41 Rules for a Good Life From Influential Philosophers

Thomas Oppong — August 16, 2022 7-9 minutes

Philosophy aims to answer “big questions.”

What is the purpose of life?”What is a meaningful life? What is a good life? What is morally right or wrong? What is objective reality?

Philosophers have been pondering these questions for centuries. Since ancient times, people have pondered the meaning of life and examined their natures to find happiness.

In fact, the field of philosophy has yielded many answers over the years, and some of those answers are more than just interesting theories that might not be applicable in every situation.

The field of philosophy is vast and varied, but many of its ideas can be distilled down to a few principles. Philosophical ideas include the concepts of truth and reality, morality and ethics, mind and brain, science and logic, politics and society, and history and memory.

Many philosophers work to provide answers to important questions in these areas. They do this by investigating the nature of reality, thinking about what people know or believe, exploring the origins of values, examining how people make decisions, comparing different ways of understanding the world, discussing what makes a good life, and more.

A good life involves cultivating ethics, friendship, love, wisdom, courage, self-confidence and acceptance. Philosophers have long argued that we can live a good life by following certain rules and principles.

While there is no one set of rules that will ensure a good life, following some general principles can help us lead a more meaningful life.

I’ve pulled together some of the most relevant insights into what makes life worth living in the hope that they will inspire you to pursue your true north.

1. Great lives are built on solid foundations. The first step towards building a good life is understanding that you have options when designing your own version.

2.You might not be able to control everything about your life, but you can take an active role in shaping the essential things.

3. Be true to yourself, even when it goes against the grain.

4. Emotional outbursts and anger rob us of the present. “For every minute you are angry you lose sixty seconds of happiness.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

5. Be open to new experiences and opportunities to expand your realities, perceptions and assumptions about life and living it.

6. Knowledge is reality — to improve your reality, upgrade your knowledge.

7. Always acknowledge your limitations. Knowledge of your ignorance is key to wisdom. “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.” ― Socrates

8. A good understanding of what’s within your control is key to happiness.

9. Instead of passively drifting through life from moment to moment with no real plan or purpose, try actively choosing the things you do each day and making them as meaningful as possible.

10. You cannot control what others think, say or do: let that guide your expectations of people.

11. Your language defines your reality: question what you think is the only truth. “The limits of my language are the limits of my world.” — Ludwig Wittgenstein

12. Your ability to spot rational fallacy is key to overcoming thinking blindspots. The unexamined assumption closes doors to objective reality.

13. Reality is not flawless. “Underneath this reality in which we live and have our being, another and altogether different reality lies concealed.” — Friedrich Nietzsche

14. By questioning your inherited beliefs, you will understand what you believe and ultimately get to know yourself better.

15. The act of questioning is the only way to find the truth — maintain your curiosity. “Dare to know! Have the courage to use your own intelligence.” — Immanuel Kant

16. Independent thinking is the only way to find yourself. “To find yourself, think for yourself.” ― Socrates

17. There is no single “right” way to live. A good life is an experiment in progress. Repeat what works for you but keep digging to upgrade your understanding and mindset.

18. Think about it. There’s always a way out — your job is to balance emotion, reason and logic.

19. All roads lead to happiness. “Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.” — Aristotle

20. Strive to do meaningful work: your freedom depends on it.

21. Life is long if you spend it right — pursuing your true north or whatever it is that means the world to you.

22. Choose the present. Seize the present. Be present. “To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.” — Oscar Wilde

23. The past and future are illusions of what was or could happen. Don’t live your life in expectancy.

24. “This is the real secret of life — to be completely engaged with what you are doing in the here and now. And instead of calling it work, realize it is play,” Watts observed.

25. Find contentment in the eternal now. “Life is not a problem to be solved but a reality to be experienced.” — Soren Kierkegaard

26. Don’t aim to change others. Master yourself to rule your world. “Conquer yourself rather than the world.” — Rene Descartes

27. We cannot know with absolute certainty what the “right” answers are, but we can gain valuable perspective if we keep an open mind.

28. Life is meaningful — find your personal meaning. “Life is without meaning. You bring the meaning to it.

29. The meaning of life is whatever you ascribe it to be. Being alive is the meaning.” — Joseph Campbell

30. Be mindful of your thoughts, words, and actions and try not to get caught up in modern distractions.

31. Everyone has their own truth; we cannot judge others or tell them what is right or wrong because everyone has their own truth that guides them towards balance and harmony within themselves.

32. Define your values, ethics and principles for life — they are the foundation for living your best possible life.

33. Live in accordance with nature: follow the rhythms of nature and respect the seasons of the year.

34. There is no such thing as “true” or “false”. When you believe something to be true, you are taking a perspective that helps you make sense of the way things are.

35. There is no one right way to live a good life, but many different realities can help shape your view of the world and guide you towards a fulfilling existence.

36. Your knowledge defines your approach to life. If you want a different outcome, improve your mindset. “No man’s knowledge here can go beyond his experience” — John Locke

37. To lead a good life, you need both wisdom and virtue. Good wisdom leads to good virtue, and vice versa. Wisdom is the ability to recognize, understand, and apply knowledge. Virtue refers to the habits of character that help you lead a good life.

38. Learn to ask better questions. Through the process of trial and error, you can discover previously unknown solutions.

39. Learn from the past but don’t stay there. “Life must be understood backward. But it must be lived forward ” — Søren Kierkegaard

40. People who lead good lives have a sense of purpose and meaning. This purpose and meaning can come from many different sources. These include work, family, personal growth, spirituality, and friendships.

41. It’s not enough to gain knowledge — apply what you know. “It is not enough to have a good mind; the main thing is to use it well.” — René Descartes

This article originally appeared in Medium.