Book: “On The Shortness Of Life”

Author: Lucius Annaeus Seneca (4 BC- 65AD)

Genre: Non-fiction / Philosophy


Let me ask you a question,

If you are about to die tomorrow, what will you do today?

Would you go to your same old office to work for one last time? or would you sit in front of the TV to watch the next episode of yesterday’s soap opera? or would you open your social media account to check the latest news feed?

I’m pretty sure, you won’t be doing any of these. You will rather worry about the unfinished wishes/goals/dreams that you haven’t fulfilled in your lifetime. You will desire for some more time to finish those tasks. This happens with everyone of us. If we all know our death days, we will be cautious enough in spending our time. But right now, as we don’t know our count, we are spending our days lavishly, keeping our confidence in future (?) and getting preoccupied in lifecycle. If we continue to live like this, one day when we reach our old age, we may wake up suddenly and complain, “Ah ! Life is so short. I still have so much to do. I wish I’d be much younger to fulfil my wishes !”.

Is that so? Is life too short ?

Roman Philosopher, Seneca (4 BC- 65AD) dealt with the same questions in his book “On The Shortness Of Life“, a short moral essay of stoic principles. In this essay, Seneca argues that life is long enough, but we actually waste a lot of it. Throughout our life, we spend time on useless laborious tasks, pursuing money with insatiable greed, indulging in hatred, quarrelling for fleeting positions, getting sluggish with drink and seducing others. Being preoccupied with all these, we put off our sensible plans to our old age and we postpone our leisure to sixties.

But, what guarantee do we have for longer life after that age? Who will allow our course to proceed as we arrange it? How stupid it is to forget our mortality and delay pursuing our passions, the true purpose of life !We are all frugal in guarding our hard earned money, but when comes to squandering time, we waste a most of it on our preoccupations. Only in the final days, we will realise how much time we spent on doing “nothing” and will fear to face death. But the one who spends all his time on his own needs, organising every day as though it were his last, neither longs for nor fears the next day.

This is the main theme of this book. It teaches us the value of time and prepares us to face death without fear. Seneca insists us to study philosophy to know how to live life with tranquility and harness the present time to fulfil the true purpose of our life.

So grasp the life now ! Live immediately ! Don’t hang everything on future, which lies in uncertainty. Don’t take too much load of the meaningless tasks given by your company. Give yourself some time to pursue what interests you. Get up from your couch and limit yourself from watching every garbage on TV and Youtube. Next time when you scroll through the news feed on Facebook, just remind yourself how much of it will be useful and how much will be irrelevant to you, your life, your happiness and your goals. You can always earn ten dollars of money back but not ten hours of time again. Whatever “time” was lost- “was lost completely”.

– Mani