There’s a famous quote by the Philosopher Emmanuel Kant that goes like this,
“Rules for happiness: something to do, someone to love, something to hope for.”
While this quote may seem simple on the surface, underneath is the key, for anybody, on how to live a good life.
Living a good life is ultimately what we’re all striving for. Everybody wants more money, status, and possessions in our society with the often unrealized purpose of simply living a better life.
But what is a better life, really? If it were achieved through more money and status and possessions then wouldn’t the rich be happier than the poor to an enormous extent? Of course, we know that this isn’t the case, therefore, happiness and fulfillment must be gained in different ways.
I believe that however much money you have and regardless of your current situation, you can use Kant’s words to create a meaningful life.
Before I break down the three aspects of Kant’s quote I’d like to amend it to make it more clear for our modern times.
The quote should go, to illuminate the subtext, something like this,
“Rules for happiness: something to do well, someone to love fully, and something to hope for with purpose.”
Something to do well
We all need something to do to occupy our time, that’s just an inevitability in life. For the smart ones among us, they find a way to make this their career and gain something from their time spent. Others who are unable to do this, or don’t want to, end up still doing something with their time, just not something productive.
It makes sense then, that if we are already going to have to occupy ourselves in this life with something, we should do whatever we choose to the best of our abilities.
Whatever job you have now, whether you hate it or love it, you have the ability to do it even just a little bit better. If you have a hobby that you fiddle around with, especially nowadays with the internet and our access to information, you can surely progress and get better at it with just a little effort and time.
Doing something well is what brings fulfillment and satisfaction and this is why it is the first piece of Kant’s three-part philosophy on living well. So choose something, anything for now, do it well and if you don’t like it, find something else to do better.
Someone to love fully
After survival, romance is probably the most important aspect of life when it comes to enriching it and creating happiness. Love is as timeless and enduring in works of art from the earliest records we have, and therefore, we all undoubtedly understand its importance in living a good life.
However, what does simply having someone to love mean? I think the original quote can be a little misleading. Surely having anyone to love isn’t enough, you need someone who understands you, who respects you, and who lights you up. This is why I think the addendum of someone to love fully is important. Because love isn’t loving if it’s half-assed or unrequited.
But then the question arises of how can we love someone fully, especially in this modern world? Well, that’s a difficult question. All I can say is that it’s going to take a lot of sacrifices and a lot of pain. But it’s better to be the person who is rejected and hurt a million times than the person who hurts a million people.
Love takes a risk, it takes probably some of the biggest risks a person can make, but what is life without it?
One question that comes to mind regarding love is, ‘is it better to love more people or to love one person more?’ I think the answer is a personal one but one that merits deep thought.
Wherever you are in life, you can find someone to love. But it just takes time and the ability to open yourself up to change.
Something to hope for with purpose
Lastly, Kant said that we need something to hope for. I believe what he means by this is that we need some kind of purpose on our mind’s horizon. We need something that guides us and gives us hope when things look grim.
Some people seem to have this from an early age. For instance, many great people will explain how they knew what they wanted to do when they were very young. Once they became a big success they could look back and explain how that vision they had of their purpose guided them when they were uncertain of their path.
In the same way, we all need our own purpose. We need a direction. If you’re stuck in a shitty job with no romance in your life right now, you need some kind of light that guides you forward to a better life. Having hope is what keeps you alive. Even if you have an amazing job and a beautiful relationship you still need hope on those days when you just can’t see it.
As humans, we are wired for growth and for the pursuit of more. This is why we become dissatisfied with the things we have, even if we’ve worked so hard for them in the past.
But having something to hope for with a true purpose behind it, is something that will guide you to the end of your life. That is something that no one can take away from you. You could lose your job, your home, and everyone you love and still have your purpose sitting there in front of you, somewhere in the distance. You might not know how you will pursue it right now, but you need to know that it’s there.
Kant’s quote has been helpful to me when things in my life get muddied and confusing. This quote can be one that you repeat to yourself when you feel lost or unsure if you are on the right path. Just remember, that defining each of these parts of a life—something to do well, someone to love fully, and something to hope for with purpose—is ultimately up to the individual and who he or she is. Only you can know when you’re living in line with your true self and proceed to live well.
If we can define these goals for ourselves, pursue them, and maintain them, the rest of our lives become the gravy on top. Spoils of the truly rich at heart.