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“Begin at once to live, and count each separate day as a separate life.”

― Seneca

This is a wonderful quote from a wonderful philosopher, variations of it have been uttered many times, by many people down the centuries since the days of Rome so much so that it’s synonyms have become pop culture favorites of celebs, writers and pseudo-intellectuals (like me) that usually say something along the lines of…

‘Live each day as if it is your last, you never know, you might be right…’

Variations of the above quote exist everywhere from those black framed and mounted motivational posters we see on the walls of posh offices (designed to stoke the desire for success and riches in the hearts of eager employees in the vain hope that it will boost productivity and drive profits up for the boss, who’s miles away enjoy a golfing day out); to the inside pages of health, beauty and spirituality magazines that get read, thrown away on the bus and promptly forgotten about.

You’ll also see stuff like this within the pages of many a self-help book, all of which are rendered worthless if you study and understand philosophy. At best a self-help book is philosophical pornography!

Pithy comments are everywhere and because they sound so distressingly familiar they are usually ignored by those that need them most, despite the fact that there is an enormous amount of wisdom in simple quotes like Seneca’s (above) that today more than ever we all need to consider and appreciate.

So what exactly is Seneca getting at with this particular quote, ‘Begin at once to live, and count each separate day as a separate life?’

How would you behave exactly? How would you treat your fellow countrymen, friends and family? Would you value them immensely, conscious of the fact that tomorrow you might not see them as there may not be a tomorrow for you or for them. Indeed would you even worry about tomorrow?

The correct answer is that of course you would do your best to treat everyone well, including yourself as that is clearly the virtuous thing to do. As modern day stoics, we are concerned chiefly with virtue, it being its own reward.

The fact that virtuous things are good is self-evident. Good things bring with them their own rewards which are also good. The fact that virtue springs from reasoning (the rational element in the human psyche) is evidence enough that virtue is good.

Nothing in nature is bad, mankind is a part of nature and the reasoning faculty of mankind is a part of his nature, hence rational thinking is not bad if applied properly (as it’s rational to want to live a good life) and can be a good thing provided that it leads to virtue.

“Who can doubt, my dear Lucilius, that life is the gift of the immortal gods, but that living well is the gift of philosophy?”

Seneca – Letters from a Stoic.

As we’ve mentioned in other articles on this site, philosophy is all about living a good life in the here and now, not tomorrow!

When it comes to tomorrow you will deal with it when you get there, after all, it’s not guaranteed that you will, so why worry about something that you might not even experience!

‘Concentrate every minute like a Roman – like a man – on doing what’s in front of you with precise and genuine seriousness, tenderly, willingly, with justice.’

Marcus Aurelius – Meditations.

This is what it is to live each day at a time, to treat each day as a separate lifetime.

Do what you need to do today, do it as well as you can (because to do things well is clearly virtuous) and dwell not on the past, because it is gone and unchangeable. Think not of the future which is uncertain anyway and as such not worthy of focused attention.

It’s a bit like the dichotomy of control, can I control the future, you might ask?

The answer is no, so it’s best not worry about it or pay it any attention. Tomorrow’s issues can be dealt with tomorrow. Can I control some aspects of the future, you may ask? The answer to that is… possibly! You may have some influence on how things will turn out, but how much so is uncertain so I reiterate that the best thing that you can do for tomorrow is to do what you can ‘today,’ as well as you can ‘today!’

This applies to all aspects of life, whether it’s being a loving father, friend, wife, girlfriend or mother, a good employee or a successful entrepreneur, just do the best that you can ‘today.’ and tomorrow will take care of itself.

Don’t forget that in this one day as a life, you need to prioritise that which is really important, so don’t spend too much of your allotted time on trivia. Yes you need to provide for yourself and work can be self evidently good, but you need love and companionship too as well as time to yourself.

A good life is a balanced life!

In order to get love and companionship you should be a source of it for others as many good and virtuous things are reciprocal, so a balanced day is necessary, do not give too much to any one thing, but however you spend your time, do it well, be the best friend that you can be, the best companion, and the best to yourself when in solitary repose.

