The Daily Stoic
366 Meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance, and the Art of Living
BY RYAN HOLIDAY & STEPHEN HANSELMAN
Growing up I struggled to accept classical religion and the teachings that it gave. It’s not that I do not believe in God, spirit, shakti, the divine or any other name you choose to give a higher power. It’s more that I could not associate with the people that were delivering these messages about how to live a considered life. Looking back now I can see that I ambled through a large percentage of my teens and twenties without a guiding set of ideals to live by. As a result, I lacked direction and more importantly, a way to navigate the waters of life in a way that would allow me to do more than just keep afloat. Stoicism was the first thing that came across my path that I felt a deep relationship too. Whilst sifting through a book swap section in a backpackers in Borneo I picked up a copy of Meditations and was immediately captivated by the thoughts of one of histories greatest men. The teachings of the Stoics have become the foundation of my Philosophy of Life and I regularly read/reread the wisdom of both the ancient and modern Stoics. The Daily Stoic is a relatively new addition to the Stoic library and the one that I find the easiest to pick up and put to practical use each day. The reason for this is that it is set out as a daily practice, one entry each day for 366 days containing a thought by one of the great stoics and then a modern interpretation and explanation given by the authors. I can take it one day at a time in bite-sized chunks and this helps me keep that piece of wisdom at the forefront of my mind for the full day.
Thrive Notes from The Daily Stoic.
Who Is In Control? One of the core principles of Stoicism is the practice of seeing what’s within our control and what is not. And then, focusing on what is within our control rather than worrying, stressing and fighting the things that are outside of our control.
Easier said than done! Modern life, in fact, ancient life as the stoics will testify is rigged to try and make you assert control over as much of it as you can. However, Stoicism proposes that the only thing within our control is the responses we choose to the events we encounter each day. The serenity prayer covers this nicely.
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
I also like this excerpt the Daily Stoic.
“Some things are in our control, while others are not. We control our opinion, choice, desire, aversion, and, in a word, everything of our own doing. We don’t control our body, property, reputation, position, and, in a word, everything not of our own doing. Even more, the things in our control are by nature free, unhindered, and unobstructed, while those not in our control are weak, slavish, can be hindered, and are not our own.” — EPICTETUS.
This simple lesson has enabled me to navigate the positive and negative times of my life with a sense of equanimity. What the Stoics would term “tranquillity” However, to put this lesson into practice requires a sense of self-awareness of the moment that I believe meditation and mindfulness is integral to achieving. The ability to observe and not get caught up in a situation enables you to then respond or not respond in an appropriate way.
Be Your Best Self? The Stoics held themselves to an incredibly high standard but just as Marcus puts it in Meditations “Be tolerant with others and strict with yourself.” This is a theme that runs through the philosophy. To be the best you can be but not to hold, expect or judge others by the same standard.
“First tell yourself what kind of a person you want to be, then do what you have to do.” – Epictetus.
“Let us therefore set out whole-heartedly, leaving aside our many distractions and exert ourselves in this single purpose, before we realize too late the swift and unstoppable flight of time and are left behind. As each day arises, welcome it as the very best day of all, and make it your own possession. We must seize what flees.” — SENECA.
“Show me that the good life doesn’t consist in its length, but in its use, and that it is possible—no, entirely too common—for a person who has had a long life to have lived too little.” —SENECA.
“You get what you deserve. Instead of being a good person today, you choose instead to become one tomorrow.” — MARCUS AURELIUS.
You have a short amount of time available to you in this life. The Stoics challenge us to use this time to fully embrace our life and make the most of it. Do we all need to become Elon Musk or Richard Branson? No, but we do deserve to be the best I that we can.
Always Be A Student “Don’t be ashamed of needing help. You have a duty to fulfil just like a soldier on the wall of battle. So what if you are injured and can’t climb up without another soldier’s help?” — MARCUS AURELIUS.
“Throw out your conceited opinions, for it is impossible for a person to begin to learn what he thinks he already knows.” — EPICTETUS.
“If anyone can prove and show to me that I think and act in error, I will gladly change it—for I seek the truth, by which no one has ever been harmed. The one who is harmed is the one who abides in deceit and ignorance.” — MARCUS AURELIUS.
This is a lesson I wished I had taken on board on the day I picked up Meditations in that little backpackers in Borneo. However, it took a good few years for me to realise and embrace that we are always the student, never the master. No matter how good we may become at something we should always come to it with a “beginners mind” as they say in mindfulness practice. Always being the student is how we work towards mastery.
Be Content With What You Have. It is O.K. to work for more. Most of us would enjoy a nicer car, a bigger house, a fancier holiday or the new iPhone. And if circumstances and finances allow there is nothing wrong with having these things. The guiding principle of the Stoics, however, is that we should be able to live in contentment without them. Our actual needs are small and most of us are in the fortunate position of having more than we need. So whilst I would love that cabin on the cornish coast I am perfectly content without it. One Day! 🙂
Here are some thoughts from Seneca on the subject.
“The founder of the universe, who assigned to us the laws of life, provided that we should live well, but not in luxury. Everything needed for our well-being is right before us, whereas what luxury requires is gathered by many miseries and anxieties. Let us use this gift of nature and count it among the greatest things.” — SENECA.
“No person has the power to have everything they want, but it is in their power not to want what they don’t have, and to cheerfully put to good use what they do have.” — SENECA.
“Let us get used to dining out without the crowds, to being a slave to fewer slaves, to getting clothes only for their real purpose, and to living in more modest quarters.” — SENECA.
“Nothing can satisfy greed, but even a small measure satisfies nature. So it is that the poverty of an exile brings no misfortune, for no place of exile is so barren as not to produce ample support for a person.” — SENECA.
I think The Daily Stoic is the perfect introduction to the principles of leading a life well lived whilst providing the perfect “drop in” for those who have read other philosophical work.
And Finally… My Favourite Excerpt from The Daily Stoic
“Pass through this brief patch of time in harmony with nature, and come to your final resting place gracefully, just as a ripened olive might drop, praising the earth that nourished it and grateful to the tree that gave it growth.” — MARCUS AURELIUS.