How to Think Like a Roman Emperor | Donald J. Robertson

Summary of: How to Think Like a Roman Emperor: The Stoic Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius
By: Donald J. Robertson


Unlock the wisdom of ancient Stoicism and embrace the philosophy of Marcus Aurelius to guide your life in ‘How to Think Like a Roman Emperor.’ This summary delves into the Stoic principles that governed Marcus Aurelius’ life, highlighting the importance of living in harmony with nature, accepting fate, and striving for virtue. Discover the four cardinal virtues: wisdom, morality, courage, and moderation, and learn how to apply Stoic practices in your daily life to attain authentic happiness. Embrace the benefits of cognitive distance to gain control over your emotions, accept the impermanence of life, and cultivate virtue through voluntary hardship.

Living in Harmony: The Principles of Stoicism

Stoicism is an ancient philosophical doctrine that teaches us to live in harmony with nature. According to Stoic tenets, living in agreement with nature is the wise and virtuous thing to do. Accepting fate as it is, not as it should be or might be, is an important part of living in accordance with nature. The Stoics believed that every person has the same nature flowing through them and should live wisely and virtuously no matter their current circumstances. The pursuit of wealth and power is not synonymous with virtuous living, as wealthy and successful people often squander their lives chasing pleasures that make them miserable. Ultimately, living a satisfying life is all about living in harmony with nature.

Living a Virtuous Life

Living a virtuous life is what most people desire, but the idea of virtue is hard to define and even harder to follow. The early Stoic writings outline four cardinal virtues: wisdom, morality, courage, and moderation. Marcus Aurelius, a Stoic philosopher, made these principles his guiding light throughout his life. Stoics believed that virtues could be developed through practice and deliberate cultivation. To be a good Stoic, one must choose the path of wisdom, morality, courage and moderation consistently. With practice, one can develop the habit of exercising self-restraint and delayed gratification while choosing the right path. Marcus Aurelius applied this philosophy to his daily actions and decision-making, leading him to a quest for authentic happiness. Anyone can follow his lead and aspire to live a virtuous life.

Taming Emotions for Authentic Happiness

Learn how the Stoic philosophy can help you manage your emotions like Marcus Aurelius, attain authentic happiness, and make better decisions by practicing cognitive distance.

Life’s emotional roller coaster is something we all are acquainted with. Some days, we are on top of the world, while on other days, we feel cursed. Marcus Aurelius, the author of ‘Meditations,’ embraced Stoicism and learned to handle his anger issues with deliberate practice. He believed in taking control of his emotional spectrum to attain authentic happiness, which is derived from virtuous living, free from pleasure and fulfilled desires.

If you find the idea of getting off life’s emotional roller coaster appealing, learning to be mindful of negative and positive emotions, like Marcus Aurelius, may help. Stoic practices are similar to the technique modern psychotherapists call cognitive distance that can aid in separating oneself from emotions, observe situations, and make better decisions based on reason and logic.

Next time you experience anger creeping up on you, observe it from a third-person perspective, remove yourself from it and react to it reasonably, rather than impulsively. It’s like visualizing yourself standing firmly on the ground, observing the roller coaster ride from a safe distance, and letting of extreme feelings. By taming emotions and attentively practicing cognitive distance, authentic happiness can be attained without being thrown between highs and lows like life’s roller coaster.

Embracing Impermanence

The Stoics, led by Marcus Aurelius, accepted the reality of impermanence in life and death. While some aim for immortality and behave irrationally, Aurelius made decisions based on rationality and the acceptance of eventual demise. History shows that leaders guided by egolessness leave the greatest impact. Through daily practice, anyone can embrace the reality of impermanence and make virtuous decisions.

Misconceptions about Stoicism

Stoicism is widely misunderstood, with many people associating it with a focus on death and a lack of joy. However, this misconception arises from the dry and passionless style of the original Stoic writings. A closer look at Marcus Aurelius’s personal letters reveals that Stoics can indeed have a positive outlook on life, filled with joy and humor. Being Stoic does not mean suppressing emotions, but rather not allowing them to control one’s actions. Stoicism is not about being boring, but rather about being authentically satisfied with life and free from the stresses of overindulgence. Ultimately, practicing an acceptance of death does not equate to darkness or moroseness but rather a recognition of the natural cycle of life.

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