The fact that the future is so uncertain can make people anxious, the future is a realm of chaos to the disorganised mind, it’s natural and rational for us to turn chaos into something lawful, understandable and crucially controllable. If we cannot do this, then anxiety can flourish in the vacuum of self-control felt by the disorganised mind.

The ancient Stoics realised early on that controlling anxiety was one of the principal ways to achieve peace of mind (ataraxia), other ways such as controlling anger and desires for pleasures also figured into the mix, but anxiety is a real killer of happiness, causing stress, depression and strain on the body simply because we have chosen to project our fears into the future.

The word ‘anxiety,’ comes from the Latin ‘anxietas,’ to mean fear, foreboding, worry, disquiet. In other words, it’s a state of uneasiness or tension caused by the apprehension of possible future misfortunes.

It can lead to physical sensations such as shaking, disturbances in the digestive system, a feeling of ‘stress,’ (which is your body getting ready for combat) which in turn can raise blood pressure that over long periods of time will harm the internal organs such as the kidneys, the heart and ultimately the brain.

Anxiety is not a good state to be in, but it is increasingly common in our modern age and the root cause of many of society’s modern ills.

You might have a demanding boss, huge work related targets or efficiency goals, be worn out from working long hours, worried over your finances or the actions and behaviours of people in your lives, or simply anxious that life is slipping away and you are not doing what you would have wanted for yourself.

There is no worse feeling than being forced to do that which you do not love, simply to make enough money to live. A lack of fulfilment is often a cause of disquiet, when you think things through fully it’s actually obvious what you need to do, and when you do it, the sense of unease will go away, being replaced with the excitement and joy that it is natural to feel when you live the natural life, that is a life that is in accordance with your own nature!

So rather than keep your mind on high alert, looking for threats to your survival in the many possible futures where you’ll get fired if you don’t please the boss, costing you your livelihood which in turn will jeopardize your lifestyle, your spouse and possibly the welfare of any children you may have we’ve put together a few key principles as to what can be done.

So what can be done?

1 – Do not sacrifice the present moment.

As long as there have been human beings, people have always sacrificed the present moment by thinking of the future or remembering the past.

When the sun is shining and everything is going well some people are just incapable of enjoying the present juncture and living well. They worry about things that they simply do not have to deal with yet, like work on Monday morning when it’s a Saturday afternoon. Today is the day that this stops. Today is the day that we …’Begin at once to live.’

Deal with this day today! Do what you need to do now, and when it is done, think no more of it, consign it to the past where it belongs. Immerse yourself fully in the present moment, enjoy what is happening right now. You will deal with tomorrow when you get there.

If you do a good job of today, tomorrow will look after itself.

“A man who suffers before it is necessary, suffers more than is necessary.

Lucius Annaeus Seneca.

2 – Be ruthless about your timekeeping.

It’s your life, and when split up into slices of one day at a time it’s very easy to see what is important to do today, it’s also important to understand that through no fault of your own you might not wake up in the morning.

Should this happen then you can rest assured that the world will carry on and that after anything from a handful of days to a few weeks at most of limited disruption the people around you (whether at home or in work) will carry on as they did before with someone else replacing you in every important way. This is as it should be, life will go on.

Given that there are people waiting in the wings to take your place in every aspect of your life that you currently enjoy how do you feel about your work now? Is it really that important? Do you really need to spend more time on the shop floor or in the office? Will doing so lead to virtue and the good life that all of us philosophers hope to enjoy?

“Time discovers truth,’

Lucius Annaeus Seneca.

Your time is limited and will probably end sooner than you think, so treat your diary and your calendar as a good friend and not a tyrant, plan the day that you’d like to have not the day that you feel you should have. Make sure that everyone important including friends and family get a fair slice of your pie. It’s the virtuous thing to do.

You have so much to offer so many people that it would be wrong to keep it to yourself or give it only to one person.

