The Greatest Thoughts for Your Path to a Meaningful Existence

A guest post by Kent Thune of The Financial Philosopher

“All truly wise thoughts have been thought already thousands of times; but to make them truly ours, we must think them over again honestly, till they take root in our personal experience.” ~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

I’m not a fan of lists, primarily because they only satisfy the brain’s desire for instant gratification – they often help in the present moment but fade in usefulness in the moments to follow. I hope, however, that this list will inspire your own search for meaning so you may move beyond inspiration and into action. For the best possible experience, I hope comments from readers (you) will illuminate specific ideas and sources of information that will extend upon the theme and help others.

With that, I share with you some of The Greatest Thoughts for Your Path to a Meaningful Existence:

1. Place meaning before money, material wealth and social status.

Ever more people today have the means to live, but no meaning to live for.” ~ Viktor Frankl

Viktor Frankl, in my humble opinion, was (and still is) absolutely right: Life is not primarily a quest for pleasure, as Freud believed, or a quest for power, as Alfred Adler taught, but a quest for meaning. The greatest task, to Frankl, for any person is to find meaning in his or her life. Meaning comes from within. No one can give it to you and no one can take it away from you; and it certainly will not come from physical things.

2. Do not improve. Uncover & Discover!

“One’s own self is well hidden from one’s own self; of all mines of treasure, one’s own is the last to be dug up.” ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

The self is already in its highest form; therefore it cannot be “improved.” Your greatest task, therefore, is to discover (or uncover) yourself. This can be done by first turning from outside influences (social conventions, media noise) and turning inward to align your actions with your core values. Be and know (and act as) your authentic self. From this perspective, there is no such thing as “self-improvement” – there are only degrees of self-knowledge.

3. You are only human.

“Man has the power to act as his own destroyer—and that is the way he has acted through most of his history.” Ayn Rand

Knowing yourself as a human is the first and most fundamental level of self-knowledge. Volumes of books and articles have been published on this subject. To begin knowing yourself, know your brain. To put it briefly (and unscientifically), your brain is powerful and selfish. Knowing what it wants (pleasure, safety, efficiency, routine, and pattern recognition, to measure by comparison) is essential to pre-empting its self-destructive tendencies.

4. You are unique – not weak.

“I study myself more than any other subject. That is my metaphysics that is my physics.” ~ Michel de Montaigne

Knowing yourself as a personality is the second but most important level of self-knowledge. There is much talk of “knowing your strengths and weaknesses.” This is a dangerous path.

What makes something strength or a weakness is too often defined by social conventions.

If, for example, you are terrible at math, does this mean you are “weak in math?” No. The only act that makes you weak is saying you are weak. There is no such thing as strength or weakness – there are only degrees of self-knowledge. Think about that.

5. Be master of (not mastered by) language.

“Man acts as though he were the shaper and master of language, while in fact language remains the master of man.” ~ Martin Heidegger

This extends upon the immediately preceding thought: If you accept the meaning of words as delivered by social conventions and you fail to define them for yourself, you risk following in the path of others or, at a minimum, having no direction at all. How do you define strength? How do you define weakness? How do you define the words rich, poor, success, failure, productivity or happiness? What is freedom? What is truth? Can you see how you can be led or misled by the failure to define words, especially those words that are central to your life goals, for yourself?

6. Be mindful.

“Be master of mind rather than mastered by mind.” Zen Proverb

This summarizes self-knowledge and extends into self-awareness. Bad habits derive from what the brain wants. Good habits derive from what the mind wants. Understanding yourself as a human and as a unique individual, you will know why, when and how you may react (or under-react) to given circumstances and will thus be enabled to bring yourself back into balance.

If you are a “procrastinator,” for example, this does not indicate a weakness (as discussed above) – it indicates a personality trait that means you do not worry about deadlines.

If, for example, you have to be somewhere at 7:00pm and it takes 30 minutes to get there, you will depart at 6:31pm! You must be mindful of your tendencies.

In this example, you must include “getting lost time” or factor in potential for heavy traffic and depart at 6:15. Think with your mind – not your brain! Be mindful.

7. Be content.

“Be content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.” ~ Lau Tzu

This requires no additional words.

8. Find your own path.

“Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the wise. Seek what they sought.” ~ Basho

Teachers, mentors, experts, parents, gurus and any other source of information and guidance in your life can be useful; but if you follow them directly, you will not find the same success that they did unless you find your own path. What works for one person may or may not work for others. If a path already exists, it’s not your path!

