Brexit, the Middle East, Austerity, Global Warming. Just some of the worrying developments that affect our daily lives.
TV shows have an irritating tendency to focus on the negative, because bad news tends to get more attention and therefore advertising revenue than good news. The media is quick to teach us how to feel bad about the consequence of situations, but how do we feel good?
After all, when we feel good, don’t we do our best work? Don’t we spend more time connecting and supporting other people? It’s tough to be a good friend, mentor or parent if we are worried about the state of the world, or our lives isn’t it?
But if you look back through history, when weren’t people living through troubled times?
People have been living through troubled times throughout history. From the UK’s repeated invasions in Roman, Saxon and Viking times, through to witch trials, Hundred Years wars, the Industrial Revolution, Two World Wars, The Cold War, Privatisation, the Dot Com revolution and Brexit.
In life, the only constant is change
So if things are going to change no matter what we do, how can we live a good life? By going meta on life itself and living in a way that has operated successfully for thousands of years.
Many ancient religions at their essence provide guidance on how to live a virtuous life, but these guides have often been wrapped up in dogma and compliance as organised religions themselves try to stay relevant in an ever changing society. And as such some of the most valuable guidance I have found exists in philosophy that never got updated.
Marcus Aurelius, The Philosopher King
Marcus Aurelius ruled The Roman Empire from 161 to 180 A.D. and is renowned for being a wise and noble leader whom Plato referred to as “The Philosopher King”. His own reflections on leadership and what it means to lead a good an virtuous life were captured in a series of books known as “The Meditations“, seminal texts in the school of Stoicism which are to this day often quoted.
The field of self-development is supported by thousands of books, videos and training courses, but of all of the texts I’ve read and the courses I’ve studied, I’ve yet to find a more pragmatic guide to living a fulfilling life.
Here are 10 rules, as prescribed by Marcus Aurelius, that he felt, despite his position, would lead to living a good life:
People exist to help one another. Mankind was meant to live in harmony, “That we came into the world for the sake of one another.” Harmony is the state of flow and productivity.
Be mindful of others’ humanity. Treat every person with dignity.
Realise that most mistakes, are the result of ignorance. Consider your role in their ignorance, respond to mistakes in an educational way and stay in control.
Do not overly exalt yourself. “For outward show is a wonderful perverter of the reason.” Let them exalt you through your actions.
Avoid quick judgments of others’ actions. “A lot of things are means to some other end. You have to know an awful lot before you can judge other people’s actions with real understanding.” Understand the reason behind action before responding.
Maintain self-control. You can choose to spend your time and energy languishing over things that have already happened, or you can choose to be calm and address any problems that arise. Understand the difference between responding and reacting.
Recognise that others can hurt you only if you let them. The only actions that should truly hurt you are things you do that are shameful, since you are in control of your own self-worth and values.
Know that pessimism can easily overtake you. “How much more damage anger and grief do than the things that cause them.” Practice situational objectivity and demonstrate this in your actions with others.
Practice kindness. Sincere kindness is “invincible” and more powerful than any negative act.
Do not expect bad people to exempt you from their destructive ways. It is “the act of a tyrant” to think that you can try to change these kinds of people or persuade them to treat you differently. Behave in a constructive and compassionate manner, they must also understand that there are those who find meaning in destroying others.