Why you NEED a philosophy of life

:: else you will live someone else’s life, miserably

© Image by Ainsley A man at peace, living his philosophy of life

Everyone lives by a personal philosophy, but most don’t know they even have one, and certainly couldn’t describe it. Most are living existing according to other people’s philosophy. Most people have no clue who they are or what they really want from life.

Are you any different?

Perhaps. Searching out articles like this one suggests you could be.

er, what is it exactly?

Philosophy of life:~ an overall vision or attitude toward life and the purpose of life.

You needn’t know anything about filosofi, not even how to spell it. Philosophy of life is simply a grand term for how you believe you could live your best life. This vision should encapsulate the very essence of you as an individual, the principles you value above all, the reason you exist. And, equally important, it requires a practical plan for living this philosophy.

As a human being, you have no choice about the fact that you need a philosophy. Your only choice is whether you define your philosophy by a conscious, rational, disciplined process of thought and scrupulously logical deliberation — or let your subconscious accumulate a junk heap of unwarranted conclusions, false generalizations, undefined contradictions, undigested slogans, unidentified wishes, doubts and fears, thrown together by chance, but integrated by your subconscious into a kind of mongrel philosophy and fused into a solid weight: self-doubt, like a ball and chain in the place where your mind’s wings should have grown. “Philosophy: Who Needs It” ~ Ayn Rand

why bother?

In later articles we’ll look at how you develop your own way of living your life. It takes time and effort, so why bother? We’re going to spend the next 420 seconds learning why it is one of the most important things you will ever do.

tl;dr :- if you don’t work out your own philosophy, you will live inauthentically, on someone else’s terms, and never know why you’re not happy!

I’m no Apple fan-boi, but have to admit Steve Jobs said it well:

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become.

The default philosophy of our times is to avoid pain and maximise pleasure. At first glance, this seems a very reasonable way to live. But this entire website, channeling the wisest people in history, shows that by itself this is not enough for happiness.

Most of us need much more than this to feel fulfilled. We need to work out:

  1. what is most important to us; our Grand Goal in living
  2. how we’re going to organise our life to achieve this Goal

That is, we need a philosophy of life.

terrible things will happen if you don’t have a philosophy

All our activities are limited by time, by our death. But we forget this. We fill up our time with distractions, never asking whether they are important, whether we really find them of value. And so we come to live an inauthentic life. “Being and Time” ~ Heidegger

Going through life without a philosophy is like sailing a boat without a rudder or charts. You’re seeking happiness, but you don’t know where it is or what it looks like. You don’t know where you are or where you’re heading. And even if you know the right direction, you have no means of steering there. You drift along the sea of life, blown in one direction and then another.

At some point, maybe on your deathbed, before then if you’re lucky, today if you’re wise, you might come to a sickening terrifying conclusion. You might realise you’ve wasted your life chasing things you really don’t care about.

We’re not very good at understanding what it is that we really want. We’re extremely prone to latch onto suggestions from the outside world. ~ Alain de Botton

the real-life benefits

  1. helps you discover what is truly important to you
  2. helps you remember these values, once discovered
  3. gives a sense of how to pursue the important things
  4. prevents you wasting time doing/seeking what you don’t value
  5. prevents life pushing you around
  6. helps with decision-making
  7. forces you to take responsibility for your own actions
  8. allows you to live an authentic life
  9. is essential for your happiness

1. discover what is truly important to you

This! This is the life changer. Everything follows from here.

Very few of us have the motivation (or the courage) to question the way we are living and the conventions of our society. Often we need some form of existential crisis to jolt us out of our routine. For me it was a health scare (I know - what a cliche).

The process of developing a philosophy of life starts with asking ourselves whether the way we are passing our days is truly making us happy and fulfilled.

If you are lucky, you find you are on your way to a coherent life. The small things you do every day are aligned both to your values and your long-term goals. Double-check you’re not fooling yourself, and then congratulate yourself and expect to be happy!

But what you discover may not be what you expected. If the way you are living is out of sync with the real you, if you’re a corporate lawyer who is really a gardener (or vice versa), then there is likely to be a sense of emptiness, of something missing. A few such people can successfully delude themselves, reassured and distracted by their achievements and possessions. But if you have the tiniest bit of insight, you will realise you are not quite as happy as you could be. This process of discovering your values is the essential first step towards filling in the emptiness.

Anybody who is imitating somebody else, no matter who it is, is heading in the wrong direction. “Full Catastrophe Living” ~ Jon Kabat Zinn

2. remember these values, once discovered

It seems ridiculous to think that we could forget what we have discovered. Yet values like "harmony", "strength", "teamwork" are just words, and if they exist for you solely as an academic exercise they will have no power. A philosophy of life is the framework that keeps these values central in your decisions and actions.

3. gives a sense of how to pursue the important things

Once you’ve worked this value stuff out then things slowly fall into place. Instead of conspiring against you, life now offers up opportunities. You begin to see options where before you were stuck on auto-pilot.

4. don’t waste time doing/seeking what you don’t value

Understanding that life really is short, and that some behaviours are unlikely to bring fulfillment and happiness, allows you to cut out the bullshit from your life.

[These first points are expanded in “A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy” by William B Irvine, and also here.]

5. prevents life pushing you around

Developing a philosophy of life won’t prevent illness and misfortune. It will help you keep these in perspective, work out a plan and move forward on your own terms.

6. helps with decision-making

Even if you are completely unaware of your philosophy, you do have one; and it influences all your decisions, which in turn influence how your life turns out. If your philosophy is piecemeal and contradictory, then one day’s decision will be reversed by the next day’s. Even if you have a goal, you will not make much progress towards it.

On the other hand, if you have a coherent philosophy, then not only does it make the process of decision making far easier, but all your decisions will move you in the direction you intended to go.

Man is nothing other than his own project ~ Sartre

Say you’re invited to apply for a promotion at work. If you’re living by society’s philosophy, then you will apply. More money, more status, of course you apply, never mind the extra work you will bring home. But if you refer all decisions back to your personal philosophy, you might remember you have enough money to live (just), and you value time more. Time to play with your daughter, learn Japanese, start a business from home.

Or, say you’re invited to apply for a promotion at work. If you’re living by your work-friends’ philosophy, then you don’t apply. They want you to go to the pub and the next day throw a sickie, they don’t want you getting ahead. But if you refer all decisions back to your personal philosophy, you might remember you only want friends who help you grow, and that you are keen to take on more challenges.

So, knowing your philosophy of life allows you to make the decision that is best for you. You won’t wake up in 10 years wondering what happened, how you ended up in this mess, living someone else’s life.

7. forces you to take responsibility for your own actions

Sounds a little scary. But really this is the same as taking responsibility for your own happiness.

One’s philosophy is not best expressed in words; it is expressed in the choices one makes. In the long run, we shape our lives, and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die. And the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility ~ Eleanor Roosevelt

8. allows you to live authentically

If you’ve thought about the best way to live your life, then it's more likely your opinions and thoughts will agree with each other, and that you will act in accordance with your beliefs. This means you will be living a coherent and therefore happier life, and that other people will see you as a person of integrity.

9. is a direct path to happiness

You now know who you are and what you believe in. You can choose to live an authentic life. Your mood and self-opinion will be less dependant on outside events and other people. How can this fail to fill you with confidence and optimism?

Being your philosophy of life is the same as being happy!

So which do you chose?

Stumbling randomly in the dark, relying on luck to bring you happiness? Or learning your true nature, and planning your life so that happiness is inevitable?

This is all talk! How do I actually do it?

Read on

P.S. Here's a great interactive site to help you work out your personal values

But before you go, please:

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