Marcus Aurelius on Brevity

In his common place book, published after his death with the title Meditations, Marcus Aurelius continually returned to the idea of our death and the short period of time that we spend on Earth.  He had a very realistic sense for how short our time here is, and how we should think about that time.  Our mortality can be a difficult subject to think about and focus on, but Aurelius was in many ways fascinated by the recognition of his mortality and what that meant for the life he lead.


Aurelius wrote, “Everything is only for a day, both that which remembers and that which is remembered.” In his quote he is showing that not only is our life short, but the lives of those who will remember us are also short. Not long after we have passed away, those who follow us will pass away. Living for legacy and trying to live to be remembered and venerated for eternity is a wasteful approach to life because you will never be able to control what is remembered and exactly how you are remembered.


Throughout meditations Aurelius writes about living in the present and being content with the life that you have. By focusing on our thoughts and changing the perspectives we foster, we can better understand our place in the world and our motivations.  Accepting that we will have an end, and that our memory will be forgotten is difficult, but it is an honest reality that we should embrace.  When we accept our mortality and the brevity of our lives, each moment can become more important and special, helping us better use our time to improve the direction and focus of our actions.

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