Marcus Aurelius



23 Oct, 2022

Read time

40 minutes


Meditations by Marcus Aurelius is (probably) the best book ever written. Authored in 170 AD by the most powerful man in the world. And unlike essentially every other book ever written, this was a book never intended for publication. It was not written for an audience, but for the writer himself.

Marcus Aurelius - Meditations

Written by the last Emperor of the Five Good Emperors of Rome, Meditations is a book of short sayings. It’s not organized by theme, but certain ideas keep popping up throughout, indicating that he thought them the most important for him (and therefore us) to understand and incorporate into our lives.

A lot of people say that Meditations had a huge impact on their lives. Some examples are:

  • Theodore Roosevelt took Meditations with him on expeditions.
  • Former United States Secretary of Defense James Mattis carried his own personal copy throughout his deployments as a Marine Corps officer.
  • Former prime minister of China, Wen Jiabao read it over 100 times
  • United States President Bill Clinton said that Meditations is his favorite book.
  • J.K. Rowling
  • Nick Saban (American football coach)
  • ...

Best Quotes by Marcus Aurelius

If you won’t keep track of what your own soul’s doing how can you not be unhappy?

The best revenge is not to be like that.

Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.

Your soul takes on the color of your thoughts.

The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts.

What stands in our way, becomes the way

Think of yourself as dead, You have lived your life. Now take what’s left and live properly.

You could be good today. But instead, you choose tomorrow.

A rock thrown in the air loses nothing by coming down, gained nothing by going up.

Stop talking about what a good man should be. And just be one.

It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live.

It’s silly to try to escape other people’s faults. They are inescapable. Just try to escape your own.

Learn to ask of all actions, “Why are they doing that?” Starting with your own.

Practice even what seems impossible. The left hand is useless at almost everything, for lack of practice. But it guides the reins better than the right. From practice.

The tranquility that comes when you stop caring what they say. Or think, or do. Only what you do. Not to be distracted by their darkness. To run straight for the finish line, unswerving.

Meditation (12 books)

Book 1: Debts and Lessons

The recognition that I needed to train and discipline my character.

To read attentively — not to be satisfied with “just getting the gist of it.” And not to fall for every smooth talker.

Learn how to accept favors from friends without losing your self-respect or appearing ungrateful.

Kindness. To show sympathy for friends, and tolerance for amateurs and sloppy thinkers. Not to display anger or other emotions. To be free of passion and yet full of love.

Do not be a pessimist, and never doubt your friends’ affection for you.

Do your job without whining.

Listen to anyone who could contribute to the public good.

Never use ‘I am too busy’ or similar excuses of ‘pressure by circumstances’ to avoid certain situations.

Book 2

Written among the Quadi on the River Gran

When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: The people I deal with today will be invasive, ungrateful, arrogant dishonest, jealous, and ill-tempered. They are like this because they can’t tell good from evil. But we have a share of nature in common. And so none of them can hurt me. No one can implicate me in ugliness.

We are born for cooperation, like feet and hands. So to work in opposition to one another is against nature, and anger or rejection is opposition.

Remember how long you’ve been putting this off, there is a limit to the time assigned to you and if you don’t use it to free yourself it will be gone and will never return.

Do external things distract you? Then make time for yourself to learn something worthwhile. Stop letting yourself be pulled in all directions but make sure you guard against the other kind of confusion.

People who labor all their lives but have no purpose to direct every thought and impulse toward are wasting their time — even when hard at work.

If you won’t keep track of what your own soul’s doing how can you not be unhappy?

You could leave life at any moment. Let that determine what you do and say and think. If the gods exist then to abandon human beings is not frightening.

All you have to do is to be attentive to the power inside you and worship it sincerely.

Even if you’re going to live three thousand more years remember: you cannot lose another life than the one you’re living now, or live another one than the one you’re losing. The present is the same for everyone, its loss is the same for everyone.

Remember two things about dying:

  • Everything has always been the same, and keeps recurring (doesn't matter if the cycle is every hundred or every thousand years)
  • The longest-lived and those who will die soonest lose the same thing.

Philosophy accepts death in a cheerful spirit. If it doesn't hurt the individual elements to change continually into one another, why are people afraid of all of them? It’s a natural thing. And nothing natural is evil.

Book 3

Written in Carnuntum

This part of the meditations is mostly focused on living in the present and remembering that you are going to die someday. The good principles in Book 3 are all that is needed for a happy life. It's also important to remember that we only live in the tiny space of the present time.

