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60 Best Quotes From “Meditations” by Marcus Aurelius

Thinking Man Statue, an ode to philosophy.

Marcus Aurelius was Roman emperor from 161 to 180 and a Stoic philosopher. He was the last of the rulers known as the Five Good Emperors (a term coined some 13 centuries later by Niccolò Machiavelli), and the last emperor of the Pax Romana, an age of relative peace and stability for the Roman Empire lasting from 27 BC to 180 AD. He served as Roman consul in 140, 145, and 161. (Source: Marcus Aurelius Wikipedia)

Meditations is a collection of philosophical writings by Aurelius for his own personal guidance and self-improvement. As the translator notes, it is not clear that Aurelius ever intended his work to be published. This week, I read the entire translation by Gregory Hays and noted my favorite quotes. The collection is full of timeless practical wisdom and provocative statements on self-control, integrity, relationships, and mental health.

Some of these gems have already made their rounds on social media, while others are lesser known.

Marble Bust of Marcus Aurelius (121 AD to 180 AD) from Musée Saint-Raymond, Toulouse, France

60 Best Quotes From Meditations by Marcus Aurelius (Gregory Hays Translation)

When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: the people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous, and surly. They are like this because they can’t tell good from evil.


No one can implicate me in ugliness. Nor can I feel angry at my relative, or hate him. We were born to work together like feet, hands, and eyes, like the two rows of teeth, upper and lower. To obstruct each other is unnatural. To feel anger at someone, to turn your back on him: these are obstructions.


Stop allowing your mind to be a slave, to be jerked about by selfish impulses, to kick against fate and the present, and to mistrust the future. 


Everyone gets one life. Yours is almost used up, and instead of treating yourself with respect, you have entrusted your own happiness to the souls of others.


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. 


Theophrastus is right, and philosophically sound, to say that the sin committed out of pleasure deserves a harsher rebuke than the one committed out of pain. The angry man is more like a victim of wrongdoing, provoked by pain to anger. The other man rushes into wrongdoing on his own, moved to action by desire.


Remember than the longest-lived and those who will die soonest lose the same thing. The present is all that they can give up, since that is all you have, and what you do not have, you cannot lose.


Don’t waste the rest of your time here worrying about other people—unless it affects the common good. It will keep you from doing anything useful. You’ll be too preoccupied with what so-and-so is doing, and why, and what they’re saying, and what they’re thinking, and what they’re up to, and all the other things that throw you off and keep you from focusing on your own mind.


People try to get away from it all—to the country, to the beach, to the mountains. You always wish that you could too. Which is idiotic: you can get away from it anytime you like. by going within.


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.


Now they see you as a beast, a monkey. But in a week they’ll think you’re a god—if you rediscover your beliefs and honor the logos.


The tranquility that comes when you stop caring what they say. Or think, or only what you do. (Is this fair? Is this the right thing to do?)


Beautiful things of any kind are beautiful in themselves and sufficient to themselves. Praise is extraneous. The object of praise remains what it was—no better and no worse.


“If you seek tranquility, do less.” Or (more accurately), do what’s essential. Because most of what we say and do is not essential. If you can eliminate it, you’ll have more time ,and more tranquility. Ask yourself at every moment, “Is this necessary?”


And then you might see what the life of the good man is like—someone content with what nature assigns him, and satisfied with being just and kind himself.


Nothing that goes on in anyone else’s mind can harm you. Nor can the shifts and changes in the world around you. —Then where is harm to be found? In your capacity to see it. Stop doing that and everything will be fine.


To be like the rock that the waves keep crashing over. It stands unmoved and the raging of the sea falls still around it.


So remember this principle when something threatens to cause you pain: the thing itself was no misfortune at all; to endure it and prevail is great good fortune.


Our lifetime is so brief. And to live it out in these circumstances, among these people, in this body? Nothing to get excited about.


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?” —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 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? . . . You don’t love yourself enough. Or you’d love your nature too, and what it demands of you.”


To shrug it all off and wipe it clean—every annoyance and distraction—and reach utter stillness. Child’s play. 


