On Philosophy and Riches (#152)

On Philosophy and Riches

“Riches have shut off many a man from the attainment of wisdom.” – Seneca

Whenever I succumb to social pressure to treat time as less valuable than income, that’s when I turn to stoicism.

In this special episode of the podcast, I’m sharing one of my favorite letters from Seneca, “On Philosophy and Riches.” This is a must-listen for anyone obsessed with increasing wealth or material possessions.

My favorite portion begins with, “I might close my letter at this point,” which you can listen to here.

If you want to learn more of Seneca’s teachings, I’ve compiled his letters into a collection called the Tao of Seneca.


#152: On Philosophy and Riches

Want to hear another podcast featuring lessons from SenecaListen to the episode on achieving self-ownership. In this letter, Seneca offers lessons related to being a good man and the true costs of things that appear free (stream below or right-click here to download):

#142: How to Achieve Self-Ownership

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QUESTION(S) OF THE DAY: Are you unhappily striving to gain wealth? If so, how has this letter from Seneca helped your mindset? Please let me know in the comments.

Scroll below for links and show notes…

Show Notes

  • On Philosophy and Riches [5:38]
  • On the fear of poverty [7:00]
  • On prioritizing wisdom over wealth [9:53]
  • “I might close my letter at this point…” [11:53]

The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

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35 Replies to “On Philosophy and Riches (#152)”

  1. Tim, I’ve gained a lot of (eternal) wisdom from the Tao of Seneca, vol 1. Thanks for sharing your favorites here. Would you recommend strongly vol 2 and 3? Or does Seneca begin to dilute himself? It’s hard to tell from the online reviews which, while overwhelmingly positive, refer mostly to v1. Thanks for all you do – you’ve had a strong positive impact on my little existence.

  2. So. So badly. Your perspective and sharing on this topic is always beneficial. At least I momentarily chill out.

  3. Hi Tim,

    In similar topic, I’m curious…

    Have you ever been broke? Like, dangerously (back against the wall, last breath, do something or die) broke and struggling?

    If so, clearly you have grown your riches since then.l, and congrats on all of that.

    I’d like to hear your story of your brokest moments and if mental exhaustion, depression, or any other heavy weight played further against your odds of turning it around.

    There’s no correct or expectations on your answer here, and you may not have ever been in that particular position, which is totally fine of course, I’m just wondering if you have, and if so, if you would shared the dark side of the story and the glory.

    I’m currently in the bottom most place I’ve ever been in my life, darkest and scariest place I never knew existed among my intellectual and physical capabilities, previously so strong, but recently suffocated with the additional blows of depression and confusion.

    Sounds awful, I know, and it is, but I still know that deep down inside I can make it out, I’m just finding my strength often overtaken in the strangest way I never knew existed.

  4. Hey Tim I just want to say thanks for all the material on Stoicism! I’m a philosophy major and you got me way into studying Stoicism. Their was a comment you briefly made once about Thomas Jefferson keeping a copy of Senecas works on his night stand. That’s lead to my term paper this semester arguing the Stoic tendencies Jefferson had throughout his life. I’m finishing it up later this week and hoping to send you a link when I’m done! Thanks for everything, my decision to major in philosophy and minor in business was greatly influenced by your podcast!

  5. Hi Tim, just watched and loved TFX- RnR drumming. I used to teach guitar and after much trial and error found a away to teach absolute beginners their first song (strumming and chords) in a half hr using something similar to the Montessori method. Loved The Four Hour Work Week book too, got me amped. Just wanted to share. Thanks.

  6. Tim, love your books and podcast. Sadly, I’m un subscribing as I can no longer bare to listen to another 4 minute long wealthfront plug. Your podcasts have become an insufferable string of commercials. The short 14 minute podcasts now are actually 4 plus minutes of commercials on both ends, so the content is 6 of the 14 minutes. I can’t fast forward when listening in my car, so I’ve heard you pitch cricket bars and underwear more times than I’ve eaten chicken. Please stop! Concerned fan.

    1. Concur. Still subscribed, but dislike the lazy approach re ads, though I suppose it fits within the 4-hour mindset. Much prefer to hear somebody riff on a product like Chris Hardwick on Nerdist (always seems to find a new spin on Stamps.com). I guess the silver lining is that you are safe fast forwarding the first 4-5 minutes of the podcast. You would do us all a favor if you started the theme music after the commercials, that way you win by having the recording and we win by being better able to know when to stop fast-forwarding.

  7. Tim I love the fact that you do not accept emails from strangers – I hope to get to your level some day.

    Fully recognising that you have no need for ego boosters I will give you one anyway.

    I have made your book “The four hour work week” required reading in my individual coaching program and will likely include some of your podcasts also.

