things,” which became an integral part of the initial orientation (“socialization”) of the client to the treatment approach.

“Think of it this way. When you strongly judge something to be good or bad, you also commit yourself to saying that you want to obtain or avoid it. But if something is outside your control, then it’s simply irrational to demand that you should obtain or avoid it.”

“For instance, the majority of people are terrified of dying, but, as Epictetus points out, Socrates wasn’t afraid of death. Although he may have preferred to live, he was relatively indifferent to dying as long as he met his death with wisdom and virtue.”

“As Aristotle said, fire burns just the same in Greece as in Persia, but men’s judgments about what’s good or bad vary from one place to another.”

“The Stoics taught Marcus that anger is nothing but temporary madness and that its consequences are often irreparable, as in the case of the slave’s eye.”

“Marcus tells himself in The Meditations that when learning to read and write you cannot be a teacher without having first been a student, and that this is even truer for the art of living.”

“In typically blunt fashion he told them that sheep don’t vomit up grass to show the shepherds how much they’ve eaten but rather digest their food inwardly and produce good wool and milk outwardly.”

“Indeed, those who assume that they have the fewest flaws are often the ones most deeply flawed in the eyes of others. This is illustrated by one of Aesop’s fables, which says that each of us is born with two sacks suspended from our neck: one filled with the faults of others that hangs within our view and one hidden behind our back filled with our own faults.”

“The New Testament likewise asks why we look at the tiny splinter of wood in our brother’s eye yet pay no attention to the great plank of wood obscuring our own view (Matthew 7:3–5).”

“Marcus wrote that anyone who truly wants to achieve wisdom through Stoicism will make it his priority in life to cultivate his own character and seek help from others who share similar values.”

“In a sense, it was the duty, and privilege, of a true philosopher to speak truth to power.”

“There’s no point in speaking plainly to people if it doesn’t benefit them.”

“Correcting someone else’s vices, Marcus says, is like pointing out that they have bad breath—it requires considerable tact.”

“The Stoics realized that to communicate wisely, we must phrase things appropriately.”

“Indeed, according to Epictetus, the most striking characteristic of Socrates was that he never became irritated during an argument. He was always polite and refrained from speaking harshly even when others insulted him. He patiently endured much abuse and yet was able to put an end to most quarrels in a calm and rational manner.”

“What’s required first is a more general openness to criticism: we should give everyone we meet permission to tell us what our faults are, according to Galen, and resolve not to be angry with any of them.”

“Marcus sought to make it his priority in life to get to the truth of matters, reminding himself that nobody has ever really been harmed in this way but that those who cling to error and ignorance harm themselves.”

“If we wish to improve ourselves, Galen says that we must never relax our vigilance, not even for a single hour. How on earth do we do that? He explains that Zeno of Citium taught that “we should act carefully in all things—just as if we were going to answer for it to our teachers shortly thereafter.””

“Epictetus told his students that, just as someone who walks barefoot is cautious not to step on a nail or twist his ankle, they should be careful throughout the day not to harm their own character by lapsing into errors of moral judgment.”

“Nothing cheers our soul, he says, like the people close to us exhibiting virtue in their lives, and for that very reason we should treasure these examples and keep the memory of them fresh.”

“Keep an eye on how you use your mind and body, particularly the value judgments you make in different situations, and watch out for subtle feelings of anger, fear, sadness, or unhealthy desires, as well as bad habits.”

“He suggests that we call to mind each day the areas for improvement that our mentor has helped us identify.”

“We ought not to act and speak as if we were asleep.”

“They believed above all that the wise man is consistent in both his thoughts and actions.”

“Clarifying our values and trying to live more consistently in accord with them can help us gain a greater sense of direction and meaning in life, leading to greater satisfaction and fulfillment.”

As Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

“You could say Lucius chose pleasure before work; Marcus, work before pleasure.”

“Psychologists now know that people often engage in habits they consider pleasurable—from social media to crack cocaine—as a way of distracting themselves from or suppressing unpleasant feelings.”

