Marcus Aurelius, often called the philosopher emperor, is a famous stoic philosopher and known as the last good emperor of Rome.

Many of his journal entries to himself have been recovered and curated into a single book title Meditations, which is widely recognized as one of the most influential pieces of stoic philosophy.

The practice of journaling allowed Marcus Aurelius, and can allow us today, to think more clearly and live a more virtuous life. The following stoic journal prompts and topics can help guide your journaling practice toward stoic thought exercises.

Journal Topics for Gratitude

Taking a moment to reflect on the value added to your life by the people around you will help you appreciate them and the relationship you have with them, which in turn could spark behavior that strengthens those relationships.

People to consider: significant other, family, friends, coworkers, and people who’ve impacted your life in the past.

  1. What value has [person] added to my life? What wisdom, achievements, or fortunate events of mine can I give them some credit for?
  2. What value do I (or can I) add to [person’s] life in return?
  3. How does [person] affect and influence my life decisions, feelings, and behavior?
  4. What characteristics does [person] have that I admire?
  5. What are my best characteristics and who influenced me to develop them?

You can also reflect on your achievements, major events, and material things in your life to establish gratitude for you’ve done and what you have, which will suppress feelings of unhappiness and cravings for new and better things.

  1. What is an accomplishment I’m very proud of? Why am I proud of it? What can I do to do more things like that?
  2. What is one of my most cherished memories and why?
  3. Think of an item in your possession you want to upgrade. Is your current item functioning well enough? What do you appreciate about it? What sustained value will an upgrade add to your life?
  4. Look at what you have and the things you value most. How much would you crave them if you didn’t have them?

Journal Topics to Suppress Negative Thoughts

Negative and low value thoughts are fuel for chaos, passivity, and unhappiness. These topics can help control your negative thoughts by thinking through them rationally.

“Like seeing roasted meat and other dishes in front of you and suddenly realizing: This is a dead fish. A dead bird. A dead pig. Or that this noble vintage is grape juice,… Perceptions like that — latching onto things and piercing through them, so we see what they really are. That’s what we need to do all the time… to lay them bare and see how pointless they are…”

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

  1. Think of an item you craved to have and eventually purchased. How do you feel about that item now? Was the craving warranted?
  2. What do you really want to buy right now? What value will that add to your life? What value will be lost if you don’t buy it? Is there a better use for the money you would have to spend to acquire it?
  3. Think of something you‘ve done that you regret. Write an apology to yourself and a response of forgiveness.

Journal Topics for Improving Your Character

In his journal, it was apparent that Marcus Aurelius wrote about recurring philosophical tenets in order to continually practice his philosophy. Try doing the same for yourself.

“To feel grief, anger, or fear is to try to escape from something decreed by the ruler of all things, now or in the past or in the future. And that ruler is law, which governs what happens to each of us. To feel grief or anger or fear is to become a fugitive — a fugitive from justice.”

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

  1. Think of a philosophical or ethical tenet that you struggle to live by. Write down the tenet and again in your own words. Try crafting your own analogy. Do this as often as you need to.
  1. Think of someone you admire. Write yourself advice you think they would give you from their point-of-view.
  2. Think of 12 year-old you. What “secrets of life” have you acquired that you would want to share with yourself?

Journal Topics for Daily Reflection & Improvement

Our daily behavior is the best indicator of the type of person we are. Work on improving what you do each day and you will in turn be improving the type of person you are.

“Remember that our own worth is measured by what we devote our energy to.”

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

  1. Did I lose control of my emotions today? What triggered it? Was that a reasonable response?
  2. What did I do today that was out of character? What triggered it? Was that a reasonable response?
  3. What did you do today that was not a good use of your time?
  4. Did you miss accomplishing an important habit or step in your routine today? What do you think was the reason for it and how can you prevent it from happening again?
  5. What did I crave today? Describe what you craved in its most simplistic form. Did it warrant that level of craving?

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