Life Philosophy 101 – An Introduction

Personal life philosophies are not a common subject and quality information on them can be difficult to find. They can tend to be grouped with other more prescriptive philosophies or reduced to personal slogans like bumper stickers or t-shirts.

Personal Life Philosophies are unique in that there are as many of them as there are individuals. Just as no two people are alike, no two life philosophies are the same. We each have our own basis for understanding ourselves, our lives and the world and our own aspirations for how we seek them to be.

This introduction touches on the essential knowledge that everyone should have to understand personal life philosophies, why they are essential life tools and how they can enrich your life.

Introduction to Life Philosophy Resources

These key concepts establish a common foundation of knowledge.  This foundation will be helpful as you develop and live your personal life philosophy.

Start here if you are unfamiliar with life philosophy or want a refresher. Expand each of the sections if you would like more in depth information.

Life philosophy can be a tricky subject to embrace. There are common misconceptions that can bias your understanding and lead you to avoid the whole topic.  

Understanding these misconceptions can stop them from preventing knowing and embracing your unique personal philosophy.

Just as we all have our own life philosophy; we all have our own way of learning.

If you prefer, choose the topics you want to cover in the order that works best for you.

Key Concepts about Personal Philosophies

What is a personal philosophy?

A personal life philosophy is your unique understanding of and perspective on the world and life including how you think life should be lived and the world should be.

Why does this matter? Your personal philosophy is a way to crystalize and make real your understanding of the world and life to help you make sense of it, know what is essential, sharpen your vision and bring clarity to a complex world.

The concept of a personal philosophy is something that is unique and something that is not generally well known or widespread, at least personal philosophies that are well developed and that can bring real value to one’s life. One can wonder why this is so, especially considering the importance of one’s personal philosophy

In general, personal philosophies include things like your most essential truths and insights about, and highest aspirations, for life and the world. They bring value to your life both through the process of developing them and through helping make more definite thoughts and feelings that can be abstract and difficult to readily access and use in your life.

A personal philosophy encapsulates what is most essential, of great consequence, vital, enlightening and imperative. It is based upon what captures your imagination, demands your attention, comes naturally to you, incites you to action, inspires you, infuriates you, drives you or frees you to the greatest degree.

Personal philosophies are typically stated in a written form such as a set of principles or tenets and sometimes are written in an essay format, though they can take any from that you find useful.

Note: There are a series of related terms used for referring to personal philosophies including personal philosophy on life, living philosophy.  Just about every conceivable combination and variation of the words philosophy, life and personal that are used to refer to personal philosophies.  Here, the terms personal philosophy, personal life philosophy and life philosophy are used interchangeably.

What is life philosophy?

Life philosophy is the development and application of your personal philosophy to your life.  Life philosophy includes two primary components: your personal philosophy and the ongoing act of making it real through developing and living it.

Why does this matter? Personal philosophies that cannot be or are not used in one’s life, may be interesting to contemplate and discuss over an adult beverage, but they cannot enrich your life unless you actually use them in it.

Beyond the potentially transformational experience of developing a personal philosophy, most of its value is realized through living it. A personal philosophy that is only vague concepts or even one is well formed but unused is of little value. Your personal philosophies can be of great value, but only if it is clear to you and made real in your life. Living your personal philosophy is how you realize the value of it for yourself and the world. There are a wealth of practical and enriching ways that your personal philosophy can be used in your life.


Why should I put effort into developing my personal philosophy?

Although each of us naturally has the basis for our personal philosophy, most of us do not understand our basis in ways that help us or in ways that we can make use of. Developing your personal philosophy clarifies it for you and helps you gain active knowledge of it.

Why does this matter?  The experience of developing your personal philosophy includes connecting with what is essential to you in the world, which is a rewarding and enriching experience itself. Most importantly developing and actively knowing your personal philosophy enables you to use it in your life and realize the value it can bring.

When following a good approach for developing yours, you start to realize the value early in the process. Because of the nature of personal philosophies, you necessarily need to consider your perspective on the world and to understand your thoughts and feelings about it.  Most of us do not take the time or invest the effort into actively working to understand our perspective on the world and ourselves. Developing your personal philosophy gives you an opportunity to indulge in doing so in a way that gets around much of the challenge of being too actively introspective, or touchy-feely. With the right approach, getting in touch with your perspective on the world and yourself is rewarding, freeing and simply enjoyable. You may even find it an experience that is affirmational or transformational.