“As we’ll see, there’s nothing wrong with pleasure unless we begin craving it so much that we neglect our responsibilities in life or it replaces healthy and fulfilling activities with ones that are not.”

“People still confuse pleasure with happiness and often find it difficult to imagine another perspective on life.”

“Xenophon’s Memorabilia. It portrays Socrates arguing that the virtue of self-control makes men noble and good, whereas pursuing a life of pleasure does not.”

“Wickedness can be had in abundance easily: smooth is the road and very nigh she dwells. But in front of virtue the gods immortal have put sweat: long and steep is the path to her and rough at first; but when you reach the top, then at length the road is easy, hard though it was.”

“His labors embodied their belief that it’s more rewarding to face hardship voluntarily and cultivate strength of character than to take the easy option by embracing comfortable living and idleness.”

“One day, as a young man, Hercules was walking along an unfamiliar path when he came upon a fork in the road, at which he sat down and began to contemplate his future. Unsure which path to take, he found himself suddenly confronted by two mysterious goddesses. The first appeared as a beautiful and alluring woman dressed in fine clothing. She was called Kakia, although she (falsely) claimed that her friends called her Eudaimonia, meaning happiness and fulfillment. She barged in front of her companion and pleaded very insistently with Hercules to follow her path. It led, she promised, to by far the easiest and most pleasant way of life, a shortcut to true happiness. She told him that he could live like a king, avoiding hardship and enjoying luxury beyond most men’s wildest dreams, all delivered to him through the labor of others. After listening to her for a while, Hercules was approached by the second goddess, Arete, a less boastful and more modest woman, who nonetheless shone with natural beauty. To his surprise, she wore a grave expression. She warned him that her path led in a very different direction: it would be long and difficult, and would require a great deal of hard work. Speaking plainly, she told Hercules that he would suffer. He would be doomed to walk the earth in rags, reviled and persecuted by his enemies. “Nothing that is really good and admirable,” cautioned Arete, “is granted by the gods to men without some effort and application.” Hercules would be called upon to exercise wisdom and justice and to face mounting adversity with bravery and self-discipline.”

“For Stoics, feelings of pleasure in themselves are neither good nor bad. Rather, whether our state of mind is good or bad, healthy or unhealthy, depends on the things we take enjoyment in.”

“Nevertheless, a man’s worth can be measured by the things upon which he sets his heart.”

“Marcus had been taught by his Stoic tutors to examine the sources and consequences of pleasure very closely.”

“Marcus has that in mind when he repeatedly tells himself that the goal of his life is not pleasure but action.”

“When doing what feels pleasurable becomes more important than doing what’s actually good for us or our loved ones, though, that’s a recipe for disaster.”

“However, the Stoics distinguished between the sort of pleasure (hedone) we get from “external” things like food or sex or flattery and the deeper sense of inner joy (chara) that Marcus is talking about. Stoic joy is profound.”

“Ordinary pleasures often ruffle our minds, especially when indulged in too much.”

“Indeed, the Stoics encourage you to appreciate the external things Fortune has given you. Marcus cautions, however, that you must exercise moderation in this regard. You should not fall into the habit of overvaluing external things and becoming overly attached to them.”

“The Stoics wanted to develop a healthy sense of gratitude in life, unspoiled by attachment.”

The wise man loves life and is grateful for the opportunities it gives him, but he accepts that everything changes and nothing lasts forever. Marcus therefore wrote that it is a characteristic of the Stoic Sage “to love and welcome all that happens to him and is spun for him as his fate.”

“Socrates had likewise claimed, paradoxically, that those who practice self-control actually obtain more pleasure from things like food and drink than those who indulge in them to excess.”

“However, an even deeper paradox lies in the notion that, ultimately, the virtue of self-discipline itself might become a greater source of “pleasure” than food or other external objects of our desire.”

“Epictetus therefore told his students to envision the consequences of an action and determine how it would work out for them over time.”

