As a stoic, Marcus Aurelius believed in self-awareness and growth through a deep reflection and understanding of ones thoughts. His book Meditations in many ways serves as a manual for how to think about and approach the world as a stoic. His book was originally a place for him to collect the lessons of his life so that he could continually return to thoughts of how he could live better. He stresses a sense of contentedness with the present moment, and provides examples where we can shift our thoughts to be more fulfilled with the experiences, and lives that we live.
Regarding doing good acts and how we should view our actions when we are doing something positive Aurelius wrote, “When thou hast done a good act and another has received it, why dost thou still look for a third thing besides these, as fools do, either to have the reputation of having done a good act or to obtain a return?” What the Emperor was expressing in this section is our desire to have others recognize our positive actions and praise us for them, and our desire to benefit from our good deeds. He is challenging this desire of ours and suggesting that we should simply be happy knowing that we have done something positive for another person. Building this sense of contentedness requires self-reflection and awareness to recognize our thoughts and desires for good karma or recognition. His passage seems to say that doing good should always be enough to satisfy ourselves and our desires. Seeking out a return on our good deeds will not decrease the positivity that we provided to the world, but it will put an undue stress and burden on ourselves, and may cause us to be looked upon by others less favorably.
This quote aligns with the thoughts and recommendations that Aurelius presents throughout Meditations. He encourages us to be content with ourselves and not strive to take action for the purpose of impressing people who are alive or will be alive in the future. Staying present and focusing on the moment in which we live will help us be more genuine in our actions, and will help us maximize our decisions. Building in a sense of self-awareness and abandoning our need for reward or recognition in social settings can allow us to better align our actions with our values. I think that Aurelius would agree with the idea that we would see more positivity in our own lives grow from our good deeds when we do not look for reward or take action with the hopes of receiving reward or recognition.