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What the Old Romans Can Teach You About Living a Kick-Ass Life


Image: http://www.flickr.com/photos/cowboyneal/ / CC BY-SA 2.0

“The universe is change; our life is what our thoughts make it.”
Marcus Aurelius

“No one can give you better advice than yourself.”
Cicero

People like Marcus Aurelius and Seneca may have died thousands of years ago. But what they spoke about back then is still helpful today. Our outer circumstances may have changed dramatically over the last few thousands of years, but on the inside we seem to have stayed pretty much the same in many ways.

So here are seven of my favorite tips from the streets and palaces of ancient Rome.

1. It’s just a perspective.

“Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.”
Marcus Aurelius

This is very important to remember. Not only to be able to chill out instead of getting into crazy fights and conflicts about any kind of issue in your daily life.

But also to stay open to different perspectives that can help improve your life instead of getting really defensive and never be able to admit that there may be a an even better way.

By keeping this mind open you become more accepting of other people and their perspectives and thoughts. And it becomes easier to see and find common ground instead of getting your focus stuck on differences.

2. You don’t have to create anger and other negative feelings.

“A quarrel is quickly settled when deserted by one party; there is no battle unless there be two.”
Seneca

Sometimes it is of course necessary to bring up and resolve a conflict. Often though, conflicts or quarrels are just a waste of time and a good way to create negativity within and in your environment. Perhaps someone wants to be right. Or release pent up emotions created elsewhere.

Avoid taking such bait by others or giving in to temporary negativity in yourself. Just let it go.

3. Will more solve your problems?

“For many men, the acquisition of wealth does not end their troubles, it only changes them.”
“It is not the man who has too little, but the man who craves more, that is poor.”
“What difference does it make how much you have? What you do not have amounts to much more.”

~ Seneca

Society is to a large degree built on getting more.

Of course, to a degree this is very useful. But it may not be the thing that will solve all your problems.
You may not find your answer or happiness in more. It may just alter your troubles and problems. And/or give you more of them. What is already there inside of you perhaps gets highlighted and magnified when you get more. Instead of getting whatever you want when finally making all that money your wanted you may find that greed, jealousy and selfishness within you and in your world increases.

You may have thought that when you finally arrived at that place your problems would just disappear. But the ego always wants more and is never satisfied.

So trying to fill yourself up with more – money, power, smartness, prettiness, a feeling of being more enlightened than others – and then finally becoming happy may become like trying to fill a bucket with a hole in the bottom.

4. Be patient.

“Patience is the greatest of all virtues.”
Cato the Elder

When I met people in real life and tell them about this blog they sometimes wonder how one can build a website with so many readers. I guess different people have different answers. Mine always includes being patient. I think that is one of the key factors why this blog has become pretty popular. I have just been patient and have seen it grow, sometimes slowly and sometimes very quickly.

I think people often make the mistake of giving up too early. Your mind probably has what it thinks is a reasonable timeframe for success. This might not correspond to a realistic timeframe though.

It’s useful to take a break from advertised perspectives – “You can double your income/lose 30 pounds in a just 30 days!” – and let more realistic perspectives seep into your mind. Learn from people who have gone where you want to go. Talk to them. Read what they have to say in books or online. This will not give you a complete plan but a clearer perspective of what is needed to achieve what you want.

5. Laugh

“It is more fitting for a man to laugh at life than to lament over it.”
“No one is laughable who laughs at himself.”

~ Seneca

Taking things too seriously can make life a lot harder and painful than it needs to be. It may be a common or “normal” way to look at things. But you are always free to choose how to view, react and think about things.

Taking things and yourself less seriously can really help you to decrease conflicts, anger, sadness and anxiety. And laughing at life and yourself releases tension and tends to make you less susceptible to the gray and dreary clouds of negativity that may plague others. Check out Lighten Up! for more on this.

6. Focus on clearing your own fields.

“It is the peculiar quality of a fool to perceive the faults of others, and to forget his own … You can’t clear your own fields while you’re counting the rocks on your neighbor’s farm.”
Cicero

What someone says about you may not be much of a reflection of you but of the person that said it. This is a good thing to remember whenever someone is saying something negative about you. It is even more useful to remember whenever you feel negatively about someone else. It can help you to learn more about yourself, what you fear and how you may be fooling yourself. It can be a reminder to go back to focusing on what needs to be cleared on your own fields.

7. Focus on doing what you think and feel is right.

“We cannot control the evil tongues of others; but a good life enables us to disregard them”
Cato the Elder

“The best revenge is to be unlike him who performed the injury.”
Marcus Aurelius

“I have often wondered how it is that every man loves himself more than all the rest of men, but yet sets less value on his own opinions of himself than on the opinions of others.”
Marcus Aurelius

By letting go of the things that don’t really matter that much and instead focusing on what YOU think about things and doing what YOU think is the right thing you can save a whole bunch of time and improve your results and your self esteem. Doing so will also raise your sense of what you deserve in life, something that is vital to be able to go after what you want and to avoid self sabotage halfway to achieving your goal.