“The Stoics often reminded themselves of the paradox that unhealthy emotions such as fear and anger actually do us more harm than the things we’re upset about.”

“Motivation is a well-established key to success when it comes to breaking habits, so it makes sense to begin by doing what you can to boost it.”

“We’ve already introduced the concept of cognitive distancing from modern psychotherapy. It provides a way of understanding one of the most important psychological practices in Stoicism: that of “separating” our values from external events.”

“You might also adapt Epictetus and say “It’s not things that make us crave them but our judgments about things.” We are the ones who choose to assign value to things that look appealing.”

“However, pausing and gaining cognitive distance, by defusing your thoughts from reality, tends to weaken the strength of your feelings and the hold they have over your behavior.”

“He thought that self-control was more important than pleasure.”

“Marcus also talks about the importance of breaking things down into their components and reflecting on each part in isolation.”

Marcus advised pausing and asking of each step: “Does death appear terrible because I would be deprived of this?”

“Whereas Stoics believed that the only true good is wisdom and virtue, we tend to slip into the habit of thinking about external things as if they were more important than fulfilling our own nature.”

“Viewed from a different perspective, in other words, the things people crave are often nothing to get excited about.”

“At one point, for instance, he described sex to himself, perhaps as an ancient physician might, as merely the rubbing together of body parts followed by a convulsion and the ejaculation of some mucus.”

“Many types of urges only last a minute or so at a time, although they may recur throughout the day. You only have to deal with the present moment, though, one instance of an urge or craving at a time.”

“You are always free to do something else.”

“Marcus says we typically praise the virtue of self-control or moderation in others, which stops us from being carried away by our pleasures.”

“The Choice of Hercules” implies, we can’t flourish as human beings and achieve things we can be proud of until we endure certain feelings of pain or discomfort or forgo certain pleasures.

“Contemplating the virtues of people who are close to you may have the added benefit of helping to improve your relationship with them. Also, how does thinking about the qualities you admire in others affect you, and how might you learn and benefit from this experience?”

“Stoics try to avoid that by reminding themselves that external things, and other people, are not entirely under our control, and one day they will be gone.”

“We’ve now seen how the Stoics aspired to find happiness in healthy ways, through gratitude for the things they have, admiration for the strengths of others, or pride in their own ability to act with dignity, honor, and integrity.”

“Gain cognitive distance from your thoughts and refrain from acting on your feelings.”

“To be sure, he could not display many feats of physical prowess; yet he had developed his body from a very weak one to one capable of the greatest endurance.”

Epicurus’s saying. “Pain is neither unendurable nor everlasting, if you keep its limits in mind and do not add to it through your own imagination.”
“It’s not our pains or illnesses that upset us but our judgments about them, as the Stoics would put it.”

“You could call this a form of stress inoculation: you learn to build up resistance to a bigger problem by voluntarily exposing yourself repeatedly to something similar, albeit in smaller doses or a milder form.”

“The most important thing he observed in those individuals who coped well was their ability to “withdraw” or “separate” their mind from bodily sensations.”

“Disease is an impediment to our body, he tells them, but not to our freedom of will unless we make it so.”

“Pain and discomfort can become advantages in life if they provide opportunities for us to develop our strengths.”

“Pain is just a sensation, in other words; what matters is how we choose to respond to it.”

“Like Epicurus before him, he believed that complaining and chattering too much about our problems just makes them worse, and, more importantly, it harms our character.”

“Modern cognitive therapists likewise find that distress escalates when people tell themselves “I can’t cope!” Their distress lessens when they begin looking at things more rationally and objectively and acknowledge various ways they can potentially cope now or have coped in a similar situation in the past.”

“He summed up his practical advice by telling his students to respond to troubling events or unpleasant sensations by literally saying This is nothing to me.”

“For Marcus, what matters is that we stop looking at pain and illness through the lens of harm.”

“Given that suffering arises from our negative value judgments, the Stoics say that the fear of pain does us far more harm than pain itself because it injures our very character.”

