Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

Bust of Emperor Marcus Aurelius

I just finished reading Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. The version I read was the book translated to English by Martin Hammond.

Before I discuss the book, I would like to provide some background on Marcus Aurelius. Aurelius was Emperor of the Roman Empire from 161 to 180 AD. He was the last of the “Five Good Emperors”. Why were they called the “Five Good Emperors”? Even though they were Emperors (dictators), they were benevolent and had moderate governance policies. They ruled the Empire with reason, wisdom, justice, and virtue. This made the Roman people loyal to these emperors. More so than to any other emperors. The Roman Empire’s strength was strongest during the reign of the Five Good Emperors.

It might seem contradictory that an Emperor could be benevolent. However, this is exactly what one gathers of Marcus Aurelius when they read Meditations. Marcus Aurelius practised Stoicism which is a Greek philosophy of personal ethics. Stoicism generally preaches a life of self-control, courage, justice, wisdom, integrity, and reason. His devotion to Stoicism is evident in the Meditations. One does not have to be a Stoic to use the lessons in the Meditations. Rather, it can help anyone in any walk of life.

Meditations is divided into 12 books written by Aurelius over his life. It was not written for the intention of being published but was rather written to himself.

To me, the Meditations provides a great overview of values that everyone should strive for. This would help us not only achieve financial freedom but also live a happier life.

These are the biggest insights that I obtained from the Meditations:

  • Aurelius despised fame. Even though he was the Emperor, he paid no heed to fame. This is evident throughout the Meditations. He noted that people exist in extremely short periods of history. After a person dies, that person merely becomes a part of history and is forgotten.
    • I agree with Aurelius on fame. I do not think people should try to become famous. They should have some other kind of focus or purpose. Fame brings unwanted attention. If you are successful at what you do and it brings fame then so be it, but try to avoid all the extra attention. It brings envy and jealousy which are negative emotions. Generally, the extra attention is not from people who care for you. If you lose your fame, those people will be gone.
  • Aurelius advocates self-control throughout life. This a matter of controlling your mind from things such as anger, sadness, fear and exuberance.
    • Self-control is one of the most important traits to have and probably one of the most difficult to conquer. Refraining from anger is important as anger clouds our judgement (exuberance does as well). Aurelius certainly despised anger as he felt that it was an impulse that took over our minds. Self-control is essential to financial freedom as it allows us to save and refrain from being spendthrifts. It also allows us to make prudent investment decisions when there is fear or exuberance in stock or real estate markets.
  • Step away from it all once and while, and just sit alone with your thoughts. Clear your mind.
    • This is even more important now than it was 2,000 years ago since we have constant access to news and social media. Sometimes we just need to spend some time alone with our thoughts and clear our minds, especially when making big decisions.
  • Do not let the negative actions of others affect your state of mind. Often times you cannot control what others do or say. So why pay them any mind? If you can change their way of thinking then try to. If not, then forget it, do not hold a grudge. Pay them no mind and work on improving yourself.
    • This is absolutely still relevant today. Someone may insult us, cut in front of us on the road, we may lose a customer, we may get laid off, etc… We can try to rectify what we can control. But for the things we cannot control, we should let them be and move on.
  • There are constant references to integrity, honesty, and justice throughout the book.
    • These are important virtues that I believe are often lacking in our world today. I believe integrity and honesty are pillars of business relationships. I feel however these two virtues are becoming less common in the business world today. In the past, people were able to rely on the word of their suppliers, customers, employers, or employees. Now people cannot even rely on contracts. Justice is crucial in our society. Without justice, there would be no repercussions for those who do wrong. Those who are not wealthy or not as fortunate as others would have no recourse without justice – although this problem does exist somewhat in our world today.
  • Practice intelligence and reason. This comes up over and over in the Meditations. He wants us to step back from things and think about them with reason. He wants us to see how things really are and not to act on impulse. For example, why is that person mad at me? Was it something I did or said, or could it be something that is going on in his or her life?
    • I believe practicing intelligence and reason are a requirement to a successful life. Without intelligence, we cannot make the correct decisions when it comes to a career choice, on the job performance, relationships, saving money, and investing. Reason is crucial because we need to get past the biases we have and see how things really are. We need to be rational – why did I lose that customer? Why did I get fired? Why did my stock go down? Why is this person angry at me? Why did I do poorly on that test? If we just step back and answer these questions, we can always come up with an intelligent answer and one that will help us move forward.
  • Aurelius advocates living in the present. Do not dwell on the past as it is gone. Do not stress about the future.
    • I agree with this. This does not meet that you should blow your money and not save and invest for your future. Rather, it means that you should focus on the task at hand. Live in the moment. Do not let your mind wander.

These are all things that I try to apply in everyday life. What I find amazing is that one of the greatest Emperors of Rome was discussing these things. Marcus Aurelius had no reason to be humble, full of integrity, practice justice, and disregard fame. He was the Emperor of the greatest civilization on earth at that time. However, he chose to be all of these things. He did not just write these things down but he practised them which shows in the Roman’s people loyalty and adoration of him. If he was able to practice these things than so should all of us. Our lives should be happier because of them.

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