“Life, if well lived, is long enough.”

Lucius Annaeus Seneca.

3 – Turn anxiety into excitement, and feel the benefits of a performance boost.

One of the many bounties of stoicism and philosophy, in general, is an enhanced understanding of the psyche, eventually, you get to see that many emotions have an opposite which feels exactly the same to the body. Thus anxiety and worry can be instantly turned to excitement with a flick of a mental switch.

When worried about something, simply say that you are excited about the possibility of dealing with the issue at hand, as you do so you will experience joy. This is the correct use of anxiety, mentally turning it into excitement so that you become energised in order to correctly deal with problems and issues when they arise, and not before!

“Nothing is so wretched or foolish as to anticipate misfortunes. What madness is it to be expecting evil before it comes.”

Lucius Annaeus Seneca.

4- Ask for help!

Human beings like helping other humans. There is a benevolent principle at work here. Whether you need advice, assistance or extra hands to solve a problem, just ask.

If something is beyond you simply say so and ask for help. If you ask for help and you get it, then great, the task is done, the issue is solved, the crisis averted. Likewise, if you ask for help and those around you refuse to assist you then it says more about their character than it does your own. You will have learned a valuable life lesson and know their measure.

No one man can know everything, it’s ok to have gaps in your knowledge or to be unsure of what to do next.

“Don’t be ashamed to need help. Like a soldier storming a wall, you have a mission to accomplish. And if you’ve been wounded and you need a comrade to pull you up? So what?”

Marcus Aurelius (Meditations)

Also stand ready to help your fellow man, helping others leads to virtue, others will be more willing to help you if you’ve already helped them or are known to be willing to help others.

5 – Ask your own best friend for advice!

“If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.”

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Pretend that you are own best friend, and that if you had a good friend that was enduring an issue with which he could not cope, how would you advise him, what would you suggest that he do?

If you do actually have real-life, good friends that can provide useful insight then it goes without saying that you should ask them!

“Consult your friend on all things, especially on those which respect yourself. His counsel may then be useful where your own self-love might impair your judgment.”

Lucius Annaeus Seneca.

6 – Take a bird’s eye view and see your problems in their true scale.

Take a bird’s eye view and zoom out into the cosmos looking down upon your problems. In the grand scheme of things they are not that big or that important. They loom larger in your mind than anything else simply because it’s you that they are affecting.

Thankfully the mind is the one place that you can reign supreme and put everything into their proper perspective.

“[Plato has it right]. If you want to talk about people, you need to look down on the earth from above. Herds, armies, farms, weddings, divorces, births, deaths, noisy courtrooms, desert places; all the foreign peoples; holidays, days of mourning, market days … all mixed together, a harmony of opposites.”

Marcus Aurelius – Meditations.

7 – Don’t be embarrassed by misfortune, failure or fear ridicule.

So what if you fail at your duties, you probably are not the first and you won’t be the last. If something is beyond your abilities then it’s the fault of your employer for not recognising this and adjusting your workload accordingly. Likewise, if you have done all that you can, within your present circumstances then you are blameless, don’t be shamed by failure, it’s often a great teacher, just be mindful enough to get the most out of it.

Learn from it, the obstacle is the way, whatever solution you see to be applied to your failed endeavour can be applied again in future should similar circumstances occur. This will develop your character and virtue as a result. Your failure makes someone else’s successes worthwhile. You can’t have one without the other. Success without failure is meaningless in the same way that hot would have no value in the absence of cold.  As one door closes another will open!

“Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.”

Lucius Annaeus Seneca.

So what that you’ve failed? Failure is often a great teacher, so what if you’ve lost the respect of your peers? If you’ve behaved virtuously it says more about their character than your own.

There is nothing to be ashamed of, so what if you’ve had problems. Everyone else will be guaranteed to get their share of problems too. You are not unique in having issues that have caused anxiety. Do you honestly care about the worries and stresses of others? Probably not, well guess what? They are probably unconcerned about the stuff that bothers you.