All of this will raise your opinion of yourself and you start to realize that what someone else says simply doesn’t make matter that much anymore (a welcome relief for sure).

Now, this may sound selfish. And it is. And that is OK. Because by improving your own life and making yourself stronger you are in a much better position to both help other people and yourself. And you may realize that what is most important in your life is something that can help other people too. Win-win is a pretty great solution.

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  • Anonymous February 19, 2010, 5:42 pm

    I think the 1st quote of Marcus is good, but the last two are less strong:

    “The best revenge is to be unlike him who performed the injury.”
    Marcus Aurelius

    “I have often wondered how it is that every man loves himself more than all the rest of men, but yet sets less value on his own opinions of himself than on the opinions of others.”
    Marcus Aurelius

    In these quotes het talks about negative stuff like revenge and that some people loves themselfes more than other.

    With this I must give Eckhart Tolle right in his vision that older greek philosophers are closer to the truth and that people like Marcus are drifting away from the universal truth …

  • Clinton Skakun February 19, 2010, 6:30 pm

    Cool! Some good quotes and some good lessons to learn. I especially like, “it’s just perspective”

  • Melinda Neely February 19, 2010, 7:19 pm

    Great suggestions on keeping life in perspective. I, in particular, could benefit by having more patience. Thanks for reminding me!

  • matton February 19, 2010, 7:52 pm

    I agree with all your points :)

    I like the below one a lot.
    “Patience is the greatest of all virtues.”
    Cato the Elder

  • Pathan Imran Khan February 19, 2010, 8:00 pm

    I never thought old romans can teach us life lessons and I always read, seen and heard about their empire and conquests. This is truly worth appreciating. I would like to add…there’s always a possible opportunity or chance to learn from people across the world. It’s wonderful to see how they think, learn and share things to other people.

  • Travis February 19, 2010, 8:09 pm

    This is a tremendous collection of insightful quotes!

    I’ve come across the words of Aurelius before, and they never cease to inspire. Thanks for sharing such a great collection.

  • Mike February 20, 2010, 9:15 am

    Nice post, bu when I read the title I was expecting more stuff along the lines of week long orgies and pools filled with wine!

  • Manish February 20, 2010, 10:56 am

    I had many of those experiences in life said by HENRIK EDBERG in his blog.

  • Steven Aitchison February 20, 2010, 12:06 pm

    Hi Henrik, this is a wonderful post. I am reading (listening to an audiobook) of the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius and this post is perfect timing.

    I think all the quotes are great but I especially love:

    “Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.”

    Isn’t that the truth :)

    Thank you

  • jonathanfigaro February 20, 2010, 3:46 pm

    What a great post. Simple and to the point. Nice one Henrik!

  • Deep Blue Sea February 20, 2010, 4:05 pm

    Thank You Sir.

  • John February 20, 2010, 4:11 pm

    A very well done piece, thank you for sharing these thoughts.

  • Chase Barfield February 21, 2010, 12:21 am

    Henrik – Thank you for compiling all of these quotes. I enjoy reading things that are thousands of years old and still have relevance today.

  • Elaine February 21, 2010, 10:28 am

    Also remember, the Romans only worked a six-hour day. It didn’t seem to stop them getting a lot done!

  • Mark Harrison February 21, 2010, 5:29 pm

    Excellent! You might find the following old article of mine of some interest:

    http://www.pickthebrain.com/blog/marcus-aurelius/

  • Flora Morris Brown, Ph.D. February 21, 2010, 6:28 pm

    Isn’t it amazing how ancient wisdom is so timely.

    I’m always inspired by your posts and by your patience in building your blog audience. Thanks for sharing these thoughts and sharing of yourself.

  • bonnidette February 22, 2010, 2:10 am

    What a great post. Love what you had to say about patients. This one took me a long time to realize. The fact that things don’t happen as quickly as we would like doesn’t mean it isn’t going to happen. I think to many people give up to soon. I know I have done this myself in the past. I am much better at it though now and then I have to remind myself to be patient.

    The other great point you made here was about everything being a perspective and not fact. This is another one I think alot of people struggle with. Thank you for sharing these insites.

  • Josten February 22, 2010, 10:40 pm

    Very good teachings. I for one have learned that you need to laugh. Whenever someone is getting loud with me or angry i find some reason to laugh. To me life is meant to be enjoyed not angry all of the time. Then i have started doing more and more what i feel is right and it’s made a drastic change in how i feel about things that i am doing in my life.