9. Be patient.

“If we will be quiet and ready enough, we shall find compensation in every disappointment.” ~ Henry David Thoreau

This extends upon all other previous thoughts given here. Being patient, however, does not just mean “waiting for something good to happen.” Patience overlaps with contentment. It is the willingness to accept and embrace the way things are now – to give little or no concern to things that are beyond your control and to embrace change.

10. Be humble.

“The fool doth think he is wise but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.” ~ William Shakespeare

Humility may be the greatest of all virtues. This extends upon self-knowledge. Awareness of your own ignorance is the foundation of wisdom. Know (and act as if) there is much that you don’t know.

11. Be a perpetual student.

“You are led through your lifetime by the inner learning creature, the playful spiritual being that is your real self. Don’t turn away from possible futures before you’re certain you don’t have anything to learn from them.” ~ Richard Bach

Education should never end. Learning new things keeps your brain healthy and expands your mind. Go back to school, stay in school, join study groups, read books (the older the better) or teach others.

If you are not learning, you are dying. Often, and most importantly, educational pursuits illuminate ideas or opportunities you would have never thought of – something you didn’t plan.

Education inspires new direction. It is food and exercise for thought and growth. Education, however, is not limited to the institutional kind. Be open to new experiences. View the world as a student, as a child.

12. Enable opportunities.

“As for the future, your task is not to foresee it, but to enable it.” ~ Antoine de Saint-Exupery

This speaks to the potential detriment of trying to force things or “make things happen.” Humans are terrible at predicting the future and what will or will not make them happy.

There is nothing wrong with planning but be careful not to predict or to follow plans without considering unplanned opportunities. The greatest discoveries are often accidental. Remember this.

I could go on with more thoughts but I would love to hear from you. Let’s continue in the spirit of teaching and learning. What are some of your favorite quotes? What are some great resources for self-knowledge? Do you have any examples of any of the above thoughts?

I’ll offer some of my own sources of learning opportunities in the comments.


Read more by Kent Thune on his blog The Financial Philosopher.

Photo by accent on ecelectic

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  1. A comprehensive and well-written post, Kent. Thanks for reminding us these timeless jewels for a meaningful and fruitful life.
    .-= The Conscious Life´s last blog ..6 Ways to Reduce Stress & Anxiety with Humor =-.

  2. Thank you Kent for an excellent post, full of timeless wisdom and insights.

    Life is certainly a quest for meaning! If only people were to live their like this, then the world would be a better place over night. But then again perhaps that’s what our journey is all about – to find meaning in the world as it is right now, without wanting it to be any other way.

    Funnily enough, I guess that is just what you mean by your second point – over the last few weeks I have certainly begun to come from within and being more authentic in everything I say, do and write. No need for any more “self-improvement” – what a relief!

    I get a lot of relief from knowing that I am only human – somehow that allows me to transcend my brain’s never ending quest for pleasure and ease, and focus on my higher self.

    Finally, thanks for the distinction between being unique and not weak. For aeons people have defined themselves by their perceived weaknesses and glorified strengths. Knowing we are all unique levels the playing field for everyone.

    Thanks again – you have shared so much wisdom here – and I look forward to more in your comments and future posts.

  3. Thanks Conscious Life & Arvind:

    I think the final quote, by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, sums things up with regard to “enabling opportunities.”

    To your point Arvind, there is such a push to “make things happen” to “be productive” or to “be somebody.” I believe this hyper-intentional activity can be harmful.

    If we seek to “enable opportunities,” we find the greatest point between passivity and activity — we are not waiting for things to happen to us and we are not forcing things unnaturally, either.

    We simply create and follow our own path and watch for those wonderful unexpected things to come along…

    Thanks again…
    .-= Kent @ The Financial Philosopher´s last blog ..The Financial Fallacy of Patterns, Causation & Correlation =-.

  4. Also, thanks to Arvind for the editing guidance and especially to Mary for inviting me to guest-post again!

    As promised, I would like to share a great resource for what I believe to be the central theme of this post, self-knowledge (and self-awareness).

    There are several self-assessment tools in a post I wrote at The Financial Philosopher, called “Who Am I? Part I: Emotional Intelligence.” Here’s the direct URL to the post:

    Within this post, you will find links to “Jung (Myers-Briggs) Typology Indicator”, an “Emotional IQ” test and to the “Who Am I? Part II: Learn How You Learn” post, which includes a valuable “Learning Style Survey.”

    Some of the assessment tools also provide links to career choices based upon your personality style.

