Marcus Aurelius, the Roman emperor during the years 161 to 180, kept a journal that he continually returned to with all of his thoughts and values. His journal was published after his death as a collection called Meditations, and in his journal he makes constant references to the importance of self-control, self-reflection, and rational thought. He combines these ideas with social challenges and presents a view of he world that resonates with people to this day. Regarding how we should think about ourselves relative to others and how we should think about our own joy Aurelius wrote the following.
“He who loves fame considers another man’s activity to be his own good; and he who loves pleasure, his own sensations; but he who has understanding, considers his own acts to be his own good.”
Aurelius constantly focuses on the idea that we are independent from the actions, thoughts, and judgements of those around us. In his mind we may all be connected, but we choose how to allow others to move and shape our lives. It is the way that we decide to think about the world and interpret the actions of others that determines how the actions of those around us impact us.
In the first part of the quote Aurelius is showing that those who desire fame and popularity depend on the thoughts of other people to find their happiness. To them, their own thoughts about themselves matter less than the thoughts that other people have of them.
In the second part, the Emperor explains that people who live for nothing other than their own pleasure have submitted their own independence to material things or physical pleasures. Their enjoyment and life’s meaning comes from what they can obtain as opposed to a recognition of who they are. They have made the world around them more important than themselves, and their value and happiness is based not on the person who they are, but on the items in their lives that make them happy.
Lastly, Aurelius argues that those who bring rational thought into all aspects of their lives are the most fulfilled. Since we all determine through out own thoughts what is good in our lives and what is bad, what is going to help us and what will harm us, and what is important and what is not, we have the power to determine how we see the world. The people who base their lives on rational thought are able to reflect on what happens around them and rely on their own decisions and actions to find happiness. They may find some level of fame and material well being, but rather than finding inspiration in things and popularity, they are inspired and moved by the things that they can do to better themselves and others. They are not dependent on others for their own happiness because they understand who they are, and have an ability to determine how they react to the world around them.