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Regulation First, Happiness Second

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Marcus Aurelius might not seem like he’s a happy guy in the pages of Meditations. He dwells on some of the darker parts of life. He talks a lot about managing his temper. He talks about all the sources of frustration and disappointment out there. The inevitability of death and what that means is ever present in Meditations.

Where is the happiness? Where is the joy? Where is the laughter and the fun?

Well actually, it’s there in his life, just not in the book. And these two things are related. In fact, one is not possible without the other.

We talked recently about a piece of advice from the therapist and children expert Dr. Becky Kennedy (she has a great book called Good Inside and was an awesome recent guest on the Daily Stoic podcast). She was saying that the key to raising happy children is to focus on emotional regulation first. By helping them name and manage their emotions, she explains, we are creating room for happiness. “Regulation first,” she writes, “happiness second.”

Effectively, this is what Marcus Aurelius is doing in Meditations. You have to remember, he was not writing this book for you, he was writing it for himself. Meditations is the journal where Marcus Aurelius regulated his emotions, dealt with his fears and frustrations, so that they didn’t overwhelm his life, so they didn’t quash happiness and joy in life. By processing his temper, his envy, even his tendency for despair, he was actually cultivating happiness.

That’s what Stoicism is. That’s why we journal. That’s why we run through these exercises. That’s why we read these books. It can be a little dark, sure, but it also creates opportunity for light.


“Stoicism is about the domestication of emotions, not their elimination,” Nassim Taleb once wrote, echoing Dr. Becky’s idea of regulation first, happiness second. Journaling is an essential Stoic tradition in that regard and the Daily Stoic Journal—filled with weekly and daily prompts—is a great tool for those looking to start a journaling practice this year. And if you want to protect your journal from life’s wear and tear, you can pair it with our leather Journal Cover, both available at the Daily Stoic Store.