Seneca’s Top 10 Fundamentals for Finding Happiness

“Life, if well lived, is long enough.”

“I don’t consider myself bald, I’m just taller than my hair.” 
About 2000 years ago a lived a man named Lucius Annaeus Seneca. He was a man of many talents. He was a philosopher, statesman, dramatist, humorist and tutor/advisor for the famous emperor Nero. Together with Nero and others he ruled Rome during the first nine years of the emperor’s reign.

Only a few years later his influence over Nero and Rome came to an end. Nero suspected Seneca to be involved in failed attempt to assassinate the emperor. He ordered his former friend to take his own life. Which Seneca did.

But during his years on earth Seneca said some very useful things about life.

Here are 10 of my favourite fundamentals from Seneca on how to find happiness.

1. Happiness is optional.
“A man’s as miserable as he thinks he is.”

What you think about most of the time you become. If you see the world and yourself through a lens smudged by negativity then you’ll find much misery. If you look outwards and inwards through lens brightened by positivity you’ll find much to be happy and appreciative about.

So being happy or miserable is seldom so much about the external circumstances at the moment. It’s more about how you look at them, yourself and your world.

Now, thinking about things with a positive attitude is easier said than done. But you can shift a negative attitude into a more positive one. It will probably not happen like flicking on a light switch, but gradually you can spend more time with a positive attitude than a negative one.

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.”

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 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. Grow and deepen.

“As long as you live, keep learning how to live.”

Each day, month and year we can learn more about how to live in better way. Getting to know yourself and the world around you is simply an awesome way to find more depth in yourself and to handle and manage your life and happiness better and better.

How can you learn to live?

Learn from others. There is a vast selection of books, cds and dvds from all ages on what people have found out throughout their own lives. Make it a habit of exploring such material  and talking to people around you about what they have learned about life.

Learn from yourself. What you learn from others can have a bad habit of not sticking so well. But if you are open to what you can learn from your own mistakes and successes then there is much to be found there. And lessons to revise over and over again as you discover new things and that your old assumptions may not have been as correct or useful as you believed.

4. 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.”

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.

5. Give without wanting something in return.

“He that does good to another does good also to himself.”

“It is another’s fault if he be ungrateful, but it is mine if I do not give. To find one thankful man, I will oblige a great many that are not so.”

Shared joy is increased joy. And one of the best ways to become happier is simply to make others happier. When you do that positive feelings seem to be generated from within.

And when you make someone else happy you can also sense, see, feel and hear it. And that happy feeling flows back to you.

And since the Law of Reciprocity is strong there is another upside. People will feel like giving back to you. And so the two – or more – of you keep building an upward spiral of positivity and happiness.

Seneca has a very good point here about how it is your responsibility to give and the receiver’s responsibility to be thankful. But just because s/he may not be thankful doesn’t mean that you can’t feel happiness or should stop giving.

I also think it’s important to try and give without wanting something in return (something that is not always easy though).


Because if you give something but your mind and body says that you are just doing it to get something in return then that will often shine through. People will see and feel it in your reactions and your general vibe. And so they are less likely to be thankful or reciprocate. Giving, at it’s finest and for maximum usefulness for all involved, has to be genuine.

6. Know what you are looking for.

“If a man knows not what harbor he seeks, any wind is the right wind.”

If you don’t know what you are looking for you probably won’t wind up finding it. You’ll just drift along with different currents and winds.

So you need to know what you actually want. Then set a direction and keep your focus on that direction. Then it will not only be easier to reach your destination but also to use the focus system in your mind – your reticular activation system – to help you filter out information and opportunities that can help you along and that previously may have just blended into the background of your world.

7. 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.”

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 the 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.

8. Excess may not be the key.

“It is quality rather than quantity that matters.”

“It is the sign of a great mind to dislike greatness, and to prefer things in measure to things in excess.”

I guess this one ties in to # 4: to seek happiness in more.

An excess of things may often look wonderful when you imagine it. But when you actually get it and are taking it all in then it loses the magic you imagined. So quality and moderation may bring more joy than an excess.

The first five pieces of candy always taste better than the rest. And if you eat the whole bag of candy you often wind up feeling a bit nauseous and sick.

One awesome gadget or tool is often better than five OK ones. One great looking shirt or skirt often brings more joy than five OK looking ones.