Beyond the enriching personal experience, developing your personal philosophy will clarify your unique understanding of the world and life for you and make it something that you actively know. A personal philosophy that is just thoughts and feelings floating around in your mind has about as much value as a personal desire to become Yoda. It may be an interesting thought, but it probably won’t go much further than that. Your personal philosophy needs to be clear to you and something that you actively know. Clarity is critical so that when you need to use it in your life you don’t have to sort through it to figure out how it applies. Actively knowing your personal philosophy allows you to use it in your life. Not being able to clearly remember your personal philosophy makes it difficult to use in the moment. If you have to refer back to it in some written form it probably doesn’t have the clarity needed to be a real and present part of your life. Part of developing your personal philosophy is crafting it to be clear so that you can and actively know and use it in your life in large and small ways.

The importance (value) of your personal philosophy in life.

Your personal philosophy begins to bring value to your life through the experience of developing it and continues to do so for the rest of your life. It will help you make sense of the world, understand what is meaningful to you, clarify your insights, motivate and inspire you, and help you find and maintain your direction.

What does this mean to me?  Your personal philosophy is a real-world life tool. Without it you are in many ways unequipped for life in an increasingly complex and difficult world for you as an individual.

The process of developing your personal philosophy necessarily requires being in touch with the world and yourself.  The experience of doing so in a concerted, intentional way helps you crystalize what is meaningful in the world to you.  This is one part of the reason why you should put the effort into developing your personal philosophy.

Beyond the experience of developing your personal philosophy, the real importance of a personal philosophy is that it equips you for life in a complex world in ways that can be difficult to do otherwise. Knowing and understanding your essential truths about, and aspirations for, life and the world as well as what you value and what is meaningful to you helps you with some of the most challenging aspects of life. Many of the traditional sources that people have relied upon for these answers are outdated and not relevant in today’s world. Without a personal philosophy you can be left searching for answers when challenges in life arise. Your personal philosophy helps you make sense of life and the challenges you encounter. It also helps you identify things you do that are out of sync with what you place value in and be a source of strength for changing them. It will help you fend off the constant barrage from others trying to make you do and think what they want you to. It provides a clear source of personal direction that can help with difficult or important decisions that you need to make in life. It can help you better understand your unique insights about life and the world and make the most of them. It can even inspire you to do something that is wildly aspirational that you would likely not do without the clarity, vision and meaning that your personal philosophy makes real for you. Knowing and living your personal philosophy will help you be more effective in the world and help you to contribute to realizing the things that you aspire for life and the world to be.What

Why aren't personal philosophies taught on a wider basis?

The primary purpose of education in most parts of the world is to produce individuals that are effective members of society and productive workers. Secondarily the concept of personal philosophies and the individual or “self” are relatively new (see the brief history of personal philosophies).

Why should I care about this? A personal philosophy is something that is not needed to be a productive worker or effective member of society. It is needed if you are going to live an engaged, meaningful life that aligns with who you are and what you seek for your life and the world to be.

The value of education cannot be overstated. Knowledge is empowering. Self-knowledge, like that used in one’s personal philosophy, is an especially powerful form of knowledge. Unfortunately, self-knowledge is something that most of us must learn on our own without significant guidance or education about it. 

An important part of developing a personal philosophy is quality self-knowledge. While some education systems do seek to develop the individual, but even they do not overtly educate individuals on developing self-knowledge. The concept of personal philosophies, the self and self-knowledge are relatively new. Most education systems are based upon century old theory and have not kept up with these concepts or integrated them into their method and curriculum. Imagine if our education systems sought to help people become self-aware, develop self-knowledge and become more enlightened about life and the world, instead of just seeking to produce productive contributing members of society. 

A personal philosophy is something that can help you get beyond the narrow vision and relatively low expectations that many educational systems have for you. It can help you become more self-aware, more knowledgeable and more enlightened about life and the world.

What can be included in a personal philosophy.

What can be included in your personal philosophy?

Anything that you think or feel is essential to your understanding of and perspective on life and the world. 

Why is the point?  There are some things that can be helpful to include to make your unique personal philosophy more valuable in your life, but in the end, it is up to you. 

A personal philosophy is the encapsulation of one’s most essential truths about, and aspirations for, the world, life and one’s self. That said, you can choose what to include in yours. To be able to apply your personal philosophy to your life, it is helpful if one includes things that you uniquely understand about life and the world, or your truths, and how you would like to see the world be, or your aspirations. The two together create a view of what you know about the world that is most significant to you, how you think life and the world should be and your desires for them. Your personal philosophy can include anything you find essential such as what you place value in and find especially meaningful. If there are other aspects of your understanding of yourself, life or the world that you think are substantive, you should include them.

