On the Shortness of Life | Seneca

Summary of: On the Shortness of Life
By: Seneca


In this summary of Seneca’s ‘On the Shortness of Life,’ we will explore the human tendency to waste time on trivial activities, how pursuing status, power, and luxury can make life feel short, and the dangers of seeking glory after death. We will examine the need to steer a purposeful course in life, the wisdom one can acquire from great thinkers, and why satisfaction arises from living within our means and adhering to our unique paths. Learn how to appreciate lasting contentment and find the course most suited for your individual journey.

Don’t Waste Your Time

Most of us waste time in trivial activities, not realizing that they make our life seem short. Pursuing goals like status, power, or luxury will not make us happy if we don’t enjoy the present. The desire for glory after death is an illusion that distracts us from living well. Rather than preparing for life, we should enjoy each moment as it comes. Emperor Augustus is an example of someone who failed to retire because he was too focused on his duties. To avoid feeling like life is too short, we need to appreciate the present moment and simplify our ambitions. The best symbol for our mortality is a single burning candle.

Purposeful sailing

Life should not be a mere drifting experience without direction or a journey without purpose. It is crucial to plot a course that aligns with our convictions and stay committed to it. However, it is also important to recognize that not every route should be pursued. Some people spend their lives constantly changing direction, while others are content to drift with the waves out of sheer apathy. It is crucial to avoid being carried away by someone else’s preoccupations, as it will likely lead to an unfulfilled and short life. Instead, we should listen to ourselves and pursue our own courses to reach a fulfilling destination.

Seeking Wisdom in the Great Minds

The possibilities of gaining new knowledge and self-improvement are endless. Despite your upbringing, there are chances to learn from the great minds and shape your future. Engaging with the works of great thinkers like Plato or Hegel helps you understand society, culture, and people. These philosophers provide wisdom and comfort, and their books can be picked up and returned to the shelf as and when necessary.

Reading and engaging with these thinkers have a positive effect on your mental health and prolongs your life. Even if you are nearing the end of your life, reading is still a way to learn not just how to live but how to approach death without fear.

It’s essential to be careful when selecting which great minds to read, though. Reading purposefully and choosing scholars who bring true wisdom will allow us to gain profound knowledge that we can use. As such, life offers enough time to devote oneself to self-knowledge and true wisdom, making the great minds your torchbearers on this path.

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