Knowing What is Essential

Your life philosophy is your basis for making sense of your life and the broader world. If you have one, it is also the basis for directing your life. But what is the basis for your life philosophy?

Broadly there are two options for the substance of your life philosophy. People either look to others or look to themselves. Turning to others for what is essential comes in a number of forms from religion to general philosophies to social norms. Turning inward involves knowing yourself and what is essential to you. 

In human matters, whenever there are two options, the reality is that it is not possible to do solely one or the other. You come into the equation even if you choose to defer to others, and others have influence even if you choose to pursue your own basis.

Others have a way of making their basis known. Religion dates back longer than we can comprehend and is found in many forms in all parts of the world. Philosophy is also ancient. While it is seemingly less pervasive, it is the origin of all of the sciences. Social norms are prehistoric and in their modern form influence every part of our lives. 

Knowing your own basis is less common and more difficult. It is less common because we tend to accept religion, general philosophies, the sciences and social norms. Accepting them tends to preempt knowing your own basis. They fill in the need we have and we don’t pursue our own basis. This even tends to happen if the basis from others doesn’t serve us well. 

One challenge with knowing your own basis comes from the need to separate the din of what others think from your thoughts and feelings. This challenge is universal. Even as adults we all have to work to know what is essential independent from what others say should be. 

Glowing water droplets on a green, heart-shaped redbud leaf

Hearing our own perspective over the din of influence from others is necessary. One approach is to focus on what is essential. It is universal for family, community, livelihood and faith to be essential in our lives. There are also aspects of life and the world that are uniquely essential to you as an individual. Focusing on these can help you know the basis of your personal philosophy.

Consider making a list of things that you seem to have a connection with. Aspects of life, living and the broader world that resound with you. These are the things that demand your attention, inspire you, drive you or otherwise evoke strong thoughts and emotions.

Once you have this list, think through what is behind each of them. What they mean to you and why they are essential to you is important. Knowing this can lead to understanding the basis for your life philosophy.

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