Epictetus stated this very succinctly: “For death or pain is not fearsome, but rather the fear of pain or death.”

“Thoughts such as these reach through to the things themselves and strike to the heart of them, allowing us to see them as they truly are.”

“Marcus also tells himself to avoid overwhelming his mind by worrying about the future or ruminating about the past. When we focus our attention on the reality of the here and now it becomes easier to conquer.”

“Marcus notes that the power of events to afflict us is greatly diminished if we set aside thoughts of the past and future and focus only on the present moment, the here and now, in isolation.”

“Marcus consistently reminds himself to view pain and pleasure as belonging to the parts of the body where they’re located—in other words, to think of the smallness of the sensation in contrast with the expansiveness of his observing consciousness.”

“Think of the pain in your body as if it’s the barking of an angry dog; don’t start barking along with the dog by groaning about your own pain.”

“The mind, too, can preserve its calm by withdrawing itself, and the ruling faculty comes to no harm; as for the parts that are harmed by pain, let them declare it, if they are able to.”

“This too shall pass,” quoted by Abraham Lincoln.

“Viewing things as changeable, like a flowing river, can help weaken our emotional attachment to them.”

“He said that our feet, if they had minds of their own, would willingly be driven into the mud with each footstep we take, accepting it as a necessary part of their natural function.”

“Stoic definitions of man’s natural goal is that it consists in a “smoothly flowing” life, free from unnecessary struggle.”

“. Struggling to suppress, control, or eliminate unpleasant feelings adds another layer to our misery and frequently backfires by making the original problem worse.”

“The paradox of accepting discomfort is that it often leads to less suffering.”

“It is like the bite that one can get when one takes hold of a wild beast, says Bion [of Borysthenes]; if you grasp a snake by its middle, you will get bitten, but if you seize it by the head, nothing bad will happen to you. And likewise, he says, the pain that you may suffer as a result of things outside yourself depends on how you apprehend them, and if you apprehend them in the same way as Socrates, you will feel no pain, but if you take them in any other way, you will suffer, not on account of any of the things themselves, but of your own character and false opinions.”

“Chrysostom also compared enduring pain to trampling out a fire—if we do it gingerly, we’re more likely to be burned than if we stamp on it confidently. Children even make a game of quenching flames on their tongues, he says, by doing it quickly and confidently.”

“Distraction can sometimes work for very brief (acute) pain, such as surgical procedures or dentistry, but avoidance strategies tend to backfire when used for coping with chronic pain.”

“Researchers call this urge to control or avoid unpleasant feelings “experiential avoidance,” and it has proven quite toxic to mental health.”

“Marcus tells himself that complaining about events is as futile and unhelpful as the kicks and squeals that piglets make as they struggle to free themselves during a ritual sacrifice.”

“If you bear a fever well, you have all that belongs to a man in a fever. What is it to bear a fever well? Not to blame God or man; not to be afflicted at that which happens, to expect death well and nobly, to do what must be done: when the physician comes in, not to be frightened at what he says; nor if he says, “you are doing well,” to be overjoyed.”

“Nothing happens to anyone that he is not fitted by Nature to bear. The same things happen to another, and either because he fails to realize that they have happened to him, or because he wants to display his strength of mind, he stands firm and remains unaffected. Is it not extraordinary that ignorance and self-conceit should prove more powerful than wisdom?”

As Nietzsche said, “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.”

“Dubois believed that psychological problems were due mainly to negative thinking, which worked like negative autosuggestion, and he favored a treatment based on the practice of “Socratic dialogue” through which he sought to rationally persuade patients to abandon the unhealthy ideas responsible for various neurotic and psychosomatic conditions.”

“The idea is not new; the stoics have pushed to the last degree this resistance to pain and misfortune. The following lines, written by Seneca, seem to be drawn from a modern treatise on psychotherapy: “Beware of aggravating your troubles yourself and of making your position worse by your complaints. Grief is light when opinion does not exaggerate it; and if one encourages one’s self by saying, ‘This is nothing,’ or, at least, ‘This is slight; let us try to endure it, for it will end,’ one makes one’s grief slight by reason of believing it such.” And, further: “One is only unfortunate in proportion as one believes one’s self so.” One could truly say concerning nervous pains that one only suffers when he thinks he does.”

