On the Shortness of Life | Seneca


Published in: 2005

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”De Brevitate Viate” (the original title) was written by Seneca the Younger, a Roman Stoic philosopher, about 50 years after Christ was born. The book is about stoic principles about the nature of time and man’s waste of his life. The thesis is that nature has given us long enough time to live, but that most of us do not know how to live. Although the book is almost 2,000 years old, it is still very current.

LIFE IS LONG ENOUGH. Seneca believes that many live as if they will live forever. That many let life flow without caring much about what does, and does not, make them happy. They waste time as if time were infinite. In addition, they hold tight to their property, but are unreasonably generous with their time – even though the latter is in many ways the most valuable thing they have. Seneca believes that it is only a short time of our lives we live – the rest of the time is not life, it is just time.

”But life is very short and anxious for those who forget the past, neglect the present, and fear the future. When they come to the end of it, the poor wretches realize too late that for all this time they have been preoccupied in doing nothing.”

DO NOT HOLD BACK. As if the waste of time were not enough, Seneca believes that many behave as mortals when it comes to what they consider important in life. Many holds back, comes up with excuses and takes no risks. Many people go and think “when I’m 50 I should do x”. We behave as mortals in everything we are afraid of, and as immortals in everything we desire. We do not live as we want, we live as we have ever begun. Then we contend ourselves and park comfortably on the curve of life.

DO NOT POSTPONE LIFE. Seneca believes that many people live too much in the future. They sacrifice everything of the present to improve the future – a future that is far from guaranteed. He writes “putting things off is the biggest waste of life: it snatches away each day as it comes and denies us the present by promising the future”. Instead, time is best used by living in the present in the pursuit of the purposeful and purposeful life. The braver you are, the happier you become.

PLAN FOR A STORM. Seneca writes “A great number of people plan a sea voyage with no thought of a storm”. We do not want to be the one who, when a serious illness strikes us, suddenly comes to our mortality. We must be prepared for a storm to come – the question is not if, the question is when.

DO A LIFE AUDIT. Everyone should specify how much of their lives they have spent on work, family, social contexts, as happy, as worried or in laziness. After all this – how much time was actually left for ourselves? Often only a few leftover crumbs remained. Seneca believes that just because a man has white hair, he does not have to have lived long, he has often only existed for a long time. His only proof of a long life is his age.

WE CAN CHOOSE WHOSE CHILD WE ARE. We cannot choose our parents, but we can choose whose children we want to be. By studying the great thinkers of world history, we can get to know them and become friends with them. They will never be too busy to meet us and will make us happier and wiser. By choosing to be adopted by them, we will not only inherit their name but also their property. Not only do we live our own lives, but we can also add to the years that passed before we were born.

“If you apply yourself to study you will avoid all boredom with life, you will not long for night because you are sick of daylight, you will be neither a burden to yourself nor useless to others, you will attract many to become your friends and the fines people will flock about you.”

FOCUS & REST. He who is constantly busy and distracted does not absorb new knowledge. On the contrary, the mind pushes away what is being pushed in. We must have a clear goal picture of what we want to achieve and then focus on working towards it – with aggressively minimizing the distractions that try to take our time. But in addition to focus, rest is important. Our mind is like a fertile farmland – uninterrupted effort will deplete it.

LONELINESS & TOGETHERNESS. Seneca believes that we must vary solitude in dealing with people. One makes us long for people and the other makes us long for ourselves, one is a cure for the other; loneliness cures our distaste for the crowd, and the crowd cures the boredom of loneliness.

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