One of the key attributes of your personal philosophy is that it draws upon your unique knowledge of the world and yourself. The types of knowledge that can be used in your life philosophy are those encompassed by knowledge in a broad sense. Often the concept of knowledge is constrained to specific types of knowledge such as that which is taught through formal education or that which can be attained through science and reason. While there are no hard rules about personal philosophies, constraining yourself to narrow definitions of knowledge is limiting. Including what you know beyond your capacity for reason and the realm of scientific proof, such that which you know through emotion and intuition, helps to create a personal philosophy that captures the nature of being human. Einstein’s essay in Living Philosophies is a great example of how this is true. If you are going to apply your personal philosophy to your life, it should be substantive and not oversimplify the nature of life to the point of being of little value in it. It also should not be limited to someone else’s definition of what a life philosophy should entail, or what it should be based upon.  Too, it should not be limited to systems thought and belief that have been formalized and categorized. In many ways, personal philosophy allows you to move beyond these prescribed ways of understanding and create a perspective that is rich in meaning to you.

Including those things that are the most significant to you, especially what sets you apart from others, is one approach. For instance, we all place high value on our families, health and livelihood. These are universal and stating them as a personal philosophy, while perfectly valid, may not be very insightful about your personal truths or aspirations for life and the world. In a similar way, a personal philosophy is not necessarily about defining universal truths or answering life’s big questions such as the purpose or meaning of life. These can be included if your knowledge of them is especially significant to you. Your personal philosophy is about understanding and expressing the things that stand out to you above all others.

What do I need to know to develop my personal philosophy?

Having a reasonably broad view of life and the world is helpful, as is being able to connect with and understanding your perspective on it. An understanding of personal philosophies is also helpful.

Why does this matter to me?  While having a broad view of life and the world is important, you can never know, feel or experience everything. When you decide to develop your personal philosophy, it is important to use your perspective on the world to the greatest extent possible. Too, your personal philosophy will likely evolve as you and the world change.

Your personal philosophy necessarily draws upon your understanding of life and the world. If you have limited experience with life and the world, it can be helpful to work to expand your perspective. Even if you have an expansive perspective on the world, being in touch with that perspective is important. You may find it helpful to spend some time reconnecting with your perspective on the world as you craft your personal philosophy. Too, you continue to learn and change throughout your life and the world continues to change at a rapid pace. An effective approach for crafting your personal philosophy should help you connect with what is essential in the world to and to understand why throughout your life.

Having a good connection with yourself is also helpful. This connection allows you to understand your perspective on the world including your thoughts and feelings about it. You may find it necessary to work to create this connection, or to reconnect with yourself if you have lost touch. One of the challenges with creating and maintaining it is the constant barrage we are under from others wanting us to think and do what they want us to. A good connection with yourself helps cut through this barrage. An effective approach for developing your personal philosophy will also help.

Like with most things that you undertake, a good understanding of what you are taking on and what is involved with accomplishing it is advisable. Having an understanding of personal philosophies and what is involved with developing one can help you successfully craft yours so that it is valuable in your life.

Where did the concept of personal philosophies come from?

While the roots of personal philosophies, individual’s interpretations on what is important in the world, can be seen even in the earliest artwork and myths, personal philosophies per se arrived on the scene much more recently.  They appear to have come into general use within the last century or so.

Why should this matter to me?  The relatively recent arrival of personal philosophies is indicative of a changing world in which individuals need to be more effectively equipped to meet the challenges of an increasingly complex life and world.

Like most forms of modern thinking, the roots of personal philosophies appear to have evolved along with human thought. Prehistoric evidence for personal views on the world and what is most significant in it are likely captured in the earliest myths and paintings. These early forms of expression undoubtedly included some personal interpretation of the world for practical use. Yet, considering them to be statements of personal philosophy is a stretch at best. The first formal thinking related to personal philosophies dates back to the time of the early thinkers on human condition and the nature of the world that we live in. Religious beliefs and religions evolved from individuals’ personal understanding of the world. Confucius’s writings can be considered a good example of how this happened. Undoubtedly, many of those who have focused their life on the pursuit of philosophy necessarily include what would constitute their own philosophy on life in their work including the first recognized philosophers in the 600-500 BC period. One perspective on philosophy itself is that it can be considered the pursuit of making sense of life and the world. Beyond those who pursued philosophy per se, many great thinkers and people who have put their imprint upon the course of history have recorded their philosophical perspective behind their thinking and actions. Abraham Lincoln is a familiar, notable example, and there are many more. Yet none of these can be considered a personal philosophy per se.

