Wednesday, 29 July 2015

The key to happiness according to Titus Livius

The life of the Ancient Roman writer Titus Livius (59 BC-17 AD) provides a good illustration of the relationship between personal happiness and having rational long-term goals. 

A definite purpose 

When Titus Livius turned thirty-five, he looked back at his life and realized that he had not accomplished much. Like many Romans of good family, he had enjoyed a solid education, read widely, done some travelling, and also a little writing.

He had tried his hand intermittently at everything and achieved pretty much nothing. Since his life lacked purpose and ambition, Titus Livius felt ineffective and unhappy. He asked himself if he should continue living in the same way. Was there something that he could do to give meaning to his days?

The prevalent philosophies in Ancient Rome, stoicism and hedonism, did not provide an answer to his questions. Hedonism encourages man to live for the pleasures of the day and ignore long-term consequences. Stoicism seldom provides other contentment than the quiet acceptance of misfortune. Those two ethical theories often lead to stress, anxiety, and depression.

A long-term view

We do not know what made Titus Livius change his ways, but we do know the results. Instead of continuing to pursue random interests, he conceived a wide-ranging project that would take him decades to accomplish. Instead of wasting time in abstract speculation, he fixed himself an ambitious goal and figured out how to accomplish it.

By the time he turned thirty-six, he had already formulated how he was going to spend the rest of his life. He would write a History of Rome unlike anything ever written before. He would speak not only of facts, but also of heroes. He would recount not only events, but also the values that had inspired them.

Titus Livius' plan comprised researching hundreds of documents and writing 150 books, an enterprise that nowadays would keep busy a complete university department. He did most of the work himself and it took him four decades.

A demanding undertaking

Manifestly, he was very happy devoting his time to such a demanding undertaking. Such devotion to a single long-term purpose is essential to improve a man's personal effectiveness and psychological well-being.

When Titus Livius died, he was 77 years old. His only regret must have been that he had not started his project earlier, since he only managed to complete 142 books out of the 150 that he had initially planned.

Do you have similar objectives and plans in your life? Have you established long-term goals for yourself? Do you have a strategy that consistently favours your personal growth? Are you becoming more effective at what you do day after day?  

Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com
 

Image: Photograph taken by John Vespasian, 2014.


For more information about rational living, I refer you to my books

Rationality is the Way to Happiness