From the Greco/Roman world are the Stoics. I love reading the words of Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus, and Seneca. The core tenets are simple in their message but often challenging to uphold. Most everything comes down to our perception. What is in our control and what is not? If it is in our control, we should handle it. If it is not, we should not let it bother us. For those looking to live a virtuous life, their writings should be a staple in their personal libraries.
Then came the transcendentalists of the 1800’s. Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and James Allen are some of my favorites in this group. In its simplest form, I call these the believers and achievers. If we can dream it, we can accomplish it.
Next, came the ones from the last hundred years to our present day. I’ll call them the Self-Helpers. My favorites in this group are Dale Carnegie, Jim Rohn, Jocko Willink, and Jordan B. Peterson. They came along in an age when their works could be digested in other media forms than only books. We can listen to their speeches and watch their videos (at least the more modern ones). Their works are more accessible than any in history who came before them.
Pick up the list of the philosophers; that very act will compel you to wake up, when you see how many men have been working for your benefit.
Seneca, Letter #39: On Noble Aspirations
Our list of favorite philosophers/influencers may be different, but they also have one great similarity. They have all been working for our benefit. Their combined works spans thousands of hours of research and wisdom, and all of it created for our benefit. We would be foolish to let their works go unrealized.
It is clear to you, I am sure, Lucilius, that no man can live a happy life, or even a supportable life, without the study of wisdom; you know also that a happy life is reached when our wisdom is brought to completion, but that life is at least endurable even when our wisdom is only begun.
A happy life. Seneca said it is only possible for the person who studies wisdom. Why is that? Wisdom may not make a person perfect, but it is the pinnacle at the top of the mountain. To study wisdom is to climb the mountain. And as it increases over time, the student learns to avoid foolish mistakes in both words and deeds.
Solomon also said the one who finds wisdom is happy, that her profits are greater than monetary wealth (Proverbs 3:13-15). Money comes and goes, but wisdom, once attained, doesn’t flee. It doesn’t fluctuate based on speculation, inflation, or corruption.
The acquisition of wisdom is a journey that improves and makes life endurable.
This idea, however, clear though it is, must be strengthened and implanted more deeply by daily reflection; it is more important for you to keep the resolutions you have already made than to go on and make noble ones. You must persevere, must develop new strength by continuous study, until that which is only a good inclination becomes a good settled purpose.
Daily reflection. One must take the time to measure progress. The most effective way is to do it daily. Is there a better way to do this self-examination than by journaling?
One of my favorite podcasts is Ben Greenfield Fitness, one of the best shows to learn about human optimization, ancestral living, and biohacking. Check out step #3 from Ben’s evening journaling practice.
As you breathe, for anywhere from 3 to 6 minutes, begin to visualize your day. During this time, I recommend you replay your entire day in your mind like a movie, watching yourself in the third person and identifying what you have done well, what you could have done better, and where you felt most self-actualized and connected to your purpose statement. Watching the character of yourself in your mind, in the third person, ask yourself what you aren’t rooting for the character to do, or wishing they’d done differently, or where they failed and learned. Ask yourself what you are proud of that character doing and how you really see them acting their best. Finally, ask yourself where that person seemed most “in the flow” and doing exactly what seems to be the very reason they are in the movie in the first place. As you play the movie in your mind, stop when necessary and write down in the journal what you have done well, what you could have done better, and when or where you lived your life’s purpose.
Examine yourself; scrutinize and observe yourself in divers ways; but mark, before all else, whether it is in philosophy or merely in life itself that you have made progress.
When I first began journaling, I would write down the events of the day. It was a non-value-added list of bullet points. After a while, I became bored with it as I was not reflecting on a deeper level. Now I try to look at the day from multiple angles. How did I perceive myself in those actions? How did others possibly perceive my actions? What actions brought my life closer to my goals in life? What did I do to not only improve my life but the lives of those around me? What were my good deeds and how can I improve on my bad ones?
Philosophy is no trick to catch the public; it is not devised for show. It is a matter, not of words, but of facts. It is not pursued in order that the day may yield some amusement before it is spent, or that our leisure may be relieved of a tedium that irks us. It moulds and constructs the soul; it orders our life, guides our conduct, shows us what we should do and what we should leave undone; it sits at the helm and directs our course as we waver amid uncertainties. Without it, no one can live fearlessly or in peace of mind.
The purpose of philosophy. It is the user’s manual on how we should live. Nobody cares whether I memorized the lawn mower’s user manual. But if it is their grass that I am cutting, they do care whether I can operate the mower. The same with philosophy. To quote others and study for the sake of knowledge only does no good. Henry David Thoreau said, “There are nowadays professors of philosophy, but not philosophers.” I must do more than just study philosophy, I must practice it. I must be a philosopher.
Countless things that happen every hour call for advice; and such advice is to be sought in philosophy.
Wisdom leads to making good choices. It leads to a happy life. Through daily reflection we can refine our choices in the hopes of preventing the bad ones. Those bad choices are available to us constantly. How do prevent them? We turn to our user’s manual. We turn to philosophy.