Seneca's astute observations on living life to the fullest is clearly presented in a short dissertation to his friend, Paulinus. His perceptive insights in "On the Shortness of Life" are as meaningful today as they were two thousand years ago.
"It is not that our lives are short, but that we squander much of it"
Seneca begins with some frightfully honest observations on the nature of time in our lives. He begins by noting that too many of us only begin to live our life, just as our life nears its end. We have wasted too much of our life in meaningless pursuits - busy doing nothing of real consequence.
We fail to perceive the passing of time, thinking we will live forever. Thus, life seems short, when at the end, we feel unfulfilled. We have not lived, but merely passed time. Sadly, there is not an abundance of time and certainly no guarantee that you will have your fair share. If you have not lived your life well, your "grey hairs and wrinkles" will only be evidence of a "long existence, not a long life".
Seneca provides many examples of contemporaries who let life pass them by, because they were:
engrossed in their duties;
grovelling tirelessly for fame, fortune or power;
obsessed with futile ventures and trivial pursuits;
or a slave to their passions.
When faced with their mortality, they wondered where life went. Without a plan for living, they would "bemoan the past, complain about the present, and fear the future". They became a prisoner of circumstances they created. Not so the wise man.
"Life is long enough...if the whole of it is well invested"
Seneca's recommendations to Paulinus on how to rise above the circumstances that seem to imprison people include:
Make a ledger of your life, to reflect on how much of your life is your own. Marcus Aurelius also believed that you could refresh your life - to live again - by making time to review your life. Meditations 7:2
Make time to study philosophy.
Philosophy embraces knowledge from the past, helps you live a good life today, and prepares you for the future.
Philosophy provides knowledge of living a virtuous life, which brings tranquility: it stands the test of time and enriches each successive age.
Tear yourself away from the crowd and be your own master.
Have a plan.
Marcus Aurelius never tired of returning to philosophy to refresh himself. It made his work at court more enjoyable and made him more enjoyable to the people at court. Mediations 6:12
Defending against the criticism that Stoics merely talk the talk, but don't walk the walk, Seneca had this to say: "My philosophy does not require me to be on a level with the best of men, but merely to better than the worst. I am satisfied if every day I take away something from my vices and correct my faults."
"...A virtuous mind is the highest good..."
This is line with other Stoic philosophers who saw themselves as flawed, but committed to achieving stoic perfection: "...nothing shall hinder me from...loving virtue and following after her...". Seneca believed that those who embraced and espoused philosophy were worthy of respect in their attempt to achieve great things, even if they failed. Marcus Aurelius believed that acting justly is all that is needed to be fully content and at peace with yourself. Meditations 7:27
If you are reading this now, you are embarking on a journey that will enrich your life.
References and Further Reading: "On the Shortness of Life" by Seneca the Younger, translated by JW Basore, published online by Passerino