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 part of this [person’s] character do I admire? If I adopted that part to my character, how would that change my actions?
  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 a thing, item, or product I’ve been wanting to replace or upgrade. Is what I currently have functioning well enough? What do I appreciate about it? What sustained value will an upgrade or replacement add to my life?
  4. Look at what I have and the things I value most. How much would I crave these things if I 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 something I desperately wanted to have and eventually purchased. How do I feel about this item now? Was the craving warranted?
  2. What do I really want to buy right now? What value will that add to my life? What value will be lost if I don’t buy it? Is there a better use for the money I would have to spend to acquire it?
  3. Think of something I‘ve done that I regret. Write myself an apology and my own response of forgiveness.
  4. Is my mind being held hostage by someone else’s exciting life, better skills, or bigger accomplishments? Why should I be happy for them and why should I not compare myself to them?

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. Write down a philosophical or ethical tenet that I struggle to live by in my own words. Try crafting my own analogy. Do this as often as I need to.
  2. Think of someone I admire. Write myself advice I think they would give me from their point-of-view.
  3. Think of 12 year-old me. What “secrets of life” have I acquired that I would want to share with myself?
  4. Did someone annoy or upset me today? What good or harm do I think they intended? Or was it ignorance? How could I have better empathized with them and their actions in the moment?

“To feel affection for people even when they make mistakes is uniquely human. You can do it, if you simply recognize: that they’re human too, that they act out of ignorance, against their will, and that you’ll both be dead before long. And, above all, that they haven’t really hurt you. They haven’t diminished your ability to choose.”

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

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