    Not asking for freebees here either – clients have to find and payfor their own books.

    Good work- not sure where you dug all of your inspiration up from but good for you

  8. Hi Tim, I think Seneca would appreciate this quote “Living the focused life is not about trying to feel happy all the time…rather, it’s about treating your mind as you would a private garden and being as careful as possible about what you introduce and allow to grow there.” Quoted from author Winifred Gallagher’s book entitled “Rapt.” We have the opportunity daily to work on training our minds to focus on the vital and positive aspects of life, and to ignore the unimportant trivial many for the essential few. A mind that is tortured suffers regardless of external circumstances.

  9. Just as a somewhat counterpoint, two quotes (maybe slight paraphrasing)

    “People who say that money would not bring happiness to poor people, have not met enough poor people”

    “I want to be rich enough to never look at price tags again, and no more”

  10. Reposted as to follow rule about using my personal name

    Just as a somewhat counterpoint, two quotes (maybe slight paraphrasing)

    “People who say that money would not bring happiness to poor people, have not met enough poor people”

    “I want to be rich enough to never look at price tags again, and no more”

    1. Being rich enough never to look at price tags again requires a very large amount of money. I like it.

  11. Thanks for this part, its a good reminder because its very hard sometimes that while I am ok in savings I want to grind more to “keep up” with friends despite knowing “more” savings is not going to be better (if I have to sacrifice a lot of hours in the present).

    While its difficult sometimes I know its better for me to invest lot of hours in learning more (“studying philosophy”) and potentially finding something of more value I can do later which will be more enjoyable (as it gives more value to others then what I am doing currently).

    That’s my interpretation at least.

  12. Tim> Whenever I succumb to social pressure to treat time as less valuable than income, that’s when I turn to stoicism.

    Oh, really? You mean: by getting passive income from the one-off piece of work that the audiobook production represents, right? Practicing what the book preaches has little to do with it.

    Rarely can hypocrisy be used as humor material, but I have to give you that one.

  13. I’ve got all that I need, but am currently striving for what I want. I’ve got a beautiful wife whom I’ve been married to for over 10 years; had a few rough years financially when I was laid off from two jobs in eight months, but the strength of our relationship got us through that time. Also blessed to be raising two beautiful, but cheeky children. Also got my health, and now a job to look after them. The job is not great, but it’s good enough in the interim, while I chase a bigger goal of a PhD in Hypersonics and then becoming a subject matter expert in that field. Like one of the other people who have commented, I also want to be financially wealthy, in that I’d like to not have to think about price. I’ve never been a big spender, but I would like to travel with my family in relative luxury e.g. business class, to places like Canada, where my wife is from. Got other goals, like completing Kokoro Camp (Navy SealFit) and Cadre Camp (The Mill Gym). I’ve already completed Commando Tough’s Resilient (48 hour) and Tough (24 hour) events; I’m a sucker for punishment. I would like to have the finances to do these, whilst also owning a house and supporting my wife to achieve her goals. Back on track and to answer your question Tim: am I unhappily striving for wealth? Yes at times, when I’m working in my current job. I can leave the job cold turkey, but I need a back up plan and another job to go to. My goal is to transition into the PhD and get a scholarship, plus pay off credit card debt; got a family to support. How has Seneca’s letter helped my mindset? I will have to re-listen to the letter. “Be a philosopher now.” I heard about the Stoics via “Sophie’s World”, which I read about 20 years ago. I’ve only just discovered Seneca through you. Thanks for the intro Tim. Like I said, I’ll listen and read some of his letters through your site and Audible. Cheers for your time, James.

  14. Morning T

    Time is the Only “thing” ( for a lack of a better term) that can Not be recovered. Everything else ( money,health, etc) has a flow to it, time has One direction, watch the speed 😉


  15. Tim,

    I work in software/hardware for Space telecommunication systems. Stoicism has been a philosophy that resonates with me, especially in this work environment. Very few people in the world know about my field of engineering. So when a problem arises you can’t simply Google it, or ask a friend. Stoic principles help me endure the hardship and find solutions.

    In my struggle to gain freedom through wealth and knowledge, this letter in particular has made reevaluate priorities to focus on the health of my mind and start a meditation routine every morning. Also I’m listening to Daily Self Discipline by Martin Meadows on audible.

    Thank you Tim for putting this info in my radar.

  16. “A man has four natural enemies: fear, clarity, power, and old age. Fear, clarity, and power can be overcome, but not old age. Its effect can be postponed, but it can never be overcome.” -Carlos Castaneda

    Teachers should know how to teach that lesson about power. But it’s rarely recognized or taught.

  17. Tim, love the podcast. The Seneca letters are fantastic. In terms of long form interviews, the guests are super interesting and I find the discussions about fear and courage to be especially insightful.

