Wasting Our Lives Is Not Our Right

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”Consider, for example, the times of Vespasian. Thou wilt see all these things, people marrying, bringing up children, sick, dying, warring, feasting, trafficking, cultivating the ground, flattering, obstinately arrogant, suspecting, plotting, wishing for some to die, grumbling about the present, loving, heaping up treasure, desiring counsulship, kingly power. Well then, that life of these people no longer exists at all. Again, remove to the times of Trajan. Again, all is the same. Their life too is gone. In like manner view also the other epochs of time and of whole nations, and see how many after great efforts soon fell and were resolved into the elements. But chiefly thou shouldst think of those whom thou hast thyself known distracting themselves about idle things, neglecting to do what was in accordance with their proper constitution, and to hold firmly to this and to be content with it. And herein it is necessary to remember that the attention given to everything has its proper value and proportion. For thus thou wilt not be dissatisfied, if thou appliest thyself to smaller matters no further than is fit.”

Meditations 4.32

Think of the times of the past which were great, or the ones that were not so great, and recognize first that all the same nonsense going on today was going on then. Wars, check. Plagues and pandemics, check. Arrogant and oppressive men seeking power, and killing for that power. Check, check, check, and check. Raising children, check. Feasting, check. Farming, check. Wealth, marriage, and travel, check, check, and check.

What are we, really? And is what we are that different from what we were? We was in the morning, we labor to earn money, we spend money on things, we go to bed, we do it all over again the next day. Over time we try to accumulate some sort of meaningful wealth to leave to our children, something to pass on—an inheritance of money, or maybe a business, or maybe just a few ideas and talents. And then we die. It’s all almost exactly the same. Sure, Ancient Greek and Roman kids probably played “let’s see how far we can throw this rock” while we play “Call of Duty” on our 70” screens and thousand dollar gaming systems, but it’s the same isn’t it: kids spend their time doing useless things… then they grow up and do all those things I mentioned before.

There’s no future where this isn’t what people do all day, or, at the very least, there’s been no historical past where it isn’t exactly what people have done. Wake, eat, work, earn, spend, eat, reproduce, sleep, repeat. We’ve always wondered how the world got here, and we always will. We’ve always tried to understand that natural world around us, and we always will. We’ve always had corrupts tyrants and brave freedom fighters, and we always will.

I’m not special, am I? No. And neither are you. You parents might feel that you are, they may even tell you that you are, but you’re no more or less special than anyone of the billions of people who have died and whose remains are still buried beneath our feet. We are nothing of great import, we are just living, reasoning, conscious beings making our way through time in whatever ways we’re moved to or required to.

But don’t necessarily focus just on that, though all that is important to keep in mind—that you are just as temporary of all of history—focus also on the people around you who are wasting their time every moment of ever day.

And I’m going to get a little frustrated here because I see it all the time and it’s sad and terrible. Netflix, TikTok, Twitter outrage, minding other peoples business, binging nonsense, drinking our youth away, or our middle or old age away, focusing on material possessions, on taking photos of ourselves in cool places to impress our friends… I mean what the hell are we doing? Drifting? Is life a lazy river? I mean, maybe you think it is and that’s great, be a lazy sloth and do nothing with your life but enjoy it… but what a waste of a life, what an insanely selfish thing to want to do… to “enjoy” your life and have that be the prime directive of your existence—as if it’s some how excusable to do nothing that makes you uncomfortable, poor, hurt, angry, or sad because that’s not “good mental health.” You know where good mental health comes from? It doesn’t come from never doing anything hard, or avoid everything that hurts, it comes from achieving stuff, and you can’t achieve stuff if all you want to do is t take vacations and spa days to “treat yourself” because “self-care” is important.

Self-care happens 100% of the time if you spend just 10% of your life doing things to improve yourself and the lives of others. If you spent just 2-hours a day doing something to make yourself better or make someone else’s life less difficult, you’d never have to take a spa day in your life. You’d never feel exhausted, you’d never feel like you weren’t making a difference, you’d never feel like you were treading water or wasting you life.

So here’s your homework, starting today, I want you to spend 2-hours on yourself and others every day this week. I don’t care how you split it up, how you divide it, I don’t care what form it takes, but here’s an example. Wake up in the morning and do 20 pushup, then eat something healthy for breakfast. Then on your way to work stop and pick up a piece of trash that’s blowing around in the street. When you stop for coffee, buy a cup for the person behind you too, give a homeless guy $5, take your lunch break on-time, look for opportunities to help someone out when you don’t have to, then go home, read something that makes you smarter, watch a documentary, call your mom or your sister, cook a healthy dinner for yourself, and then, at the end of the day, sit down and write out how your life mattered that day.

We have got to stop feeling like life is something we have a right to waste—you want to see the world get better, participate in it, in whatever way you can. Put away you social media apps, put away your negative commentary on how everyone else is terrible, and just look around at what you can do to make yourself, others, and the world better… then do those things. You’ll feel better in no time, and you’ll BE better in no time, and that’s how the ancient Stoics would want us to be living our lives… no matter what time period we’re living in… improving ourselves, helping others, and focusing on how we can be useful to the world around us.

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The book I read these meditations from : http://classics.mit.edu/Antoninus/meditations.html

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About the author

Tanner Campbell

Hi, I'm Tanner. I spend most of my time writing in the philosophy space and I'm the host of the Practical Stoicism podcast. When I'm not writing, I'm reading or recording. In rare moments when I'm not writing, reading, or recording, I'm spending time with my partner and our dogs.

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