Practice Poverty

A stoic technique for increasing gratitude used by Seneca was to set aside days to “experience” poverty. How could this technique change impact outlook?

Written by Adam on 2016-09-12. Blog, Mindfulness, Minimalism. Leave a comment. Find out how I make money.

When reading The Obstacle is the Way recently, the author mentioned a topic that stuck with me — practicing poverty.



The topic came up when discussing Lucius Annaeus Seneca. Seneca, one of the founders of the Stoic school, and the subject of a Tim Ferriss book. Unlike many Stoics, Seneca was a wildly successful businessman in his day. Even at that, he was humble though. His thoughts on poverty shed light on his humility.

the obstacle is the way cover

It is not the man who has too little, but the man who craves more, that is poor.

When hearing this Seneca quote, the immediate idea that comes to mind is financial independence, which shows just how significant a changed lifestyle is to your long-term planning. Avoiding lifestyle inflation is easier when you are used to less. But what about the short term?

Putting it to Practice

The quote that was being discussed in The Obstacle is the Way, was this one from Seneca:

Set aside a certain number of days, during which you shall be content with the scantiest and cheapest fare, with course and rough dress, saying to yourself the while: “ Is this the condition that I feared?”

What if you were to get up tomorrow, or for the next week, and make a choice not to spend a cent unless otherwise essential? I’m not suggesting go as far as walking 10 miles to work, but there’s probably a bunch you could do with this. Eating what’s left in your freezer and pantry, avoiding toll roads, not eating out at work — removing yourself from positions where you are exposed to things for sale.

If you’re reading this post, you’re most likely well enough off that true poverty (living in the open, not sure where your next meal would come from) would be too daunting a challenge. I also don’t get the impression that Seneca was sleeping under the stars for those nights. But there might be other ways you can think of that can would help you empathize with the poor — and at the same time appreciate what you have that much more.


Hi, I'm Adam! I help millennials invest to reach financial independence sooner than they ever thought possible. Want to see what you could do to reach FI sooner? You're in the right place!

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