    I want to suggest a guest: Charlie Rose.

    Charlie has been doing long form interviews for ~25 years now and has spoken to most of the most interesting people in that period. His interviews focus on what makes his guests capable of extraordinary achievement. One of his favorite questions is – “What is it about you that enabled you to do x?”

    His experiences have not been distilled for the public by anybody. He would make an excellent guest.

  18. Hey Tim, I wanted to get your take on a unique dynamic I have at the small start-up that I co-founded. My original partner and the first person we hired to bring in to work with us are both very relaxed individuals and would rather slow things down to ensure they are done correctly. While I understand where they are coming from I am very much the opposite and like to execute things swiftly. However as we try our best to work together I usually end up having to patiently wait for them to act before I can. In the interim what is the best use of my time? Our company is doing well and while we aren’t generating revenue yet out idea is beginning to blossom and people are intruiged by what we are doing. Should I just sit back, relax and enjoy the journey or do you have advice of tasks I can accomplish in the interim to keep me engaged?

  19. Perfect timing for this letter, Tim. I greatly appreciate it. I’ve been struggling recently and this letter brought things into perspective. Much appreciation (and impeccable timing!).

  20. Have you read No Exit, the very short play by Satre? He and Seneca think alike. If we are given a way out, we may choose not to take it. Very thought provoking. Thank you, as always, for the care and consideration you put into your podcasts.

  21. Tim,

    Thank you so much for sharing Seneca. I hadn’t read/heard any Greek philosophy. I listened to it 5 times in a row on the way home tonight. Profound stuff, and never more needed than today. As a guy who’s better off than average, but nowhere near as wealthy as I have often aspired to be, or as wealthy as my friends, it was well-timed. I have four kids, and a second wife who I love greatly, and who loves me. We have a beautiful compact home and I have run my business for 23 years, with only one year of significant financial struggle. We’re all very healthy. I’m a lucky guy. Thanks for helping to remind me what’s important in life. I shall read more philosophy, and no doubt be all the wiser for it!

    With much appreciation


  22. excellent! thanks for sharing.

    Personally, I prefer your shows/podcasts that are short, say 10-20min. They tend to be of better content, more direct to the point, while the longer ones tend to have a lot of blabla… I must admit that I’ve only listened to 7 of your long ones (=more than 20min).

  23. Tim, apologies if someone else has already told you–

    The word “Tao” is correctly pronounced “Dow.” See Derek Lin’s post here: http://taoism.net/tao/how-to-pronounce-tao/

    Derek notes that the “Dow” pronunciation is what results when Chinese characters are transliterated into the Roman alphabet using the pinyin method. This is the method the Chinese government uses to write proper nouns in English. It’s why we now know the capital city of China as “Beijing” instead of “Peking.”

    The “Dow” pronunciation is not new. I learned it as an undergraduate studying the Tao Te Ching (correctly pronounced “Dow Duh Jing”) when you were a mere twinkle in your father’s eye.

    I know I’m not your target demographic, but I love your podcasts (most of them), your email newsletter, and 5-Bullet Fridays. I pre-ordered The 4-Hour Chef for my son for Christmas 2012 and then pre-read it before giving it to him. You’ve earned every bit of your success, and I wish you more of it!

  24. “…poverty may not have to be feared by you. But, what if it is something to be desired?”

    Last week, I stopped halfway through filling out applications to two national TV shows. I walked across the street to my pottery studio in the old, dirty shed to glaze mugs. This was the first podcast I listened to and it was surreal.

    Why did I get a bad taste in my mouth halfway through the TV applications? Our company is growing and I just broke a Guinness World Record. My odds of getting on TV are likely the best yet.

    This letter from Seneca helped me realize that fame might not bring the type of wealth that will make life better. Poverty might be a better short-term option.

    Famous painter Vincent van Gogh lived in extreme, self induced poverty. It’s a cornerstone of his legacy. Did it provide insights that allowed his art to powerfully affect countless people globally for more than a century?

    I’m striving to gain wealth through painfully strict methods, but through gratifying pain- like the satisfaction felt after finishing a tough workout. Avoiding unhappiness and shallow, nonintellectual temptations seems important. This podcast has repeatedly help me keep things in perspective. Thanks!

  25. Hi Tim,

    This is a very interesting idea that is hard to disagree with, but it is impossible to reconcile this philosophy with the single-minded, dogmatic & obsessive approach required to build a business from nothing to something. Can you share some insight into this contradiction as it is something that I am struggling with?

  26. Nice quick listen, and I definitely took some wisdom from it, however I can’t say I enjoyed it. Of course, that doesn’t mean it wasn’t good though! We need that sometimes too. Thanks