5 Quotes to Live By in 2021
Courtesy of Marcus Aurelius.
I recently read Meditations by Marcus Aurelius – a series of the Roman Emperor’s personal writings, compiled into 12 “books” (chapters), written between the years 170 and 180.
Even though his memoirs do not have a title (being that they were never meant to be published), Aurelius’ writing depicts his thoughts about life, the human process and ideas for self-improvement, aligned with Stoic philosophy.
What amazes me is how, although written roughly 1850 years ago, the principles outlined in Marcus Aurelius’ writings are incredibly relevant today, especially in 2020.
It is inevitable to get caught up in our own world and feel as though we don’t relate or have changed significantly as people from our ancestors who lived X amount of years ago, but is this truly the case?
I’ve pulled out five quotes from Meditations that I’ve found to be particularly relevant to life today in 2021, and that I believe we should take an opportunity to reflect upon in depth.
1. “Everything is only for a day, both that which remembers and that which is remembered.” (Book IV)
In countries that enjoy relative stability, it has become a norm to make long-term plans, calculating each step and thinking about the next move while acting on the previous one. And yet, we get thrown out of loop easily when our plans, however far down the line in our minds, don’t materialize, or a bump appears in the road while on the way.
The only thing for certain is the present moment.
Yes, it’s cliché. Yes, we’ve heard it a million times. But how often do we step back and reflect upon this – or do we never have time, because we’re in the middle of something, working to get us to that next “middle of something”?
I wouldn’t consider this only to be valid for the future, but also for the past.
The past exists in our minds. Too many of us are held back by decisions of the past (or hold others back for their’s), which takes a lot out of us – instead, we ought to leave the past where it is, and direct efforts to what is in front of us, directly within our grasp.
The happiest of people enjoy life for what it is. They aren’t bogged down from what has already taken place and from what is yet to do so.
2. “Put an end once for all to this discussion of what a good man should be, and be one.” (Book X)
It is very easy to fall into the trap of talking about “society”, what’s wrong with “society”, how “society” could be different, etc. as if society is a God-like, overbearing concept.
Society, however, is not a grand concept. Society is human beings. The behaviours that are exhibited by “society” are inevitably exhibited by various individuals, then paired together to form a collective group.
We cannot change society. We cannot change people, in general. The only person of whom we can change is ourselves, because we are only capable of controlling our own, individual actions.
We must change ourselves as individuals if we would like “society” to change.
If we are unwilling to change our own habits and actions, it is a waste of time discussing how other people, and more importantly, how “society” must change. Fix yourself and be an example for others – they may just follow suit.
3. “Soon you’ll be ashes or bones. A mere name at most – and even that is just a sound, an echo. The things we want in life are empty, stale, trivial.” (Book V)
What is it that we want most in life – and why? In the grand scheme of things, what value do these desires hold?
Nowadays, it’s about chasing the money. “Keeping up with Joneses”, if you will. It is possible to become wealthier from posting pictures on Instagram than from dedicating one’s life to making a difference in the medical field, as an example.
Again, what’s the value in it when anxiety and depression rates, as well as mental health issues as a whole, continue to skyrocket around the world? It’s clear that something is off.
Excess consumerism does not seem to be making many people happy – yet we continue to take part in the chase, forgetting (or simply not considering) that none of us will be taking any of these items to the grave.
I wouldn’t say that the issues lie so much in what we buy per se, although this could be the case at times, but rather our motivations for the financial decisions that we make.
Who will remember the financial decisions we make, let alone us as individuals, 300 years from now?
4. “I’m constantly amazed by how easily we love ourselves above all others, yet we put more stock in the opinions of others than in our own estimation of self … How much credence we give to the opinions our peers have of us and how little to our very own!” (Book XII)
Constant comparison, exacerbated today by social media (among other things), is something that holds people back from fulfilling their true desires, inevitably affecting self-esteem in the process.
Despite the fact that we often use social media to portray an “ideal” image of ourselves, almost to make others jealous, to receive their stamp of approval.
It doesn’t matter what others think about you or the decisions that you make. We can put thoughts in our head that other people do care, judge and criticize us – but these are simply our own thoughts. Most people go about their own lives and really don’t care about what we’re doing.
Even if we do receive the opinions of others about something that we’re doing, or about who we are as people, they’re just that: opinions. They’re not binding.
The only opinion that matters is the opinion that we hold about ourselves.
5. “Take away thy opinion, and then there is taken away the complaint, “I have been harmed.” Take away the complaint, “I have been harmed,” and the harm is taken away.” (Book IV)
On the topic of opinions, I believe that it’s important to remember that life in general is a matter of opinion. We stress and complain over a number of things that, in reality, are the result of our own opinions on the matter.
An event of which one person may consider to be a big deal, another person may consider it to be unimportant: a clear difference in opinion. Who has the correct opinion? Neither, because life is a matter of opinion.
If we change the ways in which we view such things that occur in our lives – if we change our opinion on the subject – we may discover that the issue is not as important as we make it out to be in our minds.
Complaining is two-fold: we can enjoy complaining ourselves, but dislike listening to others complain. Complaints revert back to one’s opinion towards an issue – change the opinion, and the complaint disappears.
Hundreds of years may pass, but it remains clear that patterns of human behaviour remain constant. Ideas relative to human life, upon which Marcus Aurelius pondered centuries ago, are the same ones that we think about today in 2021.
The focal point is to live a life of which you view as fulfilling, being mindful of the fact that, even though we may feel as though we’ll live forever, life goes by quite fast: we ought to focus on what’s fundamentally important.
I believe that if we keep these quotes in mind, reflect upon and apply them to our daily lives, then we would find more peace, harmony and happiness in life.
I encourage you to read Meditations by Marcus Aurelius if you’ve yet to do so, it may help you to view things differently.