Five Tips From Marcus Aurelius For Having a Good Life

Marcus Aurelius was a good man, as well as an emperor. The legacy that he left us in his work "Meditations" remains a reference in psychology today. In fact, it serves as a perfect example for the achievement of happiness and well being.
Five Tips From Marcus Aurelius For Having a Good Life

Last update: 31 August, 2021

Marcus Aurelius’s advice in respect of having a good life comes from his well-known and immortal work, Meditations. As a matter of fact, it doesn’t matter that several centuries have passed since this renowned emperor of Imperial Rome wrote it -in Greek- back in the years 170 and 180. Because today, his words remain a reference as a guide for a good life, sensible ethics, and inner peace.

It’s curious to learn that the set of teachings Aurelius captured in his book was only intended to be an exercise in introspection for himself. He expressed his thoughts in short paragraphs that contain the essence of Stoicism. In fact, he ended up integrating this philosophy into his own life. Furthermore, almost without realizing it, Marcus Aurelius found himself considered an expert in the field of psychology.

Known as the last of the five good emperors, people described Marcus Aurelius as a kind man. In addition, he was a faithful servant of Rome, as well as a great philosopher.

“If it is not right, do not do it; if it is not true, do not say it.”

-Marcus Aurelius 

statue to represent the advice of Marcus Aurelius

Marcus Aurelius on having a good life

Aurelius considered that philosophy shouldn’t be simply a theory. It should be practiced. For this reason, in Meditations, he gave some basic guidelines for action and behavior that are, to say the least, inspiring. In fact, his inspirational advice goes way beyond Stoicism.

In its pages, we find influences of Eastern Buddhism along with the thoughts of Heraclitus and the Cynics. Aurelius was a wise man and, above all, curious. Consequently, this makes his knowledge and his approach to his lessons timeless. His thoughts don’t sound strange to us and they don’t grate on us because he used a sense of logic and inspiration capable of guiding any soul and any mind, regardless of the era in which they might live.

At the same time, he captivates us with his philosophy of tranquility. In fact, this state of serene calmness, known as ataraxia, that was identified by Democritus, the Stoics, and the Epicureans is also present in Meditations. It refers to a serene state of mind in which no fears, desires or anxieties are perceived. Just balance.

Marcus Aurelius’s tips for a good life remain relevant today. Let’s take a look at five of them

1. Deal with criticism to live better

” You have power over your mind – not external events. Realize this and you will find strength”.

One of Marcus Aurelius’s tips for a good life concerns learning to deal with criticism. No doubt, in his public position, he had to deal with a great deal of it. Furthermore, many of the Meditations passages were written in breaks during battles.

In many ways, Aurelius was a true guru in the art of managing conflicts, whether they involved war or everyday life. With regard to criticism, he often repeated one particular mantra. It was the idea that what happens outside only acquires power when you give it presence in your mind. Indeed, what’s out there are only perspectives, but not truths. You choose what to value.

2. Things you shouldn’t be afraid of

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

Aurelius was guided by the premises of Stoicism. This philosophical school founded by Zenón de Citio extolled the domain of the mind, behavior, and the passions that disturb internal calm. They believed that fear is the element that upsets everything. It weakens us and makes us vulnerable.

Thus, one of Marcus Aurelius’s tips for a good life was to learn how to face this invalidating emotion. To do this, he recommended a series of steps:

  • Don’t be afraid to ask 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?”
  • There’s no need to fear death. As a matter of fact, what should cause the most distress is not daring to live fully.

3. Make a quiet life for yourself

“Nowhere can man find a quieter and more untroubled retreat than and tranquil retreat than in his own soul”.

As we mentioned earlier, a satisfying life for the Stoics meant a peaceful and harmonious one. Psychologist, Bruce K. Alexander, conducted research that reminds us of a recurring theme in the advice of Marcus Aurelius.

In fact, Alexander claims that his teachings promoted the idea of the self-sufficient self. This concept means that it’s only when you achieve the virtue of being a master of your own thoughts and develop this kind of psychological comfort, that calm and tranquility arrives. Indeed, no matter what surrounds you, if your mind is balanced, you’ll find the best refuge there.

4. Simplify your existence

“Very little is needed to make a happy life, it is all within yourself, in your way of thinking”. 

Worry as little as you can, focus your gaze on the fundamentals of existence to survive and be happy… Marcus Aurelius’s advice is an ode to minimalism. An escape from material attachments and a focus on your inner well-being.

Woman in the field alone thinking about the advice of Marcus Aurelius

5. Authentic happiness and the good life

“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.”

The good life for the philosopher emperor started with simplicity and inner peace. He considered that nothing else was needed. As a matter of fact, while other approaches advocated taking responsibility and for bearing the weight of the world on our own shoulders, Marcus Aurelius and his Stoicism invited us to free ourselves.

Happiness is in being virtuous, in finding self-control, and in shaping an existence as simple as possible. That’s the key.

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  • Alexander, B., & Shelton, C. (2014). Stoicism: Marcus Aurelius and the sufficient self. In A History of Psychology in Western Civilization (pp. 98-133). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/CBO9781139017541.004
  • Aurelio, Marco (2007) Meditaciones. Madrid: RBA libros
  • Irvine, William B. A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy. Oxford University Press, 2009. ISBN 978-1522632733.
  • Kamtekar, Rachana, “Marcus Aurelius”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (edición de primavera de 2018), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2018/entries/marcus- aurelius />.