“What’s the meaning of life?”
This question has occupied countless philosophers throughout history.
According to Stoicism, the answer to that question is eudaimonia1. That word is tricky to translate, but you can think of it as personal flourishing.
The way to attain eudaimonia is contained within the term itself. Etymologically, it consists of two words, eu (good) and daimōn (spirit).
So, to flourish in life, you have to be on good terms with your inner daimōn, which is basically your highest self.
In other words, you have to continually express the best version of yourself. When you do that, you’ll experience the deep sense of satisfaction that comes from making the most out of life.
Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? Let’s dive right into the Stoic’s best techniques for befriending your inner daimōn, realizing your potential, and flourishing.
1. Fulfill Your Duty as a Human
At dawn, when you have trouble getting out of bed, tell yourself: ‘I have to go to work – as a human being. What do I have to complain of, if I’m going to do what I was born for – the things I was brought into the world to do? Or is this what I was created for? To huddle under the blankets and stay warm?’
— Marcus Aurelius
If you struggle to get out of bed each morning, this technique can be immensely helpful. As soon as you open your eyes, remind yourself of your duty as a human. It’s your obligation to get up, go to work, and do your part. Like Marcus Aurelius, ask yourself:
Don’t you see the plants, the birds, the ants and spiders and bees going about their individual tasks, putting the world in order, as best they can? And you’re not willing to do your job as a human being? Why aren’t you running to do what your nature demands?
Sure, sleep is critical for your health, well-being, and performance. So, make sure you get enough of it. But once your rest is over, don’t linger in bed.
Instead, get right up and use your replenished energy to serve the world. And remember that each day you get to wake up and do your part is a precious gift.
2. Let Your Work Be Your Reward
Just as in a field which has been broken up for corn, some flowers grow here and there, but it was not for these little plants, though they gladden the eye, that so much work was undertaken – the sower had a different purpose, and this came as a bonus.
You shouldn’t expect your work to make you rich, powerful, or famous. These things are ultimately outside your control and therefore pointless to worry about.
So, instead of worrying about external validation, focus entirely on the work itself. And if only a few people appreciate your work, so be it. As Seneca puts it:
A few is enough for me; so is one; and so is none.
This perspective has been hugely helpful to me as a writer. Over the years, I’ve written tons of articles that hardly anyone read.
If I focused on how each piece was received, I would’ve probably quit a long time ago. But by focusing on the writing itself, I could keep refining my craft.
And eventually, after tons and tons of writing, I’ve attracted an audience and published three books. But even if no one still read my work, I’d like to believe I’d still be writing.
Because when the work itself is the reward, and any appreciation for it just a bonus, you become unstoppable. You become immune to opinions outside your control and instead derive deep satisfaction from the work itself.
3. Eliminate the Unessential
‘If you seek tranquillity, do less.’ Or (more accurately) do what’s essential – what the reason of a social being requires, and in the requisite way. Which brings a double satisfaction: to do less, better.
People often complain that they don’t have enough time. But that’s not true. We all have the same amount of time every day. The difference lies in how we spend it. As Seneca puts it:
We are not given a short life but we make it short, and we are not ill-supplied but wasteful of it. Life is long if you know how to use it.
If you want to realize your potential and make the most out of life, you must focus on what’s important. You need to cut away the distractions so you can spend your limited time and energy where it matters.
So, get really good at saying no. Clarify your most important objectives and eliminate everything else. Do less, and do it better. If you do, you’ll be amazed at how much you can accomplish.
4. Strive for Moderation
Your food should appease your hunger, your drink quench your thirst, your clothing keep out the cold, your house be a protection against inclement weather. It makes no difference whether it is built of turf or of variegated marble imported from another country: what you have to understand is that thatch makes a person just as good a roof as gold does.
In Greek philosophy, temperance was one of the “cardinal virtues2;” an essential trait necessary for a good life. And Stoicism was made no exception to this.
According to the Stoics, a peaceful and stable life requires balance. And to attain that balance, you need to strive for moderation in your thoughts and actions. You should do what’s necessary, and do away with what’s extravagant.
Eat to fulfill your hunger — don’t gorge after you’re full. Dress respectfully — don’t show up in rags nor extravagant clothing. Furnish your house with what’s necessary — don’t fill it with flashy stuff.
By practicing moderation, you’ll have fewer possessions to lose and a stronger character to rely on. And that will help you stand strong against the whims of Fortune and the challenges in life.
5. Make the Most of Every Moment
No carelessness in your actions. No confusion in your words. No imprecision in your thoughts.
The Stoics taught that you have to avoid wasting your time on random and half-hearted actions. Life can end at any moment, so you need to be purposeful in everything you do. As Seneca puts it:
What is the purpose of my labors going to be? See, this day’s my last – or maybe it isn’t, but it’s not so far away from it.
Even though death can strike at any minute, most people spend their time aimlessly and randomly.
Don’t fall into that trap. Be deliberate, focused, and present in what you do. If you have particular objectives in life, direct every action toward achieving them.
Use your awareness of death as a driving force in life. Make the most out of every moment, because you never know when your final one comes.
How to Realize Your Potential, In Summary
- Fulfill your duty as a human. Get up, go to work, and do your part to set the world in order.
- Let your work be your reward. Instead of seeking external validation, focus entirely on the work itself.
- Eliminate the unessential. Clarify your most important objectives and eliminate everything else.
- Strive for moderation. Do what’s necessary, and do away with what’s extravagant.
- Make the most of every moment. Life can end at any time, so be purposeful in everything you do.