You’re Dying Before Your Time : Seneca’s Advice

Below are Seneca’s sayings regarding time and life, mostly compiled from the book On The Shortness Of Life.

1.  The time we’re wasting :

“People are frugal in guarding their personal property; but as soon as it comes to squandering time they are most wasteful of the one thing in which it is right to be stingy.”

“Call to mind when you ever had a fixed purpose; when your mind was undisturbed; what work you have achieved in such a long life; how many have plundered your life when you were unaware of your losses; how much you have lost through groundless sorrow, foolish joy, greedy desire, the seductions of society; how little of your own was left to you. You will realize that you are dying before your time!”

“If such people want to know how short their lives are, let them reflect how small a portion is their own.”

2. Time flies, doesn’t it? :

“Life will follow the path it began to take, and will neither reverse nor check its course. It will cause no commotion to remind you of its swiftness, but glide on quietly. It will not lengthen itself for a king’s command or a people’s favor.”

3. Procrastination :

“Putting things off is the biggest waste of life : it snatches away each day as it comes, and denies us the present by promising the future.”

4. Our hopes and preoccupations :

“What will be the outcome? You have been preoccupied while life hastens on. Meanwhile death will arrive, and you have no choice in making yourself available for that.”

“The greatest obstacle to living is expectancy, which hangs upon tomorrow and loses today. You are arranging what lies in Fortune’s control, and abandoning what lies in yours. What are you looking at? To what goal are you straining? The whole future lies in uncertainty : live immediately.”

“(The preoccupied) lose the day in waiting for the night, and the night in fearing the dawn.”

“New preoccupations take place of the old, hope excites more hope, and ambition more ambition. They do not look for an end to their misery, but simply change the reason for it.”

“There will always be causes for anxiety, whether due to prosperity or to wretchedness. Life will be driven on through a succession of preoccupations : we shall always long for leisure, but never enjoy it.”

“Any deferment of the longed-for event is tedious to (the preoccupied). Yet the time of actual enjoyment is short and swift, and made much shorter through their own fault. For they dash from one pleasure to another and cannot stay steady in one desire.” 

5. Our actual needs are small :

“Let us pass on to the rich : how frequently are they just like the poor! When they travel abroad their luggage is restricted, and whenever they are forced to hasten their journey they dismiss their retinue or attendants.”

“Nothing satisfies greed, but even a little satisfies nature.”

“Whatever is best for a human being lies outside human control : it can neither be given nor taken away.”

6. We live day after day sleepwalking :

“Just as travelers are beguiled by conversation or reading or some profound meditation, and find they have arrived at their destination before they knew they were approaching it; so it is with this unceasing and extremely fast-moving journey of life, which sleeping or waking we make at the same pace — the preoccupied become aware of it only when it is over.”

7. Waste no time in pointless knowledge and trivia :

“My advice is really this: what we hear the philosophers saying and what we find in their writings should be applied in our pursuit of the happy life. We should hunt out the helpful pieces of teaching, and the spirited and noble-minded sayings which are capable of immediate practical application—not far-fetched or archaic expressions or extravagant metaphors and figures of speech—and learn them so well that words become works. No one to my mind lets humanity down quite so much as those who study philosophy as if it were a sort of commercial skill and then proceed to live in a quite different manner from the way they tell other people to live.”

“It used to be a Greek failing to want to know how many oarsmen Ulysses had, whether the Iliad or the Odyssey was written first, and whether too they were written by the same author, and other questions of this kind, which if you keep them to yourself in no way enhance your private knowledge, and if you publish them make you appear more a bore than a scholar.”

8. Death :

“You act like mortals in all that you fear, and like immortals in all that you desire.”

“How stupid to forget our mortality, and put off sensible plans to our fiftieth and sixtieth years, aiming to begin life from a point at which few have arrived.”



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