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Forge
A publication from Medium on personal development.

Philosophy

In Forge. More on Medium.

If you’re wondering why you’re not happy, why things are always hard, try this thought experiment from the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius

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We can imagine that Marcus Aurelius was a busy man, perhaps the busiest man in the world. He had 14 children. He was living through a pandemic. He had a nagging stomach ailment. He was taking philosophy classes.

Oh, and he was the emperor of Rome. His domain stretched some 2.2 million square miles and included some 120 million people for whom he was both responsible for and in charge of.

How did he manage it all? How did he get it all done? Without losing his mind? Without falling behind?

We know that one question played a huge role.


A list for anyone struggling to see beyond this pandemic moment

Credit: Westend61/Getty Images

Over the past year, we’ve all been tested. Many of us have failed.

The pandemic made some of us callous. It infected others with conspiracy theories. Too many of us gave into apathy and chaos, losing all sense of structure (and spending who knows how many hours watching Netflix). Now, with the pandemic in the home stretch, but still with us, we have to get serious. We have to get serious about the tried and tested way to wisdom: reading.

Books are an investment in yourself — one that can come in many forms: novels, nonfiction, how-to, poetry, classics, biographies…


Stress is part of life. But suffering because of stress? To the Stoics, that was a choice.

Graphic of a person standing on top of a hill/mountain overlooking a red sun.
Graphic of a person standing on top of a hill/mountain overlooking a red sun.
Credit: We Are/Getty Images

“It’s normal to feel pain in your hands and feet, if you’re using your feet as feet and your hands as hands. And for a human being to feel stress is normal — if he’s living a normal human life. And if it’s normal, how can it be bad?” — Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 6.33

Life has always been hard. Even in the ancient world, there were children to raise, debts to pay, and terrible bosses. People got sick. They committed to too much.

Stress was a fact of life. But suffering because of stress? …


Meditating on our fleeting mortality might sound like a downer, but the ancient practice can help us find more tranquility while we’re here

Photo illustration; Image source: Westend61/Getty Images

A couple weeks ago, I felt a dull ache in my abdomen. It wasn’t painful, but it was persistent and, since the belly houses several mission-critical organs, I decided to get it checked out. My doctor seemed puzzled by my nonspecific symptoms, especially since a recent colonoscopy and upper GI scan indicated all was good. So he ordered a slew of tests and an ultrasound, which he scheduled for the next afternoon.

After I left my samples and departed the office, I spent the next 24 hours Googling “stomach pain” while contemplating my imminent death. The internet suggested I had…


Seven tactics from the ancient world that have stood the test of time

Marcus Aurelius writing philosophical advice to his son. Photo: Icas94/De Agostini Picture Library/Getty Images

The Roman-era Stoic philosopher Seneca once joked that the one thing fools all have in common is that they are always getting ready to live but never actually do.

That was 20 centuries ago. For tens of thousands of years, people have been procrastinating just like you do today: They put things off, delayed, made excuses, and wished their deadlines would disappear. And just as it does with you, this caused them anxiety, made them piss off their colleagues and families, and, worst of all, wasted time.

Fortunately, unlike our ancient counterparts, we have ages of wisdom to help us…


Illustration courtesy of Darius Foroux

There are a million things tugging at our focus these days, and a thousand ways to feel about each day’s vicissitudes. As luck would have it — or was it fate? — one of Medium’s beloved writers, Darius Foroux, has launched a weekly “Stoic Letter.” In the tradition of the great philosopher Seneca, Foroux tackles a new topic each week, and shares how the teachings of Stoicism can help us focus on what matters. He’ll be posting one every Friday.

As Foroux writes in his intro letter:

We all know social media makes us feel unworthy and depressed. We know…


Asian man on his laptop.
Asian man on his laptop.
Photo: Oscar Wong/Getty Images

Most of us spend a lot of time reading, talking, and thinking about politics. While we can make an impact by voting and supporting our candidates and causes, we need to be aware of our limitations as well.

Consider: how does it benefit you to internalize stress about things you don’t control? To a Stoic, “indifference” means that none of the external things that happen to us are inherently good or bad, and so our task is to remain indifferent to external ups and downs (both fortune and misfortune). We should focus instead on our highest aim. For a classic…


Photo: Hill Street Studios/Getty Images

It’s a wild time to be alive — that’s the first thing to remember. It completely makes sense if you’re feeling a bit out of whack. As Ashley Abramson writes in Forge, “A lot is at stake during any presidential election — but for many of us, this one in particular feels like it comes with life-or-death consequences.”

The ancient-but-also-incredibly-timely philosophy of Stoicism has some lessons that might come in handy this week, no matter what happens.

Yes, it’s the oldest trick in the Stoicism book. But it’s a classic for a reason. You don’t control what happens in this…


The Latin phrase is less about ‘YOLO’ and more about stopping to smell the roses

Photo: GrapeImages/Getty Images

It’s the hashtag of a hundred thousand sunrise photos. It’s spray-painted on walls, emblazoned on T-shirts, and tattooed across chests. In just two words, it has become a productivity mantra, a philosophy for life, a mentality of a generation.

Carpe diem.

The Latin phrase — given a boost in popular culture by the 1989 film Dead Poets Society — is commonly translated as “seize the day.” For many, it has come to mean “do whatever the hell you want to do, right now.” …


If you can’t find your way forward, try looking back — way back to 161 AD

Man walking into 2D maze.
Man walking into 2D maze.
Photo: Klaus Vedfelt/Getty Images

The reign of the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius was defined by a pandemic, civil unrest, interminable wars, cultural decadence, and income inequality.

As he would observe in Meditations, people have always been people, and life has always been life. The more things change, the more they stay the same. How true we’ve found this to be.

I’ve spent more than a decade writing about the Stoic philosophy, most recently with my book Lives of the Stoics and my research is filled with unique characters from unique backgrounds — from slaves to generals, lawyers to writers, artists to doctors. Despite all…

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