    Also, the Learning Style Survey may especially reveal why you did poorly in some classes and quite well in others.

    I would love to learn of other valuable resources for self-assessment if any of you would like to share them…

    Or perhaps you have a favorite quote that sums up a valuable life philosophy!

    Thanks again…

    Kent @ The Financial Philosopher
    .-= Kent @ The Financial Philosopher´s last blog ..The Financial Fallacy of Patterns, Causation & Correlation =-.

  5. Steven of Chicago says:

    As an avid reader of The Financial Philosopher, I am always reminded of this statement a friend told me years ago: If the surface of your life is all that you have, the surface will be your reality.

    I always appreciate your insights.

  6. Geri says:

    thank you for this compilation of so much wisdom – in one place

  7. Steven:

    Thanks so much for your readership and for today’s comment.

    I like the usage of the word “surface” to explain the bounds of one’s reality.

    To expand on your comment, and to tie it to this post’s theme of self-knowledge, I like this quote that incorporates “surface” into its meaning:

    “A man’s knowledge is like an expanding sphere, the surface corresponding to the boundary between the known and the unknown. As the sphere grows, so does its surface; the more a man learns, the more he realizes he doesn’t know. Hence, the most ignorant man thinks he knows it all.” ~ L. Sprague de Camp
    .-= Kent @ The Financial Philosopher´s last blog ..The Financial Fallacy of Patterns, Causation & Correlation =-.

  8. DiscoveredJoys says:

    Might I recommend this site:
    for some information about various personality tests etc. It gives some insight into the values and pitfalls of personality testing.

    I’ve done the Myers Briggs test (I’m apparently INTP if you are interested) in a formal situation. The results seemed to suit my inner experiences – but I’m always wary that tests which depend on your own insight can be skewed by your own lack of insight. For instance I’ve never though of myself as being particularly competitive so this will influence my responses to personality tests. However Mrs DiscoveredJoys just about fell off her chair when I described myself as non-competitive. Hmmm.

    So if I was to contribute any ‘Greatest Thoughts’ to the debate, I guess I would have to offer: “The map is not the territory.” ~ Alfred Korzybski. The phrase is used in NLP to signify that individual people in fact do not in general have access to absolute knowledge of reality, but in fact only have access to a set of beliefs they have built up over time, about reality. (Wikipedia is your friend, look up the phrase or Alfred’s entry.)

    I would also offer a slight paraphrase of one of the blogs sentences: Awareness of your own illusion is the foundation of wisdom.

    This understanding your authentic self is not easy, is it?

  9. Thanks, Geri. Quotes tend to be over-used and misused but with careful selection and mindful placement, timeless wisdom has incredible value.

    My intention with such wisdom is not to provide a few moments of inspiration but to lead others to self-discovery…

    “You cannot teach anybody anything. You can only help them discover it
    within themselves.” ~ Galileo

    “I hope that posterity will judge me kindly, not only as to the things which I have explained, but also to those which I have intentionally omitted so as to leave to others the pleasure of discovery.” ~ Rene Descartes
    .-= Kent @ The Financial Philosopher´s last blog ..The Financial Fallacy of Patterns, Causation & Correlation =-.

  10. Ben says:

    I think this is one of the best practical compilations of the major facets of “Know Thyself” I have ever read. Truly!

    This writing comes at a time when several of these are taking on a new depth and meaning here which is why I read much of this from the perspective of Know Thy Self.

    There are so many quotes on this. I really like this one from Marcus Aurelius…

    “Look well into thyself; there is a source of strength which will always spring up if thou wilt always look there.” — Marcus Aurelius

    I also like this one a lot…

    “At some point your heart will tell itself what to do.” — Achaan Chah

    Once awareness has expanded and as I become identified with my true nature rather than my personality I find I can have the same thoughts in my brain, but my actions will override it from the heart. I am specifically referencing # 3 in the post.

    Loved This Post!
    Thank you!

  11. WOW! So much great stuff in this post for sure. Thank you for this great read! The very first point is what resonated with me the most…

    “Place meaning before money, material wealth and social status.”

    Amen to that!

    .-= Dayne |´s last blog ..The 5 Most Beautiful Things In Life That Are Invisible =-.

  12. Really great article! I love the diversity in philosophers who were quoted, from Ayn Rand to Thoreau to Lao Tzu – all wonderful thinkers!
    .-= Steven Handel´s last blog ..Six Aspects Of A Well-Balanced Person (Part 2) =-.

