is life short when we waste so much of it on useless things?

#35 – on the shortness of life by seneca

Seneca asks important questions.

Is life short when we waste so much of it on useless things?

Why are we so concerned about wasting money and less about wasting time?

Are we forgetting that we may soon die? Will we begin to really live just when life is coming to an end?

Do we know how to live and do we know how to die?

Are we living a life that longs for the future and is weary of the present?

How do we organise every day as though it was our last?

Will we come to the end of our lives and realised we have been preoccupied with doing nothing?

Are we dashing from one pleasure to another?

If life is a balance sheet, what is on it?

Important quotes.

“It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it.”

“The whole future lies in uncertainty: live immediately.”

“When they come to the end of it, the poor wretches realize too late that for all this time they have been preoccupied in doing nothing.”


people say nature is mean because by the time we learn how to live, much of life is over.

how do we waste life – greed, “laborious dedication to useless tasks”, wine, idleness, political ambition, valuing the judgment of others, greed of trading, money, hanging on someone’s coattails, etc.

“I cannot doubt the truth of that oracular remark of the greatest of poets: ‘It is a small part of life we really live.”

“they are choked by their own blessings” – what are some of the blessings in my life that has choked me?

“How many are pale from constant pleasures!” – i am pale. i have constant pleasures. i need more pain. a reader told me recently that he is now paying the price for having a helper clean his children’s rooms.

why are we so eager to spend time with important people when we don’t spend enough time with ourselves?

“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.” – why am i so concerned about wasting money but not concerned about wasting time?

“Call to mind when you ever had a fixed purpose; how few days have passed as you had planned; when you were ever at your own disposal; when your face wore its natural expression; 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 prematurely.” – i am dying prematurely.

Learning to live is very hard and takes a whole life. So does learning how to die.

“Living is the least important activity of the preoccupied man; yet there is nothing which is harder to learn.”

A great person has the “longest possible life” by dedicating whatever available time to himself.

“So you must not think a man has lived long because he has white hair and wrinkles: he has not lived long, just existed long.”

Time – “life’s most precious commodity”.

“The greatest obstacle to living is expectancy, which hangs upon tomorrow and loses today.”

“Oh, what darkness does great prosperity cast over our minds!”

The philosophers of the past have worked hard to hand us gifts of wisdom. They have prepared for us a way of life. We have access to them – nature allows us to enter into a partnership with every age”. Don’t be ungrateful. Make use of their wisdom.

“Zeno, Pythagoras, Democritus and all the other high priests of liberal studies, and Aristotle and Theophrastus” can be our daily, closest friends. “They are at home to all mortals by night and by day.”

“We are in the habit of saying that it was not in our power to choose the parents who were allotted to us, that they were given to us by chance. But we can choose whose children we would like to be. There are households of the noblest intellects: choose the one into which you wish to be adopted, and you will inherit not only their name but their property too. ” – choose to be adopted by great philosophers and inherit their gifts.

“But life is very short and anxious for those who forget the past, neglect the present, and fear the future.”

“the time of the 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.”

“All the greatest blessings create anxiety”

“To preserve prosperity we need other prosperity, and to support the prayers which have turned out well we have to make other prayers.”

“So it is inevitable that life will be not just very short but very miserable for those who acquire by great toil what they must keep by greater toil. They achieve what they want laboriously; they possess what they have achieved anxiously; and meanwhile they take no account of time that will never more return. New preoccupations take the 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. ”

“it is better to understand the balance-sheet of one’s own life than of the corn trade”.

“In this kind of life you will find much that is worth your study: the love and practice of the virtues, forgetfulness of the passions, the knowledge of how to live and die, and a life of deep tranquillity.”

“Some men, after they have crawled through a thousand indignities to the supreme dignity, have been assailed by the gloomy thought that all their labours were but for the sake of an epitaph.”

Why do people do this: “rob and are robbed, as they disturb each other’s peace, as they make each other miserable, their lives pass without satisfaction, without pleasure, without mental improvement”?

Why do people do this: “arrange things that are beyond life – massive tombs, dedications of public buildings, shows for their funerals, and ostentatious burials”?

“people’s funerals should be conducted with torches and wax tapers, as though they had lived the shortest of lives.”

Mark Zuckerberg inspired me to start an annual personal project – read a non-fiction book every week and write about it. 

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