Quotations about   living

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It is easier to live through someone else than to become complete yourself.

Betty Friedan (1921-2006) American writer, feminist, activist
The Feminine Mystique, ch. 14 (1963)
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Added on 17-Mar-22 | Last updated 17-Mar-22
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The great wisdom traditions of the world all recognize that the main impediment to living a life of meaning is being self-absorbed.

Barbara Brown Taylor (b. 1951) American minister, academic, author
An Altar in the World, ch. 6 (2009)
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Added on 29-Oct-21 | Last updated 29-Oct-21
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A tradition has now for long been established that cooking and cleaning are woman’s work. As these occupations are among the most tiresome which humanity has to endure, this tradition is very unfortunate for women. But there it is; and the problem is how to get what is needful done as rapidly as possible, so that one can go and do something else, more lucrative, interesting, or amusing.

The general rule is that there must be something to eat at stated intervals, and the house or the flat must be about as clean as the houses and flats of one’s acquaintances. It sounds simple, but actually to secure both these results will often be found to take the entire time. All the time that there is. And that is so tragically little. None left over for reading, writing, walking, sitting in woods, playing games, making love, merely existing without effort. And ever at your back you hear Time’s winged chariot hurrying near…and so the grave yawns, and at the end you will be able to say, not “I have warmed both hands before the fire of life,” but “I have kept house.”

The only solution of this problem which I can suggest — and I almost hesitate to do in these pages — is, Do not keep house. Let the house, or flat, go unkept. Let it go to the devil, and see what happens when it has gone there. At the worst, a house unkempt cannot be so distressing as a life unlived.

Rose Macaulay
Rose Macaulay (1881-1958) English writer
“Some Problems of a Woman’s Life,” Good Housekeeping (Aug 1923)
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Added on 15-Sep-21 | Last updated 15-Sep-21
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Of all the ways to avoid living, perfect discipline is the most admired.

James Richardson (b. 1950) American poet
Vectors: Aphorisms and Ten-Second Essays, # 24 (2001)
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Added on 24-Aug-21 | Last updated 24-Aug-21
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Learning and living. But they are really the same thing, aren’t they? There is no experience from which you can’t learn something. … And the purpose of life, after all, is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) First Lady of the US (1933-45), politician, diplomat, activist
You Learn By Living, Introduction (1960)
Added on 30-Apr-21 | Last updated 30-Apr-21
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For even the humblest person, a day spent without the sight or sound of beauty, the contemplation of mystery, or the search for truth and perfection is a poverty-stricken day; and a succession of such days is fatal to human life.

Lewis Mumford (1895-1990) American writer, philosopher, historian, architect
The Condition of Man (1944)
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Those who live without enjoying life are fools.

[Ἀνοήμονες βιοῦσιν οὐ τερπόμενοι βιοτῆι.]

Democritus (c. 460 BC - c. 370 BC) Greek philosopher
Frag. 200 (Diels) [tr. @sententiq (2014)]
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Cited by Diels as "200. (93 N.)"; collected in Joannes Stobaeus (Stobaios) Anthologium III, 4, 74.

Alternative translations:

  • "People are fools who live without enjoyment of life." [tr. Freeman (1948)]
  • "Fools live with no enjoyment in life." [Source]
Added on 16-Feb-21 | Last updated 11-May-21
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Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things.

Robert Brault (b. c. 1945) American aphorist, programmer
(Attributed)
Added on 22-Dec-20 | Last updated 22-Dec-20
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You need to claim the events of your life to make yourself yours. When you truly possess all that you have been and done, which may take some time, you are fierce with reality. When at last age has assembled you together, will it not be easy to let it all go, lived, balanced, over?

Florida Scott-Maxwell (1883-1979) American-British playwright, author, psychologist
The Measure of My Days (1968)
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Added on 16-Nov-20 | Last updated 16-Nov-20
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Sing your song. Dance your dance. Tell your tale.

Frank McCourt (1930-2009) Irish-American teacher and writer
Angela’s Ashes (1996)

Also included in the dedication to Teacher Man (2006).
Added on 10-Sep-20 | Last updated 10-Sep-20
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BARNEY: I love living. I have some problems with my life, but living is the best thing they’ve come up with so far.

Neil Simon (1927-2018) American playwright and screenwriter
Last of the Red Hot Lovers (1970)
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Added on 17-Aug-20 | Last updated 17-Aug-20
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Instructions for living a life:
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.

Mary Oliver (1935-2019) American poet
“Sometimes,” Sec. 4, Red Bird (2008)
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Added on 3-Mar-20 | Last updated 3-Mar-20
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When it’s over I want to say: All my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was a bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

Mary Oliver (1935-2019) American poet
“When Death Comes”
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Added on 28-Oct-19 | Last updated 28-Oct-19
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… believe us, they say,
it is a serious thing
just to be alive
on this fresh morning
in this broken world.

Mary Oliver (1935-2019) American poet
“Invitation,” Red Bird: Poems (2008)
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On goldfinches singing.
Added on 9-Jun-19 | Last updated 9-Jun-19
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Life is not living, but living in health.

[Vita non est vivere, sed valere vita est.]

