Begin at once to live, and count each day as a separate life.
These are Seneca’s words from his 101st letter to his friend Lucilius.
The message the Stoic philosopher was sending to his friend was that the future is unsure for everyone and that only Lucilius’s lack of focus on the present could create anxiety about what lay ahead for him.
In this way, Seneca said, one day is no different from the rest of eternity.
We can learn from what happened in a previous one and plan to do things in a future one, but we can only ever do those things in the current one.
Many years after Seneca’s advice to Lucilius, the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer penned a similar sentiment:
Each day is a little life: every waking and rising a little birth, every fresh morning a little youth, every going to rest and sleep a little death.
It might sound like a stretch to imagine this every single day, but I think it’s a nice approach.
Think of it like this: regardless of your age, each day you’re born again.
With each morning of your life, you get the vibrancy of youth.
And at the end of the day comes a deadline by which to get done the things that matter.
Focusing on that deadline for a moment, what are you usually doing at the very end of your day, just before bedtime?
Are you gently decompressing from the stresses of the day, satisfied you did all you could?
Or are you anxiously ruing missed opportunities, cursing your inaction?
Are you happy you devoted a little bit of time to the things that matter to you or are you regretting throwing that time away?
Making the Most of Each Separate Life
“There is indeed a limit fixed for us,” wrote Seneca in that same 101st letter to Lucilius, referring to the time each of us has been granted. “Just where the remorseless law of Fate has fixed it; but none of us knows how near he is to this limit.”
It is incumbent upon us, therefore, to be attentive to each hour that makes up our daily gift of 24. We don’t know which of our separate lives will be our last, after all.
But how do we do this? How do we make the most of each day? How do we make the most of each life?
By, as Seneca goes on to advise, treating each one as our last:
Therefore, let us so order our minds as if we had come to the very end. Let us postpone nothing. Let us balance life’s account every day. The greatest flaw in life is that it is always imperfect, and that a certain part of it is postponed.
“Balance life’s account every day.” What a lovely way to put it.
This evening, when you settle down before bed, will you be content that you’ve balanced life’s account? Will you be able to honestly say that you postponed nothing?
You might think about considering questions like these in the morning so that you have all day to do the balancing. All day to make even a small start on those things you’ve been postponing.
Because when you prioritize your days according to how you want to live your life, you live more. In a way, you extend your life.
As Seneca puts it in his letter, “One who daily puts the finishing touches to his life is never in want of time.”
You’ll sleep much better this evening knowing today’s 24 hours were used well, knowing today’s life was lived well.
Enjoy the progression of the day from birth to youth to death, enjoy the progression of each separate life you’re afforded; make the most of every last one.
And begin at once to live.