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061 - On Living A Full Life - Moral Letters For Modern Times

We tell ourselves we’ll be happy if only we can achieve something else. But this treadmill only speeds up the faster we run.
Mountain view with three mountain bikes in the foreground - Moral Letters to Lucilius
Photo by James Bellerjeau

Let us stop behaving as if we are living a dress rehearsal, and can fix our lines and redo our actions tomorrow. This has been my singular aim for some time now, Deuteros. I do not assume I will have more time, that I will be able to complete later all that I have left unfinished today. I tell myself this may be the last breakfast I will enjoy. I am writing as if this was my last letter. My son is off to work, my daughter about her studies, and my spouse on the way to the grocery store, and do I tell myself we may never see each other again?

You may think such thoughts would train one to be melancholy, but in my experience they foster tranquility and joy. Reflecting on the scarcity of the present makes it seem infinitely precious to me. The past is gone, and may it stretch out emptily for eons behind us for all the good that it will do us today. To live in the past is not to live at all. Look to the future then! But the future may never arrive, and by casting my thoughts ahead I rob the present of my watchful presence.

We put things off for two reasons: we don’t want to do them at all, or we do want to do them but we assume we’ll get to them later. In putting off that which we dread, do we assume we’ll be more successful than the ostrich in avoiding troubles? When we raise our heads from the sand, will we find our unpleasant tasks have gone away, or have only multiplied in our self-imposed blindness? Learn this lesson Deuteros, and you will live a happy life: tell yourself that you do nothing against your will; that though the task may be strenuous or unpleasant it is done by your own choosing. You do not dread that which you do willingly. So no matter the chore, put yourself fully behind it and you will be successful regardless of the outcome.

The temptation to put off supposed burdens is at least understandable. But why do so many put off living joyfully in fulfilment? Isn’t that the goal we’re striving towards? We tell ourselves we’ll be happy if only we can achieve something else. But this treadmill only speeds up the faster we run. The only sensible course is to step off the treadmill, to step off and take stock of all you have at this immediate moment. It sounds trite, but you can be satisfied today if you only set aside disappointment – just as you choose your actions, choose your attitude and you will be similarly successful.

If you assume your time is limited to today, you will waste less of it and enjoy more of it. Be about the business of living, then, and live each day fully, and you will not be troubled by either the past or the future.

Be well.

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