4 Timeless Principles about What’s Important in Life
There are all sorts of values that are popular today in mainstream culture and media, which people use – both consciously and unconsciously – to orient their lives around.
When you take a broader view of history, though, it becomes clear pretty quickly that many of the values that were traditionally emphasized by cultures and religions around the world and throughout time, are very different to many of the values that society holds up today.
Perhaps the place where this difference is most clear is when it comes to questions about what’s important in life, and what it means to live a good and worthwhile life that you can be proud of, and look back on with a sense of contentment, rather than regret.
Unfortunately, no one lives forever. While it’s good that there are resources like Grief Guidance from Memorials.com to help us deal with the loss of those close to us, and with our fears about our own mortality, it’s also important to find a way to live so that you don’t have to feel as though you’ve spent your life focusing on the wrong things.
Here are a few timeless principles that can be found in traditions and philosophies around the world, about what’s important in life.
Authenticity rather than status
From the teachings of religious figures like Lao Tzu and Buddha, to the writings of philosophers like Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius, it’s long been said by wise and learned individuals that the pursuit of social status above authenticity is an ultimately unfulfilling and hollow endeavor.
Of course, we all need to be able to get along with the people we interact with to some degree. But, in today’s social media age, there are perhaps more people than ever before who are obsessed with the idea of being famous for its own sake, and are willing to sacrifice a lot in the pursuit of that fame.
When all is said and done, though, “fame” means very little in a big picture sense. No matter how famous you are, public opinion can still turn against you. And “fame” doesn’t correlate to meaningful relationships in your personal life – in fact, it’s more likely to be the exact opposite.
What’s more, the pursuit of fame is all about an act. It’s about playing the right role to draw out the right reaction from the greatest number of people. In pursuing fame for its own sake, you’ll almost certainly be sacrificing your authenticity among other things – because real, authentic people aren’t always going to believe, feel, and act in ways that appeal to the greatest number of people.
At the end of the day, we all need to live with ourselves. So, earn your self-respect by being true to your values, interests, and personality. By all means, pursue self-improvement – but do it to be a better version of yourself, not to increase your social status.
Wonder and enthusiasm rather than irony
The closing words of the moving poem, Desiderata, by Max Ehrmann are:
“With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.”
On my homepage, and Instagram page, you'll see my slogan as "the world is my playground". The meaning is about having fun in life and enjoy every part of your surroundings instead of wishing for a better playground.
Life is full of beauty and things to experience a sense of wonder over, if we let ourselves. But life is also full of danger, sorrow, mishaps, and things that can disturb our equilibrium and fill us with dread.
Irony is a very popular default personality setting these days – and, of course, irony can be appropriate, and can be funny. But if you find yourself treating everything in your life with a sense of irony, you are shutting out the possibility of wonder and enthusiasm – because irony is fundamentally a defense mechanism that makes everything into a bit of a joke.
If you allow yourself to be open to the wonder, enthusiasm, and potential that life holds – if you take a moment to truly appreciate a beautiful sunset, or the smell of a wildflower – life will be a much richer and more profound thing. But in order to meet life on those terms, you have to be willing to be earnest.
Connection rather than popularity
Everyone wants to be “popular” on some level. It’s the same basic impulse as the desire to be famous – although the desire to be popular has more to do with wanting to be liked by everyone you encounter, and to be at the heart of your own social environment.
Much like fame, however, if you actively prioritize and pursue popularity you’ll most likely find yourself acting out a certain role that you believe people want to see, instead of being authentic and sincere.
You will also very likely end up with a large number of shallow connections and acquaintances who you invest an inordinate amount of time in nurturing. But when a major hurdle appears in your life, will those dozens of casual friends be there to stand by your side?
As a general rule, it’s always best to emphasize genuine connection rather than popularity. Spend most of your time with the people whose company means the most to you. Get to know people – whether your family, a significant other, or some friends of yours – on a deep level. Share experiences. Make sacrifices for each other. Become connected more and more deeply.
Experiences rather than things
When it comes to material belongings, it’s certainly better to have what you need than to not have what you need. And there’s nothing wrong with a bit of comfort, and a few nice things in your life.
But if you find yourself constantly putting off and passing up on experiences that you feel could enrich your life, because you are exclusively focusing on things like your job and your material belongings, you run the very real risk of making it to the end of your life and finding that those missed experiences and the memories that would have come with them were the real prize.
Take up hobbies that excite you. Go and visit places that you find beautiful. Take some chances, and put yourself in some unfamiliar and disorienting scenarios.
As human beings, we all tend to grow and define ourselves largely through the experiences we have, and the ways we choose to react to them.