If you can find anything in human life better than justice, truthfulness, self-control, courage […] turn to it with all your heart and enjoy the supreme good that you have found […] but if you find all other things to be trivial and valueless in comparison with virtue, give no room to anything else, since, once you turn towards that and divert from your proper path, you will no longer be able without inner conflict to give the highest honour to what is properly good. It is not right to set up as a rival to the rational and social good anything alien to its nature, such as the praise of the many, or positions of power, wealth, or enjoyment of pleasures.
– Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 3.6
Take 5-10 minutes to sit quietly and list what you think are the most valuable qualities in a human life comparing this with the Stoic list of virtues. Think about occasions when you did aim, or could aim, at acting virtuously rather than trying to get external things (‘preferred indifferents’).
I probably don't focus as intently as I ought to on improving virtues within myself. But I do think about them when confronted with difficulties. Most often, it seems I'm wrestling with the virtues of temperance (moderation, self-discipline) and courage.
For guidance, in instilling myself with virtue, I prefer the Jim Lanctot paradigm. You can google "Jim Lanctot virtues" to see his framework.
Once you understand and are convinced that "virtue is the sole good", you can easily find ways and examples of working in instilling these within yourself. The harder part comes in trying not to focus your happiness on "indifferents" and instead, trying to attain happiness through virtue.
For me, I learned the first half of the equation last year when my home flooded. During the nine months it took to restore things around our home, I learned that I could be happy in the most meager and humble circumstances. During most of those nine months, I slept in a smaller bed, in a smaller room, eating less food, less dinners and in an environment of constant construction. My wife and kids were strewn across town living with various friends. And despite all of these difficulties, I found contentment. I learned that happiness can be found in dire and difficult circumstances.
These days, with life returned to 'normal' I have more time to reflect on building virtue. This too is not so easy or simple. But I do try to find opportunities to practice being willing and cheerful and submit to fates's desire for me. And by so doing, looking my the 'deck of cards' as it were, for the proper virtue to play in a given circumstance.
From what did we gain an understanding of virtue? From someone’s orderly character, his sense of what is appropriate and consistency, the harmony between all his actions, and his greatness of spirit in coping with everything. In this way, we came to understand the happy life, that flows on smoothly and is completely under its own control.
– Seneca, Letters, 120.11
Read today’s evening text and think about the picture given there of the virtuous and happy life, and bear that in mind in your evening meditation. How far did your actions and thoughts today match the virtues and qualities you regard as most important? Could you do things differently tomorrow?
For me, opportunities to exercise virtues come sometimes during the course of a day. I work with highly skilled and intelligent people. None of them are bad people. I can't recall the last time I dealt with "drama." I do, however, deal with political maneuvering among managers and others who are "trying to get ahead." For the most part, I try to focus on being wise and just with others at work.