Seneca was a Stoic philosopher who lived in Ancient Rome from 4 B.C.E. to 65 C.E. While his ideas are 2000 years old, they are now more relevant than ever.
In this article, I’ll share 5 life-changing lessons I’ve learned from Seneca. These ideas have the power to change your life.
1. Detach your self-worth from your material success
Our society is obsessed with money, status, and materialism.
As a result, we equate those things with our self-worth. “If you’re not rich you’re worthless” is the thinking that limits many people.
Seneca urged us to look beyond this superficial measure. As he wrote in On The Happy Life:
“For the wise man does not consider himself unworthy of any gifts from Fortune’s hands: he does not love wealth but he would rather have it; he does not admit into his heart but into his home; and what wealth is his he does not reject but keeps, wishing it to supply greater scope for him to practice his virtue.”
The stoics have sometimes been misunderstood to be overly frugal. But as Seneca mentioned, the wise man does not refuse “gifts from Fortune’s hands.”
It’s practical to build wealth because it allows us to “practice our virtue.” In my case, being financially free helps me to focus more on writing and creating valuable content for my readers.
But money shouldn’t dictate our self-worth and how we treat others. As Seneca said, let wealth-building into your home — but not into your heart. Use money; don’t let it use you.
Do what YOU value. Become someone you’re proud of.
2. Strive for financial independence (but not at all cost)
Again, there’s nothing wrong with acquiring wealth. In fact, I think that’s a worthy aim in life.
But not at all costs. Money is a tool, not an end. Seneca emphasized that one should strive to gain financial independence and security by desiring less and living within one’s means.
“The greatest wealth is a poverty of desires.”
The Stoics didn’t denounce wealth. They denounced excessive pleasure and spending. If you desire too much wealth and luxury, you will forget about the important things in life.
Things like your relationships, character, and your overall well-being.
To build wealth like a Stoic, spend less than you earn, and prioritize saving and investing. This doesn’t mean you should lead a life of severe frugality; simply find a balance.
3. Make an impact on others
This principle is about empathy, community, and understanding that we’re all interconnected. As Seneca said:
“You must live for your neighbor if you would live for yourself.”
Here’s the thing: Genuine success and happiness are all about being useful to others. When our actions positively contribute to the lives of others, the benefits also return to us.
The most successful businesses thrive because billions of people use them for various things. When I started my blog in 2015, I focused on providing value to others. I offered hundreds of free articles. After millions of people read my work, they now buy my books, courses, etc.
Interestingly, the more value you provide to others, the more successful and happier you become.
4. Be content with what you have
Seneca taught that happiness doesn’t come from always wanting more, but appreciating what we already have. Contentment comes from understanding and valuing our present achievements, rather than constantly striving for the next big thing.
We all want a bit more. That’s just natural. We want a bit more income to buy the stuff we want; more time to achieve more things; more strength and stamina to experience more of life, and so forth.
And here’s the thing: It’s okay to strive for these goals. We don’t have to let ourselves stagnate. But we also need to take some time to appreciate what we already have.
It’s something I like to journal about regularly. I look back and see how far I’ve come from when I started. When you’re consistent in executing your goals, you’ll go far, even little by little. And that’s something to be grateful for.
5. Value your time more than your possessions
Time is the most valuable asset we have. And just like money, some people find there’s “too little time.” But Seneca said it well when he wrote:
“We are not given a short life but we make it short, and we are not ill-supplied but wasteful of it… Life is long if you know how to use it.”
Unlike material possessions, time is something we can’t get back once it’s gone. It’s essential to use it wisely, prioritizing meaningful activities and relationships over trivial matters.
Inner world vs outer world
Seneca was highly focused on the inner world. He believed that we must have a philosophy for life, and stick to it.
The outer world often comprises what other people say, think, and do. But those things aren’t important to the Stoic.
Instead, focus more on yourself. Wake up every day doing what you set out to do.
When you live like that, you’ll eventually feel a true sense of satisfaction.