On the Shortness of Life


On the Shortness of Life is an essay written by Lucius Annaeus Seneca, also known as Seneca the Younger, a Roman-Spanish Stoic philosopher. Stoicism seemed like an esoteric concept when I first encountered it (I somehow relate the word to mysticism and anything mystic). But the opposite is true. Stoicism is practical and overlaps with ideas from Buddhism.

Seneca wrote this essay along with other essays when he was exiled to Corsica due to a sex scandal. On the island, he read a lot and studied with brilliant philosophers. Seneca was later recalled to Rome to tutor and then advise Emperor Nero. Today, he remains a popular figure in Stoicism.


We have a short life but we waste our time.

When time is squandered in the pursuit of pleasure or in vain idleness, when it is spent with no real purpose, the finality of death fast approaches and it is only then, when we are forced to, that we at last take a good hard look at how we have spent our life – just as we become aware that is ending.

We do not lack time; on the contrary, there is so much of it that we waste an awful lot.

Those who choose to have no real purpose in life are ever rootless and dissatisfied, tossed by their aimlessness into ever-changing situations.

Consider the rich and famous…the mere act of being rich and powerful seems to be an effort that drains them of all vitality, even the ability to speak properly. A lot of them are anemic from perpetual adulation as if they had been deprived of oxygen by their suffocating legions of fans and the constant stream of glad-handers clamoring to befriend them.

In protecting their wealthy men are tight-fisted, but when it comes to the matter of time, in the case of the one thing in which it is wise to be parsimonious, they are actually generous to a fault.

You waste time as if it was a limitless resource when any moment you spend is potentially your last.

Because the mind, when its focus is split, absorbs little in depth and rejects everything that is, so to speak, jammed into it.

But he who devotes his time to his own needs, who plans out every day as if it were his last, neither longs for nor fears for tomorrow.

A grey-haired wrinkled man has not necessarily lived long. More accurately, he has existed long.