“Our life is what our thoughts make it,”

Marcus Aurelius – Meditations.

All great men have a history of repeated failure. All small men repeatedly fail without even realising it…

Fear of embarrassment or a dose of the imposter syndrome can be a major cause of anxiety. Nobody is instantly an expert, it takes time, which brings us on to…

8 – Nothing Terrible has befallen you.

The founder of Stoicism Zeno of Citium was a self-conscious man forced to carry a pot of lentils through the streets of ancient Athens by his master Crates the Cynic. Zeno was prone to embarrassment and did such a poor job of overcoming it that Crates smashed the pot with his staff causing the lentils to run down his legs. Zeno ran off in shame leaving Crates calling after him ‘Why run away, my little Phoenician? Nothing terrible has befallen you!’

“When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive – to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.

Marcus Aurelius – Meditations.

Isn’t it great that you are still alive? Isn’t it great that you have suffered much and coped with a whole plethora of challenges, illnesses and stresses that haven’t (as of yet) managed to kill you? Isn’t it wonderful that nothing terrible has befallen you?

9 – Do not care about the opinions of others

If other people say or think horrible things about you then you should content yourself with the fact that it’s only their opinion and as such worthless. Only one opinion counts for anything and that’s the one that you hold inside of your own head. All others whether good or bad simply reveal the character of the person expressing them and in this sense at least are useful to you.

“If you hear that someone is speaking ill of you, instead of trying to defend yourself you should say: ‘He obviously does not know me very well, since there are so many other faults he could have mentioned.’”


10 – Expect the worst to happen.

At the beginning of every new project, job, task, relationship or indeed anything of value, expect it to go wrong, in your mind it should fall apart and collapse like a house of cards. Expect the worst and be pleasantly surprised when it doesn’t happen. If it does then everything is as you expected, so no cause for anxiety or concern. It is what it is…

“A man who has anticipated the coming of troubles takes away their power when they arrive.”

Lucius Annaeus Seneca.

11 – Understand that nothing lasts forever.

The universe is in a permanent state of change, what is here today is gone tomorrow, the same applies to you and everyone that you know. This is why the present moment is so precious as it’s the only one you get to enjoy.

It’s not worth fouling the moment with worries of the future, especially when as we’ve already explained you might not be there to experience it. Likewise, the future rarely turns out exactly as planned, or as you expect.

The only thing that you can do to prepare for the future is to let it surprise you. The effects of all actions fade away with time or are transformed into other unforeseen things.

“Loss is nothing else but change, and change is Nature’s delight,”

Marcus Aurelius – Meditations.

You can cope!

Take heart from the fact that there is no problem that you cannot endure or cope with. When the time is right and your back is against the wall you will prevail because you are a human being, and human beings are clever.

You’ll always find a way to cope and there will always be something you can do at the time to minimise the effects of whatever it is that is causing you stress, anxiety and hardship.

The whole world can go to hell in a handcart and you’ll be fine, provided of course that you live each day as a separate lifetime, dealing today with what you can do today, tomorrow can wait, you’ll deal with it when you get there.

“Never let the future disturb you. You will meet it, if you have to, with the same weapons of reason which today arm you against the present.”

Marcus Aurelius


Live each day like it’s your last because one day it will be and this isn’t a bad thing. Death is a part of nature and nothing in nature is bad in and of itself. In the meantime live well.

“It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live.”

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations


On dealing with Anxiety


Seneca on Suffering, Wisdom and Adversity…


About Post Author

Comicus Muo

Comicus Muo loves dualism, Existentialism, Nihilism, Absurdism and a plethora of helpful philosophies from the ancient world such as Stoicism, not to mention a healthy dose of Cynicism. Comicus is also a reasonable theist, atheistic in his thinking but also a Mystic, spiritual rather than religious and keenly aware that it's the Judaeo-Christian heritage of the west and it's enlightenment values that allow him to be this way.
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