“One exaggerates, imagines, anticipates affliction,” wrote Seneca. For a long time, I have told my discouraged patients and have repeated to myself, “Do not let us build a second story to our sorrow by being sorry for our sorrow.”

“According to the Stoics, our initial reaction to pain or illness may be natural and reasonable, but amplifying or perpetuating our suffering by complaining about it over time is unnatural and unreasonable.”

“After all, Fortune favors the brave, as the Roman poets said.”

Marcus tells himself to always remember when he starts to feel frustrated with events that “this is not a misfortune, but rather to bear it nobly is good fortune.”

“One of the most important Stoic techniques that he employed was called acting “with a reserve clause” (hupexhairesis), a technical term that he mentions at least five times in The Meditations.”

“In essence, it means undertaking any action while calmly accepting that the outcome isn’t entirely under your control.”

“Virtue consists in doing your very best and yet not becoming upset if you come home from the hunt empty-handed—we typically admire people who approach life in this way.”

“It’s your intentions that count, both morally and psychologically.”

Chrysippus told the Stoics that “the wise man will take part in politics, if nothing prevents him.”

“Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.””

“They remind us that nothing is certain in life. Nothing is entirely under your control, except your own volition.”

“The worried mind is always getting too far ahead of itself; it is always in suspense over the future. The Stoic Sage, by contrast, is grounded in the here and now.”

“The technique of exposing yourself to stressful situations repeatedly in small doses so that you build up a more general resistance to emotional disturbance is known in behavioral psychology as “stress inoculation.””

“Begin the morning by saying to yourself, I shall meet with the busy-body, the ungrateful, arrogant, deceitful, envious, unsocial.”

“The Stoics defined fear as the expectation that something bad is going to happen, which is virtually identical to the definition originally proposed by Aaron T. Beck, the founder of modern cognitive therapy. Fear is essentially a future-focused emotion, so it’s natural that we should counter it by addressing our thoughts concerning the future.”

“The moral is that in times of peace, we should prepare for war if we want to be ready to defend ourselves.”

“One of the most robustly established findings in the entire field of modern psychotherapy research is the fact that anxiety tends to abate naturally during prolonged exposure to feared situations, under normal conditions.”

“The universe is change: life is opinion.”

“Gaining cognitive distance is, in a sense, the most important aspect of Stoic anxiety management. This is what Marcus meant by “life is opinion”: that the quality of our life is determined by our value judgments, because those shape our emotions.”

“The first basic technique for attaining peace, described by Marcus above, is related to decatastrophizing, or learning to downgrade the perceived severity of a threat from “total catastrophe” to a more realistic level.”

“As always, it’s important to leave out emotive language.”

“Just stick to the facts as accurately and objectively as possible.”

“If this will seem trivial to me twenty years from now, then why shouldn’t I view it as trivial today instead of worrying about it as if it’s a catastrophe?”

“Chrysippus reputedly said that with the passage of time, “emotional inflammation abates” and as reason returns, finding room to function properly, it can then expose the irrational nature of our passions.”

Marcus would tell his courtiers, “It is impossible to make men exactly as one would wish them to be; we must use them such as they are.”

“As Socrates and the Stoics taught, no man does wrong knowingly.”

“According to the Stoics, individuals are bound to make moral errors, because the majority do not have a firm grasp on the true nature of good and evil.”

“He reminds himself that even those who oppose him are his kin, not necessarily through blood but because they are his fellow citizens in the universal community, sharing the potential for wisdom and virtue. Even though they may act unjustly, they cannot truly harm him because their actions cannot tarnish his character.”