  13. @ Discovered Joys: I’m also an INTP and do not consider myself “competitive” either. I also agree that self-assessment tools, as you say, “depend on your own insight can be skewed by your own lack of insight.” The only wrong answers in self-assessment tests are dishonest ones! Thanks for the comment and the link!

    @ Ben: Thanks for the generous compliment! I like how you distinguish between brain and heart. Personally, I make a similar distinction between brain and mind. I am also a fan of Marcus Aurelius!

    @ Dayne & Steven: Thanks for the comments! I hope something in this post stays with you beyond today…
    .-= Kent @ The Financial Philosopher´s last blog ..The Financial Fallacy of Patterns, Causation & Correlation =-.

  14. Gail says:

    I don’t really have any profound quote to add, I just wanted to say, I enjoyed this post very much! I feel like printing it out and putting it on my cubicle wall….! Gail

  15. Thanks Gail! I like your style — short and sweet!

    I hope the words continue to help in some way…
    .-= Kent @ The Financial Philosopher´s last blog ..The Financial Fallacy of Patterns, Causation & Correlation =-.

  16. Mete says:

    I feel Basho strikes the deepest chord with me – how often we try to emulate, childishly and obsessively, that which inspires us, rather than becoming “a light unto ourselves”..

    If Bill Shakespeare were still around, I would say to him – “But I know I’m a fool; precisely because I always think I’m so wise! So what does that make me?”

  17. Di B says:

    What a relief, no pressure other than to be authentically who I am – well perhaps a little pressure cos I’m not too sure who that is. Perhaps that’s a good way to be?? Great post!

  18. @ Mete: Have you read Jiddu Krishnamurti? He would say “be a light unto yourself.” On Shakespeare’s version of wisdom, I believe he would agree that thinking you are wise and knowing you are a fool are simultaneously achievable!

    @ Di B: Everyone is always “becoming.” As long as you are “becoming” yourself, then you are on the right path! Thanks for the compliment…
    .-= Kent @ The Financial Philosopher´s last blog ..The Financial Fallacy of Patterns, Causation & Correlation =-.

  19. Here’s a philosophy book of interest–

    PREMATURE FACTULATION: The Ignorance of Certainty and the Ghost of Montaigne

    by Philip D. Hansten

  20. Kent,

    Thanks for putting this post together. Now with your writings and the search box below I discovered who Ayn Rand was.

    .-= Andrew Machado´s last blog ..A New Look for Apture… =-.

  21. qoia says:

    Yes, contentment is the secret for inner peace.
    .-= qoia´s last blog ..1547 =-.

  22. Nice piece and I like your list. There is a constructivist theory that says human beings are meaning makers, with the emphasis placed on making meaning rather than searching for it. Sometimes I think people forget that they have this capacity to make meaning right now. As you say, it is within each of us. Thanks.
    .-= Patty @ Why Not Start Now?´s last blog ..A Large State of Fear =-.

  23. @ Philip: That book sounds interesting! I’m a fan of Michel de Montaigne.

    @ Andrew: Wow! I feel honored to know that I helped you discover Ayn Rand!

    @ goia: Contentment, in my opinion, is all of the greatest virtues wrapped into one. The challenge, however, is to learn it!

    @ Patty: I’ve not read the constructivist theory that says human beings are meaning makers. After giving it a moment’s thought, it makes sense. I would add that searching for meaning actually “makes” meaning. Where many people go wrong is that they think that money, material wealth and social status are the sources of meaning. Instead they find short-term pleasure. Once the pleasure fades, another search begins and the perpetual carrot chase ensues…
    .-= Kent @ The Financial Philosopher´s last blog ..The Financial Fallacy of Patterns, Causation & Correlation =-.

  24. Marly says:

    For someone not fond of lists, this certainly is a great one! I think time invested in better knowing oneself is time most definitely well spent! Great post.

  25. Thanks Marly! Lists, in general, have the tendency to distract because the human brain likes shortcuts. The shortest distance between two points is not a straight line, except in your brain and in geometry (or if you happen to be a crow)!

    Yes, time invested in better knowing oneself is time most definitely well spent!
    .-= Kent @ The Financial Philosopher´s last blog ..Irrationality: The Most Magnificent & Unique Trait of Being Human =-.

  26. […] week las ik het artikel ‘The greatest thoughts for a path to a meaningful existence‘ en las daarin de volgende […]

  27. […] The greatest thoughts for your path to a meaningful existence […]

  28. kanika says:

    it is a great thing to write meaningful thoughts and giving people knowledge . nice!

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