Personal philosophies in the context used here, are prevalent in modern times. In 1931 a volume of Living Philosophies was published by Simon & Schuster and includes short essays about their philosophy on life from notable figures including Albert Einstein. These insightful essays capture their perspective on the world including their beliefs and ideals. Two subsequent volumes were published with essays from other notables, I Believe in 1942 and Living Philosophies in 1990. All of which are worth reading.  These essays seem to come the closest to the concept of personal philosophy as used here. Interestingly the concept of individual identity and the self appears to have come into prominence on a similar timeline, within the last century.

The rapid escalation of the challenges facing humanity in general, the shift away from traditional sources and authorities for answers to life’s important questions, the increasingly difficult global environmental and political situation and the escalating assault on our individuality through the ever-present screens we view all seem to be reasons why personal philosophies are becoming more prominent. In many ways, personal philosophies have become a vital form of empowerment for the individual actualizing their individuality.

Using your personal philosophy in your life.

There are virtually limitless ways that you can use your personal philosophy in your life.  How you do so will vary based upon where you are in life and what is happening in yours.

Why should this matter to me?  Just as there is no right or wrong personal philosophy there is no right or wrong way to make your personal philosophy part of your life.

Your personal philosophy can be made part of your life in ways large and small. In looking at the importance (value) of your personal philosophy in life, we touched upon many of the ways your personal philosophy brings value to your life including as a source of meaning, a source of guidance for important decisions, a source of strength, a source of vision and insight, even a source of inspiration.

Through actively knowing your personal philosophy you can use it in your daily life as you make decisions and to help guide your actions to be in line with how you seek to be. It can be easy to take the path of least resistance or to succumb, even momentarily, to the toxic messaging constantly targeting you. Actively knowing your personal philosophy helps you be more intentional and fend off this and other forces working against you.

Making your personal philosophy a part of your daily life helps keep what you find essential, place value in, and draw meaning from present in your life. It also provides a reassuring sense of understanding and direction through your essential truths and aspirations.

Your life philosophy can help you better understand yourself and your perspective on just about everything and under any circumstances. Having a well-developed life philosophy also allows you to share and discuss it with others, if you choose to.  It can help them understand you and your actions.  Sharing your life philosophy or some part of it can be helpful in many situations such as when you have to explain choices that you make which are different from others or that don’t align with their expectations of you.

Your life philosophy can help you achieve a greater sense of meaning and fulfillment. Some think that it is only possible to achieve higher levels of meaning and happiness through the understanding and awareness that knowing and living a personal philosophy can provide.

Common Misconceptions About Personal Philosophies

I don’t have or need a personal philosophy.

Short Answer:
Everyone has some form of a personal philosophy. Most just have not developed it into something they actively know or use in their lives.

Each individuals’ personal philosophy, including yours, is their unique understanding of the world that is developed into a form that can be actively known and used in their life. When you consider the scope of the human experience, including what we can know and feel and how we can know and feel it, and the diversity of individuals, we all truly have our unique understanding of the world.

There is strength in diversity.  You as an empowered, self-actualized and enlightened individual build upon what it means to be human and for us to collectively be humanity. Understanding your unique knowledge and wisdom about life and the world will help you become an empowered, self-actualized and enlightened individual.

The kinds of changes that are confronting individuals and humanity require something more than for all of us to live and think the same way, or even subscribe to a defined set of philosophic and religious systems. The scales are tipped toward you becoming more like everyone else. The intentional attempt to control your thoughts and actions through messaging and artificial intelligence is invading all aspects of your life. It is an attempt to make you think and behave in ways that others seek for you to. Actively knowing your understanding of the world and your aspirations for it is not only essential for surviving in an increasingly complex and difficult world, it is key to advancing us as humanity and overcoming the crises that confront us now and in the future.

Personal philosophies are only for big thinkers.

Short Answer:
Each of us has a unique understanding of the world and the ability to define our own personal philosophy. Be wary of anyone or any entity that tries to make you think otherwise. Question their motives. 

Society puts undue importance on the personal philosophies of famous people and preserves their perspective through time disproportionally. Historically, this may have largely been a product of our ability to record and publish the thoughts of any one person. It may be no coincidence that as our ability to record our individual thinking and share it broadly the importance of the big thinkers’ thoughts is diminishing.

For some reason, we have a tendency to treat some and their thoughts effectively as idols. We often turn to those that we view as authorities for answers to life’s important questions when the reality is that they are just people and their answers are merely that, theirs. They are not better than the answers that we each have, yet we often place more value in them than our own. 

