Marcus Aurelius was an emperor of Rome and he is considered on of the most influential Stoics in history. During his reign as an emperor, he had to deal with enemies in the East, several Germanic tribes in Central Europe, famines, natural disasters, plagues and not to mention personal tragedies such as: his step brother’s death and the death of eight children.
On the other hand, being an Emperor of Rome essentially meant that he was the most powerful individual of his known world. This kind of power comes with the usual temptations like corruption, indulgence of pleasure, giving into the immediate gratification, sexual deviancy and failure of work ethic. A normal individual suffers from these as well but to a lesser degree however, when you combine these temptations with the Emperorship of Rome, then, these temptations are taken to another degree because one is able to indulge in them all, any time they want to.
With all of this bearing down upon his character, Marcus Aurelius did not give in, instead, he turned to a life of a Stoic and used the Stoic philosophy to help guide him through the ups and downs of life. Constantly reaffirming the kind of individual he wished to be, working on his character and staying clear of his temptations.
All of this is outlined in his journal, Meditations, which was not supposed to be public knowledge and yet, to the benefit of those who came after him, the journal was made public.
The practical application of Stoicism has been its major attraction to me. In the Meditations, Marcus Aurelius begins the book by thanking family and friends for instilling in him certain characteristics and virtues. Being grateful for those who had impacted his life. Keeping his perspective grounded for by acknowledging the help of others, one is able to keep their own ego at bay and keep the mind clear of thoughts of grandeur.
From my grandfather Versus: Decency and a mild temper.
From my mother: piety, generosity, the avoidance of wrongdoing and even the thought of it; also simplicity of living, well clear of the habits of the rich.
From my tutor: to work with my own hands and mind my own business; to be deaf to malicious gossip.
From Diognentus: To avoid empty enthusiasms.
From my [adoptive] father: Gentleness and an immovable adherence to decisions made after full consideration. Never satisfied with first impressions and leaving a question prematurely. The acts of a man with an eye for precisely what needs to be done, not the glory of its doing.
I have often taken many things for granted. Too many people have impacted my life without me being completely grateful to their help. These are family members, friends but also writers that I admire, individuals whose character who I look up to and work habits of some that have shaped my own. Small character changes to large character changes, it doesn’t matter, I have a lot to be grateful for.
Through this exercise one can reflect upon the lessons they have learned and be thankful to those who have taught them. One thing about Marcus Aurelius was that he attempted to keep a good perspective about him and not allow negatives of the outside world to infect him internally. By practicing gratefulness one is able to improve upon the positives of ones thoughts and actions for you are forced to put aside your ego and reflect upon others.
And if you find it hard to come up with a list of individuals that you are grateful for, well then that is something to reflect upon as well.