Avoid excess in all its forms.

“It shows a lack of natural talent to spend much time on bodily activities, as by being excessive in exercise, excessive in eating and drinking, excessive in emptying the bowels and in copulating. These things should be done incidentally, and our attention should be devoted to the mind.”

Greetings, my dear student. It is a delight to receive your correspondence. The writing you refer to carries great significance for those who aspire to live by the principles of virtue and wisdom.

As you will observe, the passage’s primary concern is avoiding excess and indulgence in our lives. It is crucial to remember the distinction between what is within our control and what lies outside of it. The indulgences in question—exercise, eating, drinking, emptying the bowels, and copulating—are under our control. Yes. They are indeed necessary for our bodily functions and well-being. You’d be ill-advised to avoid a single one. However, it is crucial to approach them with moderation and prudence.

As Aristotle once said,

“Virtue is the golden mean between two vices, the one of excess and the other of deficiency.”

By engaging in these activities incidentally, we free ourselves from the tyranny of bodily desires and the potential harm that results from excessive indulgence. Looking at these acts as necessary vices, we must seek a balance between them and our life’s purpose. With the increase in free time that comes with scaling back towards the mean, one can focus on cultivating a clear mind. It is there that we find the capacity for reason, wisdom, and virtue.

Excess in emptying the bowels might initially appear perplexing. I contend it underscores the broader principle of moderation in all aspects of our lives. During our time in Rome, the communal nature of the toilets provided ample opportunity for social interaction, which, if not approached with prudence, could lead to the indulgence of idle chatter and neglect of more meaningful pursuits.

Such situations serve as a microcosm of the broader challenges we face. As individuals, we are often confronted with distractions and temptations that, if not managed with discipline and restraint, can steer us away from our ultimate life aim. In the case of the communal toilets, the risk lies in allowing the mundane task of emptying our bowels to be transformed into an occasion for excessive gossip, thereby diverting our focus from the more edifying endeavours of work, study, and nurturing relationships with loved ones.

I encourage you to practice moderation in all aspects of your life. Embrace simplicity in your daily habits by recognising that fulfilling basic needs should not overshadow the more significant pursuit of wisdom. When confronted with temptation or desire, remember to ask yourself whether the satisfaction of such desires aligns with your higher purpose. By doing so, you can prevent yourself from succumbing to the allure of excess, thus moving away from false riches.

In today’s society, it is easy to get caught in the trap of the hedonic treadmill – the constant pursuit of happiness through material wealth, social status, and physical pleasures. Fueled by consumerism and the relentless pursuit of external validation, such a treadmill often leads to dissatisfaction and an insatiable desire for more. As a Stoic, I strive to recognise the futility of this endless cycle and focus on cultivating inner virtues, which provide a more lasting and profound sense of fulfilment.

The hedonic treadmill brings several pitfalls into our lives. It can lead to a constant state of discontent, as the satisfaction derived from acquiring material possessions or reaching social milestones is often short-lived. Moreover, it fosters a culture of comparison, where individuals measure their worth against the accomplishments of others, ultimately promoting envy and feelings of inadequacy.

Detach from this hedonistic pursuit.

Instead, cultivate gratitude for what you have, find joy in simple pleasures, and prioritise personal growth over material success. These are life’s real riches. Guided by reason and reflection, you can break free from the illusory happiness that the hedonic treadmill tempts humankind with. Discover a more profound sense of contentment. Discover your inner riches.

" It is the mind that makes us rich. It goes with us into exile, and in the most untamed wilderness when it has found all that the body needs to be sustained, it relishes the enjoyment of its many own goods." Seneca, Consolation to Helvia

Heed Seneca’s words. Dedicate time each day to the enrichment of your mind. Engage with the works of great thinkers, converse with others on matters of philosophy and ethics, and reflect on your thoughts and actions. By cultivating an introspective and contemplative mindset, you will be well-equipped to navigate the vicissitudes of life with grace.

Pursuing virtue is a lifelong endeavour that requires constant vigilance and unwavering commitment. As you continue this journey, you will embody the Stoic principle of temperance. And in doing so, you will undoubtedly lead a life that is not only good and honourable but also profoundly fulfilling in a deeply personal way.