In the end, you determine your personal philosophy. If you decide to adopt a philosophy or components of a philosophy that is defined by someone else, that is your choice. The important thing is that you have explored the world enough to know what makes sense to you and works for you. Too, nothing in life is cast in stone. The world changes and we all grow and learn. As you do, your personal philosophy should as well.

But it is not only the famous who leave their marks. 
Every single one of us has, I believe, a significant part to play in the scheme of things.  Some contributors that go unrecognized may nevertheless be of the utmost importance. 

– Jane Goodall in her personal philosophy within Living Philosophies 1990.

A personal philosophy is a one sentence maxim.

Short Answer:
You’re not a car and your personal philosophy shouldn’t be a bumper sticker.

Everyone likes a concise statement that captures the essence of a common experience in life. It’s also good to have simple rules in life to remind us of basic things we know. They have practical value in specific situations. That said, simple rules of life, even a collection of really good ones do not amount to a personal philosophy. 

An effective personal philosophy encompasses the scope of your unique perspective on life and the world. To be effective it needs to be able to help you make sense of a complex and dynamic world. It needs to be able to help you derive meaning from your life, understand what you value and what you seek for life and the world to be. If you truly can express your personal philosophy in one sentence, beyond likely being an amazing sentence, it would no longer be a maxim that is applicable only in specific situations. It would be a broad, robust expression of your unique perspective on the world and life including your truths about them and how you think they should be.

Like philosophy in general, personal philosophies are esoteric and don’t have practical value.

Short Answer:
This misconception is completely understandable. Philosophy is generally something that can be challenging to convert to real world value. Personal philosophies are different as they are practical real-life tools.

Unfortunately, there is not a good substitute for the word “philosophy” in the English language that fully captures its meaning in the sense of being “a set of basic concepts and beliefs that are of value as guidance in practical ways.” When we hear or read the world philosophy, we most often think of one of the other meanings primarily “systems of thought” as in skepticism, pragmatism or existentialism and the famous men (typically) that professed their virtues and argued for their specific flavor as the one best perspective on the world and life. In many ways, personal philosophies are the antithesis of these systems of thought. Personal philosophies are individual perspectives meant to have meaning and value for one individual rather than general principles that apply to all. Applied practical value in life is one of the defining characteristics of personal life philosophies. If a personal philosophy is not of practical value in life, it is not much of a personal philosophy at all.

I already know my personal philosophy. I don’t need to develop it.

Short Answer: If you have and know your personal philosophy, you should be able to state it now in a clear and concise way that you can apply in your life. If not, crafting it into a clear form to you and that you actively know will help you realize real-world value from it.

Having a personal philosophy that is like a backpack sitting in a closet waiting for you to plan time when you can make use of it and is worth about as much as that backpack sitting in your closet. Developing your personal philosophy into a form that is clear to you so that it is present in your life is only one of the reasons why you should put effort into developing your personal philosophy. There is much value in the expressing your personal philosophy in writing and in other formats. Understanding your personal philosophy is not always straightforward, the act of expressing it in one or more ways can help you understand aspects you may not have fully considered. Expressing yours can also help you connect with it, especially the aspects of it that are related to our intuition and feelings about life and the world. As you grow and the world changes, it is very likely that your personal philosophy will evolve. If nothing else, expressing your personal philosophy can help you keep up with how your growth and changes in the world that affect your personal philosophy.

I’m just one normal person, my personal philosophy is of no value to the world.

Short Answer: Humanity is a collective of unique individuals. Who we are, what we know, what we will become and what defines us our humanity is determined by the sum total of each of us. Your individuality, including your unique understanding of and perspective on life and the world, has real implications for humanity collectively.

It can be easy to sell oneself short considering the hype and focus given to people with power, money and fame. This is exactly what you are doing if you truly think that your personal philosophy is not of consequence to the world.

At the very least, understanding your unique perspective on the world and life, will hedge off the homogeneity we are being driven toward by the systems and institutions that we have created. Systems and institutions controlled by and for the benefit of those with power, money and fame. Systems, institutions and people that want you to think and act in ways that benefit them. Dismissing the value of your personal philosophy and not developing yours is playing their game. Their game of control lets them have power over you and makes you even more susceptible to thinking and acting like they want you to as long as you are passive to it.

Your personal philosophy will lead you to a better understanding of the world. That understanding will prompt you to take some action to make it better, at least within your immediate world. Developing and knowing your personal philosophy may even lead you to do something that you never thought you would. That action may have implications beyond what you expect, and makes a substantial difference in the lives of others and the course of the world.

Be better equipped to develop and live your personal philosophy.


On Terms of Your Own:

The Pursuit of Being and Fulfillment in a Challenging World.

Available in paperback or as an ebook

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