On the Shortness of Life

Lucio Anneo Seneca

On the Shortness of Life



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The most important lesson in Seneca’s Tenth Dialogue, The Shortness of Life, is that we must learn to value time and avoid wasting it on useless tasks. We are all aware of the theory, but how many of us actually put it into practice in our everyday lives? Seneca’s enduring wisdom reminds us to apply this often forgotten essential lesson, in order to avoid simply existing in the world, and instead, make sure we are able to live life to the fullest.

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Analysis and key concepts


Life is not short: the truth is that we waste most of it on activities that have no real value. Seneca’s message has spanned two millennia, and is still as relevant as ever


The life we are given is not short, but we often make it seem shorter by wasting time on pointless activities


We only actually experience a small part of life, and everything else is just time passing us by: humans perceive and embrace authentic life so superficially that it makes us feel that life is short and futile


Everyone’s life will come to an end eventually, but Seneca urges us not to face death with sadness, but peacefully and calmly, and this is only possible if we have truly lived


In order to live wisely in the present, we need to focus on the past and the future, without wasting energy on fleeting desires and pointless nostalgia


Time is our most precious commodity, yet it is also the easiest to waste. People who focus on their wealth often do not treasure the one asset that cannot be bought: time




Take-home message

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Many useful tips to:

  • Live life to the fullest and make the most of the time we have.
  • Understand the difference between existing and living.
  • Learn to take control of our time, and therefore our life.

Lucius Annaeus Seneca is one of the best known philosophers of all time. Born in Cordoba, Spain, in 4 BC, he later moved to Rome to complete his studies. He was a pupil of the neo-Pythagorean Diction of Alexandria, and the Stoics Atticus and Papirius Fabianus, and he continued his philosophical studies to become a teacher of rhetoric. He then became involved in politics, and was appointed quaestor by Caligula. Nero sentenced him to death in 65 AD, and Seneca’s defiant response was to commit suicide before hand.

Publishing house:

Penguin Books