We need to hurry. Not only because we are getting closer to death every day, but also because our understanding — our grasp of the world — may be gone before we arrive.

Marcus displays more indifference to death. He gives examples of great men who died in ironic ways to show that life and death don't really matter.

We should remember that even Nature’s carelessness has its own charm, its own attractiveness.

Don’t waste the rest of your time here worrying about other people(’s opinions or thoughts). It will keep you from doing something useful, or you will limit yourself in what you could become.

Marcus throws out a challenge to himself:

If you can find a better life than one lived in harmony with your rational mind, then follow it.

How to act:

  • Never under compulsion, our of selfishness without forethought
  • No surplus words of unnecessary actions
  • Let the spirit in you represent as a person, an adult, a citizen and a ruler.
  • Cheerfulness. Without requiring other people’s help
  • To stand up straight and accept life as it is and take responsibility for everything.

Never regard something as doing you good if it makes you betray trust, or lose your sense of shame, or makes you show hatred, ill will, or hypocrisy.

Keep yourself free of distractions, and keep the spirit inside you undamaged, as if you might have to give it back at any moment.

Book 4

People try to get away from it all—to the city, beach, or mountains. You always wish that you could too. Which is ridiculous because you can get away from it whenever you want. By going within. Nowhere is more peaceful—free of interruptions—than your own soul.

What’s there to complain about? Take into consideration:

  • that rational beings exist for one another;
  • that doing what's right sometimes requires patience;
  • that no one does the wrong thing deliberately;

Death: something like birth, a natural mystery, elements that split and recombine. Not an embarrassing thing. Not an offense to reason or our nature.\

Choose not to be harmed—and you won't feel harmed. Don't feel harmed and you haven't been.

It can ruin your life only if it ruins your character. Otherwise, it cannot harm you—inside or out.

Do you have a mind? Yes? Well, why not use it? Isn't that all you want—for it to do it’s job?

Look into their minds, at what the wise do and what they don’t.

Take the shortest route that nature has planned for you. To speak and act in the healthiest way. Do that, and be free of pain and stress, free of all calculation and pretension.

Book 5 (!)

Book five is my personal favorite out of the twelve. This one shows how much of the ancient wisdom is actually still relevant today, almost 2000 years later!

Each morning, 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 about if I'm going to do what I was born for? Or is this what I was created for? To huddle under the blankets and stay warm?”

“But it’s nicer here”: So you were born to feel nice? Instead of doing things and experiencing them? Don't you see the plants, the birds, the bees, and the spiders doing their individual tasks, putting the world in order? And you're not willing to do your job as a human being?

“But we have to sleep sometime”: Agreed. But nature set a limit on that, just like with eating and drinking. And you're over your sleep limit. But not of working, there you're still below your quota.

People who love what they do wear themselves down doing it; they even forget to wash or eat.

If an action is appropriate, then it's appropriate for you. Don't be put off by other people's comments and criticism. Don't be distracted. Keep walking. Follow your own nature and Nature itself—along the road they share.

The doctor prescribes such-and-such for a person, say this: “Nature prescribed illness for him.”.

There are two reasons to embrace everything:

  • It's happening to you, prescribed for you and it relates to you.
  • What happens to an individual is a cause of well-being in what directs the world of its well-being

Do not feel defeated because your days aren’t packed with wise and moral actions. But to get back up when you fail, to celebrate behaving like a human being—however imperfectly—and fully embrace the pursuit that you've embarked on.

Do not get impatient and take refuge in these two things:

  • Nothing can happen to me that isn't natural
  • No one can force me to do anything that my spirit doesn't approve

No one can keep me from doing what I want.

What am I doing with my soul? Interrogate yourself, to find out what inhabits your mind and what kind of life you have now. A child soul? A tyrant's soul?

Nothing pertains to human beings except what defines us as human. No other things can be demanded of us.

The things you think about determine the quality of your mind. The mind is the ruler of the soul.

Your soul takes on the color of your thoughts.

Nothing happens to anyone that he can’t endure.

What stands in our way, becomes the way


  • Matter. How tiny you share of it.
  • Time. How brief and fleeting your allotment of it.
  • Fate. How small a role you play in it.

So other people try to hurt me? That's their problem. Their character and actions are not mine.

