Who Is Seneca? Inside The Mind of The World’s Most Interesting Stoic


3 Exercises & Lessons From Seneca 1. Find an Anchor Seneca, in his letters to Lucilius, urges him to choose a role model to provide a standard to live by. This is of course idea that is not unique to Stoicism by any means but Seneca succinctly puts why it is a necessary step in our pursuit of the good life. The person of our choosing can provide us with principles that can help us navigate even the most difficult and treacherous circumstances as well as standards against which we can judge our behavior on a day-to-day basis. As Seneca wrote, “So choose yourself a Cato–or, if Cato seems too severe for you, a Laelius, a man whose character is not quite so strict. Choose someone whose way of life as well as words, and whose very face as mirroring the character that lies behind it, have won your approval. Be always pointing him out to yourself either as your guardian or as your model. There is a need, in my view, for someone as a standard against which our characters can measure themselves. Without a ruler to do it against you won’t make crooked straight.” 2. Never Be a Slave of Your Wealth Let’s return to the paradox about philosophy and riches. A way to think about Seneca’s wealth as discussed by Nassim Taleb is the following: Seneca only wanted the upside of wealth but was always ready to use it and never dependent on it. He was a master of it, not its slave. All the upside, none of the downside. We need to constantly reexamine if we are so trapped by the gifts of good fortune that we are scared to lose and therefore turning it into our master. As Seneca wrote in On The Happy Life discussing his riches: “For the wise man does not consider himself unworthy of any gifts from Fortune’s hands: he does not love wealth but he would rather have it; he does not admit into his heart but into his home; and what wealth is his he does not reject but keeps, wishing it to supply greater scope for him to practice his virtue.” As he summed up his attitude of being a master and not a slave of good fortune: “For the wise man regards wealth as a slave, the fool as a master.” 3. Fight Your Ego Seneca understood well how our ego can impede us from learning and progress. In today’s culture of inflating everyone’s self-esteem we get used to only hearing praise. Little by little we start buying it more and more. To paraphrase what a journalist wrote about tyrannical leaders, when you keep hearing that you are a superman, you start to believe it. Seneca warned Lucilius against such indulgence: “The chief obstacle is that we are quick to be satisfied with ourselves. If we find someone to call us good men, cautious and principled, we acknowledge him. We are not content with a moderate eulogy, but accept as our due whatever flattery has shamelessly heaped upon us. We agree with those who call us best and wisest, although we know they often utter many falsehoods: we indulge ourselves so greatly that we want to be praised for a virtue which is the opposite of our behavior. A man hears himself called ‘most merciful’ while he is inflicting torture.. So it follows that we don’t want to change because we believe we are already excellent.” Seneca Quotes “Think your way through difficulties: harsh conditions can be softened, restricted ones can be widened, and heavy ones can weigh less on those who know how to bear them.” “Let all your activity be directed to some object, let it have some end in view.” “Often a very old man has no other proof of his long life than his age.” “We say that nothing happens to the wise man against his expectation.” “Believe me it is better to understand the balance-sheet of one’s own life than of the corn trade.” “We are not given a short life but we make it short, and we are not Ill-supplied but wasteful of it.” *** P.S. The bestselling authors of The Daily Stoic, Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman, have teamed up again in their new book Lives of the Stoics: The Art of Living From Zeno To Marcus. Along with presenting the fascinating lives of all the well-known and not so well-known Stoics, Lives of the Stoics distills timeless and immediately applicable lessons about happiness, success, resilience, and virtue. The book is available for pre-order and is set to release on September 29!

Who Is Seneca? Inside The Mind of The World’s Most Interesting Stoic

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