In this series of blog posts I attempt to translate the Moral letters to Lucilius by Seneca into modern English.
Letter 14. Get the basics right
Don’t obsess over your health or looks. Leading a healthy life is a balance, you don’t have to try to look like a body-builder or a cover model. Of course it’s important to look after your physical wellbeing but fitness is a means to an end, not an end in itself. Consider this: there are some things in life that we’d rather avoid, for example, those events that have an immediate effect on you. An example of this is a sudden heart attack. But other things are more subtle, less visible and more devastating, for example a chronic illness. These have the potential to be even worse as your suffering is not visible to others, just you.
So how do you avoid illness? Well, obviously you have to drink, eat and sleep; these are just basic needs, but they are the foundation for good health. By focusing on getting these right then you can treat yourself from time to time. Just get these in the right order: basics first, treats second. Treats should not become indispensable or be taken for granted. Have these once on a while and not every day.
Its interesting to see people get attached to those things which are not basic necessities. They feel that they have a right to them, and deserve them. They fear losing them and want more of them. Don’t be like this. You shouldn’t get emotional when these things aren’t available, you can live well without them.
And by living well, I mean living a minimalistic existence. If you do this this then you’ll avoid the stress of the hedonistic treadmill which most people are on. You also not be disappointed if possessions are taken from you. If you haven’t got much in the first place then you won’t act out of fear. Fear of losing or a perceived need to gain an object or item. Finally, minimalism also reduces three types of unwanted feelings. These are:
- feelings that someone or something is not worthy of any respect,
- strong feelings of dislike, and
- unhappy or angry feelings of wanting to have what someone else has.
Before I sign off I’ll leave you with this thought. The important thing in life is to be virtuous. Consider wealth, like freedom, status and health, to be indifferent. Of course, we would rather have wealth, than not but the accumulation of money can become an obsession, it becomes an end in itself. Seeking riches does not contribute to human happiness. Humans have a stable level of happiness despite major positive or negative events or life changes. As a person makes more money, expectations and desires rise in tandem, which results in no permanent gain in happiness.
Read the original text here.
I recommend you read all of the most influential Letters in this new Penguin Classic book. It is the best translation, in my opinion, because it captures Seneca’s humour and style. It is also the easiest to read. My copy is full of highlighted lines, margin notes and tabs. A treasure chest of profound, practical advice which you can apply immediately.
Warning: this is not an academic text; it describes a hands-on philosophy of life. Discover powerful, instantly helpful wisdom. The complete guide to improving your day-to-day activities, thoughts and actions.