I can keep from doing anything that God and my own spirit don’t approve. No one can force me to.


Interrogate yourself, to find out what inhabits your so-called mind and what kind of soul you have now. A child’s soul, an adolescent’s, a woman’s? A tyrant’s soul? The soul of a predator—or its prey?


Nothing happens to anyone that he can’t endure. The same thing happens to other people, and they weather it unharmed—out of sheer obliviousness or because they want to display “character.” Is wisdom really so much weaker than ignorance and vanity?


So other people hurt me? That’s their problem. Their character and actions are not mine. What is done to me is ordained by nature, what I do by my own.


The best revenge is not to be like that.


Pride is a master of deception: when you think you’re occupied in the weightiest business, that’s when he has you in his spell.


Not to assume it’s impossible because you find it hard. But to recognize that if it’s humanly possible, you can do it too.


When you need encouragement, think of the qualities the people around you have: this one’s energy, that 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.


You don’t have to turn this into something. It doesn’t have to upset you. Things can’t shape our decisions by themselves.


You can return to life. Look at things as you did before. And life returns.


Our own worth is measured by what we devote our energy to.


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. Your sense of good and evil may be the same as theirs, or near it, 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. Is that so hard?


Treat what you don’t have as nonexistent.


Wash yourself clean. With simplicity, with humility, with indifference to everything but right and wrong. Care for other human beings. Follow God.


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.


It’s quite possible to be a good man without anyone realizing it.


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


Don’t be overheard complaining about life at court. Not even to yourself.


No truly good person would feel remorse at passing up pleasure.


When we rebel against what happens to us, we segregate ourselves.


External things are not the problem. It’s your assessment of them. Which you can erase right now. If the problem is something in your own character, who’s stopping you from setting your mind straight?


Is it a sign of self-respect to regret nearly everything you do?


To do harm is to do yourself harm. To do an injustice is to do yourself an injustice—it degrades you.


As an antidote to unkindness, [nature] gave us kindness.


Epithets for yourself. Upright. Modest. Straightforward. Sane. Cooperative. Disinterested. Try not to exchange them for others.


To stop talking about what the good man is like, and just be one.


When you look at yourself, see any of the emperors.


A healthy pair of eyes should see everything that can be seen and not say, “No! Too bright!” (which is a symptom of ophthalmia). A healthy sense of hearing or smell should be prepared for any sound or scent; a healthy stomach should have the same reaction to all foods, as a mill to what it grinds. So too a healthy mind should be prepared for anything. The one that keeps saying, “Are my children all right?” or “Everyone must approve of me” is like eyes that can only stand pale colors, or teeth that can handle only mush.


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.


Even with the intelligent and good. Won’t there be someone thinking “Finally! To be through what old schoolteacher. Even though he never said anything, you could always feel him judging you.” And that’s for a good man. How many traits do you have that would make a lot of people glad to be rid of you?


Remember that, when the times comes. You’ll be less reluctant to leave if you can tell yourself, “This is the sort of life I’m leaving. Even the people around me, the ones I spent so much time fighting for, praying over, caring about —even they want me gone, in hopes that it will make their own lives easier. How could anyone stand a longer stay here?”


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


Someone despises me. That’s their problem. Mine: not to do or say anything despicable.


Everything you’re trying to reach—by taking the long way round—you could have right now, this moment. If you’d only stop thwarting your own attempts. If you’d only let go of the past, entrust the future to Providence, and guide the present toward reverence and justice.


It never ceases to amaze me: we all love ourselves more than other people, but care more about their opinion than our 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.


That to expect a bad person not to harm others is like expecting fig trees not to secrete juice, babies not to cry, horses not to neigh—The inevitable not to happen. What else could they do—with that sort of character? If you’re still angry, then get to work on that.


Give yourself a gift: the present moment.

An intellectually curious millennial passionate about seeing people make healthy, informed choices about the moral direction of their lives. When I’m not reading or writing, I enjoy hiking, web-making, learning foreign languages, and watching live sports. Alumnus of Georgetown University (B.S.) and The Ohio State University (M.A.).

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