Consider all that you've gone through, all that you've survived.

You'll soon be ashes or bones.

Two characteristics shared by gods and humans:

  • Not to let others hold you back.
  • To locate goodness in thinning and doing the right thing and limit your desires to that.

If: this evil is not of my doing, nor the result of it, and the community is not endangered, why should it bother me?

Do not be overwhelmed by what you imagine, but just do what you can and should.

True good fortune is what you make for yourself. Good fortune: good character, good intentions, and good actions.

Book 6

The best revenge is not to be like that.

Perceptions, latching onto things and piercing through them, so we see what they really are. That's what we need to do all the time. Like seeing roasted meat and suddenly realizing: this is a dead fish, bird or pig. When we strip things bare, we see how pointless they are.

Don't assume it's impossible because you find it hard. But recognize that if it's humanly possible, you can do it too.

Remember, your responsibilities can be broken down into individual parts. Concentrate on those and finish the job without getting stirred up or meeting anger with anger.

Death. The end of sense-perception of being controlled by our emotions, of mental activity of enslavement to our bodies.

Disgraceful: for the soul to give up when the body is still going strong.

Awaken; return to yourself. Now, no longer asleep, knowing they were only dreams, clear-headed again, treat everything around you as a dream.

You take things you don't control and define them as good or bad. And of course, when the bad things happen, or the good ones don't, you blame the people responsible or those you decide to make accountable. If we limited good and bad to our own actions we’d have no reason to treat other people as enemies.

When you need encouragement, think of the qualities the people around you have: this one's energy, this one's modesty, another's generosity, and so on. Nothing is as encouraging as when virtues are visibly embodied in the people around us when we're practically showered with them.

Practice really hearing what people say. Do your best to get inside their minds.

Book 7

Don't be ashamed to ask for help. Like a soldier storming a wall, you have a mission to accomplish. And if you've been wounded and you need a comrade to pull you up, so what?

Frightened of change? But what can exist without it? Can you eat food without transforming it? Can any vital process take place without something being changed? Can’t you see? It's just the same with you—and just as vital to nature.

Anger in the face is unnatural. Or, in the end, it is extinguished permanently so that it can’t be rekindled. Try to conclude its unnaturalness from that.

When people injure you, ask yourself what good or harm they thought would come of it. If you understand that, you'll feel sympathy rather than outrage or anger. In some cases, your sense of good and evil may be the same as theirs, in which case you have to excuse them. Or, your sense of good and evil may differ from theirs. In which case, they're misguided and deserve your compassion.

To direct your thoughts to what is said. To focus the mind on what happens and what makes it happen.

Unendurable pain brings its own end with it. Chronic pain is always endurable: intelligence maintains peace by cutting itself off from the body, and the mind remains undiminished. And keep in mind that pain often comes in disguise—as drowsiness, fever, loss of appetite, …

Everywhere, at each moment, you have the option:

  • to accept this event with humility
  • to treat this person as he should be treated
  • to approach this thought with care, so that nothing irrational creeps in

Think of yourself as dead, You have lived your life. Now take what’s left and live properly.

Draw your own boundaries. Place your own well-being in your own hands. It's quite possible to be a good man without anyone realizing it. You don't need much to live happily. Live in peace, immune to all compulsion.

It's silly to try to escape other people's faults. They are inescapable. Just try to escape your own.

No one objects to what is useful to him. Being of use to others is natural. Then don't object to what is useful to you—being of use.

Book 8

Forget what they think of you. Be satisfied if you can live the rest of your life, however short, as your nature demands. Focus on that and don't let anything distract you.

For every action, ask: How does it affect me? Could I change my mind about it?

Don't be anxious. Nature controls it all. Now concentrate on what you have to do.

Don't be overheard complaining about life. Not even to yourself.

Remember that changing your mind and accepting correction are free acts too.

Blame no one. Where does blaming people get you?

This is what you deserve. You could be good today. But instead, you choose tomorrow.

Either pain affects the body or it affects the soul. But the soul can choose not to be affected. All of our decisions, urges, and desires lie within. No evil can touch them.

You have to assemble your life yourself—action by action. And be satisfied if each one achieves its goal. No one can keep that from happening.

If you accept the obstacle and work with what you're given, an alternative will present itself as another piece of what you're trying to assemble. Action by action.