“To forgive a man who has done wrong, to be still a friend to one who has trodden friendship underfoot, to continue being faithful to one who has broken faith. What I say may perhaps seem incredible to you, but you must not doubt it. For surely all goodness has not yet entirely perished from among men, but there is still in us a remnant of the ancient virtue. However, if anyone should disbelieve it, that merely strengthens my desire, in order that men may see accomplished with their own eyes what no one would believe could come to pass. For this would be the one profit I could gain from my present troubles, if I were able to bring the matter to an honorable conclusion, and show all the world that there is a right way to deal even with civil war.”

“People who suffer from fatigue and chronic pain, as Marcus did, can often be prone to irritability and anger.”

“Dealing with feelings of anger by cultivating greater empathy and understanding toward others is one of the major recurring themes of The Meditations.”

They believed that anger is a form of desire: “a desire for revenge on one who seems to have done an injustice inappropriately,”

“Stoics think of troublesome people as if they are a prescription from a physician, or a training partner we’ve been assigned by a wrestling coach.”

“Marcus tells himself to consider carefully the sort of people who typically offend him. He then patiently imagines them in their daily lives: eating at their dinner tables, sleeping in their beds, having sex, relieving themselves, and so on.”

“The Stoics believed that vicious people fundamentally lack self-love and are alienated from themselves.”

“It’s a statement of one of the central paradoxes of Socrates’s philosophy and was embraced by the Stoics: no man does evil knowingly, which also entails that no man does it willingly.”

“As Socrates pointed out, nobody wants to make mistakes or be deceived; all reasoning creatures inherently desire the truth.”

“Errors of judgment compel people just as much as illness or insanity, and we learn to make allowances for such people and forgive them on that basis.”

“Keeping an open mind will help you dilute your feelings of anger.’

“If you can let go of your value judgments and stop calling other people’s actions “awful,” then your anger will diminish.”

“As Marcus puts it, if you let go of the opinion “I am harmed,” the feeling of being harmed will disappear, and when the feeling is gone, so is any real harm.”

“The Stoics believe that we take offense because we assume other people’s actions threaten our interests in some way. However, once you consider that your own anger is a bigger threat to you than the thing you’re angry about, then you inevitably start to weaken its grip.”

“In short, the best form of revenge is not to sink to their level by allowing yourself to become angry with them.”

“To be angry is not manly but rather a mild and gentle disposition is more manly because it is more human.”

“With meats and drinks and magic spells

To turn aside the stream and hold death at bay.”

“It’s natural to mourn—even some animals grieve the loss of their young. But there are those who go beyond the natural bounds of grief and let themselves be swept away entirely by melancholy thoughts and passions. The wise man accepts his pain, endures it, but does not add to it.”

“The sun sets this evening and takes me down with it; tomorrow it will be another who rises to take my place.”

“Everything is different, but underneath it’s all the same: anonymous individuals marrying, raising children, falling sick, and dying. Some fight wars, feast, work the land, and trade their wares. Some flatter others or seek to be flattered, suspect their fellows of plotting against them, or hatch their own plots.”

“Death comes knocking at the king’s palace and the beggar’s shack alike.”

“Alexander the Great and his mule driver both reduced to dust, made equals at last by death.”

“Every era of history teaches us the same lesson: nothing lasts forever.”

Tomorrow my own name will sound old to others, describing a bygone era: “the reign of Marcus Aurelius.”

“What matters is how I face this moment, which shall soon be gone, for I can already feel my very self evaporating, slipping gradually into extinction as if into a dream.”

He said, “Friends, if a childish part of you is still afraid of death, you should sing a charm over him every day until he’s cured.”

“Indeed, to learn how to die is to unlearn how to be a slave.”

“Today a drop of semen, tomorrow a pile of ash or bones. Not eternal, but mortal; a part of the whole, as an hour is of the day.”

“The soul flies free when it’s not weighed down by earthly fears and desires and returns to its homeland, a citizen of the entire cosmos, making its abode the immeasurable vastness of universal Nature.”

“Things external to our own character such as health, wealth, and reputation are neither good nor bad. They present us with opportunities, which the wise man uses well and the fool badly.”

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