50 Very Short Rules for a Good Life From the Stoics
The best pieces of wisdom gathered from a body of work that spans 2,000 years
What is the job of a philosopher?
“When the standards have been set,” Epictetus said, “the work of philosophy is just this, to examine and uphold the standards, but the work of a truly good person is in using those standards when they know them.”
Pretty straightforward then: Define your rules. Live by them.
But the Stoics were not quite so direct in practice. While they spoke, wrote, and debated, nowhere did they put their “commandments” down in one place. Not in any form that survived, at least. One Stoic, Chrysippus, supposedly wrote 500 lines a day — the vast majority of which are lost.
In studying their writings for my own practice, I’ve compiled 50 rules from the Stoics, gathered from their immense body of work across two thousand years. These rules functioned, then, as they do now, as guides to what the ancients called “the good life.” Hopefully some of them will illuminate your own path.
1. Focus on what you can control.
2. You control how you respond to things.
3. Ask yourself, “Is this essential?”
4. Meditate on your mortality every day.
5. Value time more than money and possessions.
6. You are the product of your habits.
7. Remember you have the power to have no opinion.
8. Own the morning.
9. Put yourself up for review. Interrogate yourself.
10. Don’t suffer imagined troubles.
11. Try to see the good in people.
12. Never be overheard complaining—even to yourself.
13. Two ears, one mouth for a reason.
14. There is always something you can do.
15. Don’t compare yourself to others.
16. Live as if you’ve died and come back (every minute is bonus time).
17. “The best revenge is not to be like that.” —Marcus Aurelius