Don't let your imagination be crushed by life as a whole. Don't try to imagine everything bad that could possibly happen. Stick with the situation at hand and ask, “Why is this so unbearable? Why can't I endure it? “ You’ll be embarrassed by the answer.

Give yourself a gift: the present moment.

External things are not the problem. It's your assessment of them. Which you can erase right now.

Fear of death is fear of what we may experience. Nothing at all, or something quite new. But if we experience nothing, we can experience nothing bad. And if our experience changes then our existence will change with it—change but not cease.

Even when pausing, even when weighing conclusions, the mind is moving forward, toward its goal.

To enter others’ minds and let them enter yours.

Book 9

To fear pain is to fear something that's bound to happen.

Real good luck would be to abandon life without ever encountering dishonesty, hypocrisy, or pride.

Don't look down on death but welcome it. It too is one of the things required by nature. Like youth and old age. Like growth and maturity. Like all the other physical changes at each stage of life. Our dissolution is no different.

To do harm is to do yourself harm.

You can commit injustice by doing nothing.

Turn your desire to stone. Quench your appetites. Keep your mind centered on itself.

“Today, I escaped from anxiety”, Marcus says. “Oh no, I discarded it, because it was within me, in my own perceptions—not outside”.

A rock thrown in the air loses nothing by coming down, gained nothing by going up.

Every transformation is a kind of dying. Was that so terrible?

Identify the purpose of things—what makes it what it is.

When you face someone's insults, hatred, whatever… look at his soul. Get inside him. Look at what sort of person he is. You'll find you don't need to strain to impress him.

You can discard most of the junk that clutters your mind:

  • by comprehending the scale of the world
  • by contemplating the infinite time
  • by thinking of the speed with which things change

When you call someone "untrustworthy” or "ungrateful”, turn the reproach on yourself. It was you who did wrong. By assuming that someone with those traits deserved your trust, Or by doing them a favor and expecting something in return instead of looking to the action itself for your reward.

Book 10

If it's endurable, then endure it. Stop complaining. If it's unendurable… then stop complaining.

Just remember: you can endure anything your mind can make endurable by treating it as in your interest to do so.

Whatever happens to you has been waiting to happen since the beginning of time.

Does it make any difference to you if other people blame you for doing what's right? It makes no difference.

Stop talking about what a good man should be. And just be one.

To feel grief anger or fear is to try to escape from something enacted by the ruler of all things, now or in the past, or in the future.

Stop whatever you're doing for a moment and ask yourself: Am I afraid of death because I won't be able to do this anymore?

It doesn't matter how good a life you've led. There'll still be people standing around the bed who will welcome the sad event.

Learn to ask all actions, “Why are they doing that?” Starting with your own.

Book 11

Characteristics of the rational soul:

  • Self-perception
  • Self-examination
  • The power to make of itself whatever it wants
  • It reaches its intended goal no matter where the limit of its life is set
  • Affection for its neighbors. Truthfulness. Humility, Not placing anything above itself.
  • Doesn't give up

People will stand in your way, They can't keep you from doing what is healthy; don't let them stop you from putting up with them either.

Someone despises me? Their problem. Someone hates me? Their problem. Be patient and cheerful with everyone, including them. Ready to show them their mistake.

A straightforward, honest person should be like someone who thinks: when you’re in the same room with him, you know it.

It is we who generate the judgments—inscribing them on ourselves. And we don't have to.

Why is it so hard when things go against you? If it's imposed by nature, accept it gladly and stop fighting it. It is not forbidden for any of us to seek our own good. Even if cowardice has kept you from them, Or fear of what people would say. Or some equally bad reason.

When you lose your temper or even feel irritated remember that human life is very short. It's not what they do that bothers us: It's our own misperceptions. Discard them.

Kindness is invincible, provided its sincere.

Your spirit and the fire contained within you are drawn by their nature upward.

If you don't have a consistent goal in life you cant live it in a consistent way.

The goal should be a common one—a civic one.

Socrates used to call popular beliefs “The monsters under the bed”— only useful for frightening children with.

Book 12

If it isn't ceasing to live that you’re afraid of but never beginning to live properly.

We all love ourselves more than other people but care more about their opinion than our own.

To be angry at something means you've forgotten:

  • That everything that happens is natural
  • That the responsibility is theirs not yours

An incentive to treat death as unimportant: even people whose only morality is pain an d pleasure can manage that much.

Make your exit out of this live with grave—the same grace shown to you.