9. Be in charge of yourself and do a great job.

“Life’s like a play: it’s not the length, but the excellence of the acting that matters.”

“Most powerful is he who has himself in his own power.”

“Wisdom allows nothing to be good that will not be so forever; no man to be happy but he that needs no other happiness than what he has within himself; no man to be great or powerful that is not master of himself.”

Just going along with whatever happens and just doing your job may not bring much happiness.

But taking control of your own life – instead of floating along – and doing a great job brings satisfaction and joy. Not just from the people around you but from within. When you feel like you are in charge of your own life and that you are doing your best there is an exhilaration and happiness that you create inside of yourself. Such a self-generated happiness makes sure that external circumstances – that always fluctuate – have less of an impact on how you feel.

10. Live in the present.

“There is no person so severely punished, as those who subject themselves to the whip of their own remorse.”

“True happiness is… to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence upon the future.”

“There are more things to alarm us than to harm us, and we suffer more often in apprehension than reality.”

What is there?

Tomorrow isn’t here yet. Yesterday has passed. Now is the present moment. And all three of them are always the present moment when we are living in them.

So there is no real space where you and I can change or live in except the one you and me are in right now. And now. And now.

But still we insist to spend much time regretting yesterday. Or fearing tomorrow. That’s normal. But it’s isn’t so useful.

We can’t really do anything about the past. We can learn valuable lessons from it but after that it’s not so important.

And most of the things we fear will happen in the future never really show up. A negative attitude can do wonders to create monsters within the mind to occupy much of your time. So, planning your future is very useful but over thinking it is seldom helpful.

So much time is lost thinking compulsively, over and over again, about things we have little control over. And it can create a huge amount of suffering inside that is projected and acted out into the world.

And it distracts us – blurs our vision and shatters our focus – and keeps us from fully enjoying what is really the most important time.


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About the Author

Henrik Edberg is the creator of the Positivity Blog and has written weekly articles here since 2006. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Gothenburg and has been featured on Lifehacker, HuffPost and Paulo Coelho’s blog. Click here to learn more…

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Wow! The only thing I would add (and he kind of touched on it, but didn’t mention it directly) is gratitude. Wtihout being truly thnakful for what we have we will never be happy.

  • One of my greatest faults was my inability to let go of a mistake. I used to let it eat away at me until it wore down my confidence. Depression would set in and it would take me a week to bounce back. I’ve learned to become more resilient by letting go of the past, not forgetting, just forgiving myself and moving on to more enjoyable thoughts and adventures.

  • Giving to others has been proven to increase the happiness of the giver. It is great you added unselfish giving to your “happy” list.

  • What a fantastic blog!

    I’ve always held in high regard, the lessons from influential people through history. Seneca was a great thinker and his teachings are still relevant today.

    You’ve earned another subscriber.

  • @ Jennifer: Good point, thank you for adding that.

    @ Karl: Yeah, I had that problem too. I think the biggest help for me has been to read/listen to stuff by Eckhart Tolle to learn to spend more of my time in present.

    @ Rob and Roger: Thanks. I’m glad you liked the article.

  • I love finding old wisdom that has been brought back to life with a modern point of view. Thank you for that.

    Jennifer, thank you for adding your comment on Gratitude. I think that is one of the most overlooked keys in society today.

  • Thanks for the kind comment, Kyle. I appreciate it.

  • Wow. Thank you so much for the profound post. This is a great way to start my week…. All the best, Etavitom

  • I’m glad you found the post helpful, Etavitom. And thank you for your nice comment.

  • wow this is great. Thanks for sharing. How inspirational.

  • Dr Fareedi Mukram Ali

    it was inspirational..After a long time cam across a article

  • lee

    Wow, i really enjoyed this article! The power of attraction is amazing. I have just made some big life decisions to change old habits and negative thoughts and replace them with new, meaningful and positive thoughts and actions. Then i stumbled across this site,the atricle and all your posts. So nice to celebrate a positive attitude with like minded people! I would love to share my journey on positive change with you all in my personal blog.

  • This is very true. So many times in life we think we are pursuing happiness but that is not possible without taking into consideration all of these things. All 10 points are a very thought-provoking and worth spending some time chewing on.

  • Loyalty was obviously a characteristic he valued, and courage. It took both to fulfill his friend’s request to take his own life.

  • Phil

    Two awesome posts on Seneca in two days. Awesome.