10 Steps to Developing a Meaningful Life Philosophy

I believe there are few things more valuable than building a meaningful philosophy on life. Although this may sound like a question best reserved for theologians and great thinkers, at the heart it is a practical question: What is your strategy for living?

Your criteria may differ, but I believe all good life philosophies have four basic parameters:

  1. Survival. Except in rare circumstances, most good philosophies will fulfill your basic needs. This usually isn’t a big concern since most of us are living well beyond the minimum threshold required to simply survive.
  2. Happiness. Good life philosophies should make you feel good. Great philosophies will keep you happy even in troubling circumstances. Victor Frankl in his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, demonstrated how even in incredible suffering of the concentration camps he could still endure because of a powerful strategy for living.
  3. Meaning. Happiness can rarely exist without meaning. Good philosophies should make you feel useful and valuable, otherwise when pleasurable moments fade you are left with nothing.
  4. Independence of Circumstance. Your life philosophy needs to apply in all situations and circumstances. Your strategy for deriving meaning and happiness should last even after a breakup, death of a relative or unemployment.

Everyone has a philosophy on life, whether they realize it or not. The process of refining this philosophy is like building a ship. It will carry you in rough times and allow you to float easily during the pleasant moments. Here are some tips for refining your strategy on life:

  1. Introspection. A life philosophy cannot be outsourced. Although many major religions package premade philosophies, the work of building a strategy for life is yours alone. Thinking about your beliefs and strategies is the only real way to do that. I recommend journaling or meditation to guide your thinking to come to real solutions.
  2. Study other philosophies. Gather philosophies from other people and books. I try to be as broad as possible when exposing myself to other ways of thinking. I don’t believe you can be corrupted by a new way of thinking, so don’t limit yourself to exploring philosophies that only fit within your current expectations.
  3. Focus on the answerable. Philosophy should be practical. This means focusing less on the unanswerable questions that just lead you in circles. I’m an atheist, but my opinion is that the question of whether there is a man in the clouds is besides the point. There is no grand truth, just now and experience. Answerable questions are like:
    • “What should I do to have a meaningful life?”
    • “How should I view painful moments so they don’t overwhelm me?”
    • “How should I act in relationships with other people?”
  4. Don’t commit. Building a philosophy is an ongoing process of refinement, not an end result. I don’t ever expect to find a final answer, just increasingly better ones. My approach is to view any strategies I currently have as being the best available right now, but I am always open to new understandings.
  5. Seek references. Experience can sculpt your strategy on life. I aim to find as many broad experiences as possible so I can use them as points of reference when developing a life philosophy. This doesn’t mean you need to smoke a lot of drugs or live in the wilderness, naked, for a year. Just that you shouldn’t limit yourself to the routine of your daily life.
  6. Connect with others. Discuss your philosophy and find the philosophy of other people. I do my best to reserve judgment and simply observe. I’ve heard completely different philosophies on life from my own and each is a valuable source of new ideas. Don’t stop the flow by preaching or judging those with a different worldview.
  7. Experiment. Philosophies need to be practical. They should affect how you think and what you do. Experiment with different approaches and see which connects best with the four criteria I mentioned above.
  8. Collect new functions. Lenses and metaphors are an important component of a strategy for living. Read this article on building a library of thought functions to find more.
  9. Hold conflicting ideas. I believe it was Aristotle who said, “it is the mark of an educated mind to hold two conflicting ideas in his head without accepting either.”
  10. Be patient. I’m far from having a perfect strategy for living. I expect the process of refining a life philosophy will take decades, perhaps my entire life. There are no final answers, just slightly optimized ones.

Bonus: Don’t take it too seriously! A strategy for living is important, but it shouldn’t feel like a grave burden. Great philosophies make you feel excited by possibilities, adventure and opportunities. A good boat should be able to handle the rough seas, but it should also be comfortable when the water is calm and the sun is out.

  • http://www.scrowed.com Stuart

    I’ve always been fond of existentialist philosophy, the basic tenant of which is that we create (or fail to create) our own meaning in the world. But I like that you mentioned a life philosophy as something that evolves, rather than something unchanging. I think that that is probably the greatest life philosophy of all, that we should constantly be searching for a better life philosophy.

  • http://www.scotthyoung.com Scott Young


    After looking at so many different philosophies I realized there is no way I can prove with absolute certainty which one is ‘correct’. Therefore, I can only assume that there is no ‘correct’ philosophy only different ones. I use my four criteria to evaluate them and pick the best.


  • David

    This is so incredibly timely for me. I’ve been giving those thoughts much focus lately, and at times I find myself stuck in loops of thoughts not sure what to believe any more. So thank you for a very practical and straight-forward viewpoint.

    I also find the idea of an evolving philosophy of life very appealing. Inevitably, as you learn new things and make new experiences, new light will be cast upon your existing beliefs, rendering them in another light. I find it very unlikely, almost downright foolish and dangerous, to attempt to find one true philosophy to follow for the rest of your life.

  • http://patriciasingleton.blogspot.com Patricia – Spiritual Journey Of A Lightworker

    My life philosophy grows and changes as I do as a spiritual being living a human experience. For me, no one philosophy has all of my answers. I have always been of the mind to “Take what you like and leave the rest.” as I learned in 12 Step programs. It works for me. I especially feel this way with man-made religions. I have always found some good and element of truth in every religion that I have ever looked at. Likewise, I always find some elements that I don’t like and would never use so they get dropped from my philosophy. I am enjoying your site and your down-to-earth wisdom. Thanks, Patricia

  • http://www.scotthyoung.com Scott Young


    I completely agree. No one source has the answer for you.



    Your article made good reading. Your points makes a great deal of sense. But the fact remains that one’s philosophy fluctuates according to the 4 parameters you mentioned at the start of your article.

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  • Kenny

    Scott,I have been in sales and business and around self motivation and self improvement books and dvds for many years.I have just read your ebook previews and I have to say they really contain some very interesting insightful and fresh points.I am going to buy the books,thanks Kenny in scotland

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  • Dan

    I’m currently volunteering as a mentor with a group of high school seniors and we’ve been discussing life philosophy. I think that by just introducing them to the thought of having a life philosophy will get them going in the right direction. Great info and thoughts!

  • http://nil george

    U mentioned that you are an atheist, meaning? You have a lot of belief that emanates from your literature. Can you reconsider the meaning of being an atheist?

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  • chris60

    The trick when reading is to retain an open mind and not grasp at absolutes. After a while, most ideologies unravel when you find a point of weakness; however, certain philosophies share an inherent overlap that is worth recognising. Religion tends to share many key ideas that all emanate from a belief in a spiritual energy that transcends the concrete or material world. Politics is based on different systems of power. Both are fascinating areas that actually overlap. How do we derive meaning in a world, which at times seems incoherent and perversely random? The tip appears to be able to develop a strong internal locus of control and inner peace that enables life to be appreciated more despite what others do around us. The preoccupation with happiness may detract from the pain that may be needed to feel more deeply and experience life more fully. Oddly it is the painful moments that call for more strength, understanding and clarity. Some experiences hurt. But life goes on regardless. Being able to regain balance quickly is an art that only a few have mastered.