Martial (AD c.39-c.103) Spanish Roman poet, satirist, epigrammatist [Marcus Valerius Martialis]
Epigrams [Epigrammata], Book 6, epigram 70, l. 15 (6.70) [tr. Ker (1919)]
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(Source (Latin)). Alternate translations:

  • "It is not life to live, but to be well." [tr. Burton (1621)]

  • "Not all who live long, but happily, are old." [tr. Anon. (1695)]

  • "For life is not to live, but to be well." [tr. Johnson, in The Rambler, #48, cited to Elphinston (1 Sep 1750)]

  • "For sense and reason tell, / That life is only life, when we are well." [tr. Hay (1755)]

  • "To brethe can just not dying give: / But, to be well, must be to live." [tr. Elphinston (1782), 2.115]

  • "For life is not simply living, but living in health." [tr. Amos (1858)]

  • "Life consists not in living, but in enjoying health." [tr. Bohn's Classical (1859)]

  • "The blunderer who deems them so, / Misreckons life and much mistakes it, / He thinks 'tis drawing breath -- we know / 'Tis health alone that mars or makes it." [tr. Pott & Wright (1921)]

  • "To live is not just life, but health." [tr. Shepherd (1987)]

  • "Life's not just being alive, but being well."

Added on 4-Apr-18 | Last updated 12-Nov-21
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Warped with satisfactions and terrors, woofed with too many ambiguities and too few certainties, life can be lived best not when we have the answers — because we will never have those — but when we know enough to live it right out to the edges, edges sometimes marked by other people, sometimes showing only our own footprints.

Rosalie Maggio (1944-2021) American writer
The New Beacon Book of Quotations by Women, Introduction (1996)
Added on 16-Feb-18 | Last updated 16-Feb-18
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I am all for the short and merry life.

Edward FitzGerald (1809-1883) English writer, poet, translator
Letter to Frederick Tennyson (31 Dec 1850)
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Later his epitaph.
Added on 28-Aug-17 | Last updated 28-Aug-17
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The aims of life are the best defense against death.

Primo Levi (1919-1987) Italian Jewish chemist and writer
The Drowned and the Saved (1988)
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Prim did seem in some distress. Poor thing, she genuinely felt that she should do what was expected of her. What a horrible way to go through life.

Gail Carriger (b. 1976) American archaeologist, author [pen name of Tofa Borregaard]
Imprudence (2016)
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Added on 20-Apr-17 | Last updated 20-Apr-17
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It is perfectly true, as the philosophers say, that life must be understood backwards. But they forget the other proposition, that it must be lived forwards.

Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) Danish philosopher, theologian
Journals IV.A.164 (1843)

Commonly paraphrased: "Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards."
Added on 28-Dec-16 | Last updated 28-Dec-16
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Did they live happily ever after? They did not. No one ever does, in spite of what the stories may say. They had their good days, as you do, and they had their bad days, and you know about those. They had their victories, as you do, and they had their defeats, and you know about those, too. There were times when they felt ashamed of themselves, knowing they had not done their best, and there were times when they knew they had stood where their God had meant them to stand. All I’m trying to say is that they lived as well as they could.

Stephen King (b. 1947) American author
The Eyes of the Dragon (1987)
Added on 7-Sep-16 | Last updated 7-Sep-16
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Maybe this is the chief thing the dog knows better than we do. There isn’t enough time in life to do anything but love and do our work with joy. We should sleep when we’re tired. Run with abandon. Always be happy to see each other. And never stop believing we will, someday, catch the squirrel.

Martha Brockenbrough (b. 1970) American writer
Facebook (9 Aug 2016)
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Added on 17-Aug-16 | Last updated 17-Aug-16
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Life, we learn too late, is in the living, in the tissue of each day and hour.

Stephen Leacock (1869-1944) Canadian economist, writer and humorist
(Attributed)
Added on 8-Jun-16 | Last updated 8-Jun-16
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Happy the man, and happy he alone,
He, who can call to-day his own:
He who, secure within, can say,
Tomorrow do thy worst, for I have lived today.

John Dryden (1631-1700) English poet, dramatist, critic
Imitation of Horace, Book 3, ode 29, l. 65 (1685)
Added on 11-May-16 | Last updated 11-May-16
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He shrugged his shoulders. “I have known many gods. He who denies them is as blind as he who trusts them too deeply. I seek not beyond death. It may be the blackness averred by the Nemedian skeptics, or Crom’s realm of ice and cloud, or the snowy plains and vaulted halls of the Nordheimer’s Valhalla. I know not, nor do I care. Let me live deep while I live; let me know the rich juices of red meat and stinging wine on my palate, the hot embrace of white arms, the mad exultation of battle when the blue blades flame and crimson, and I am content. Let teachers and priests and philosophers brood over questions of reality and illusion. I know this: if life is illusion, then I am no less an illusion, and being thus, the illusion is real to me. I live, I burn with life, I love, I slay, and am content.”

Robert E. Howard (1906-1936) American author
“Queen of the Black Coast” (1934)
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Every day that is born into the world comes like a burst of music, and rings itself all the way through; and thou shalt make of it a dance, a dirge, or a grand life-march as thou wilt.

Carlyle - a dance a dirge - wist_info quote

Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881) Scottish essayist and historian
(Attributed)

Variant: "Every day that is born into the world comes like a burst of music and rings itself the way through, and you make of it a dance, a dirge, or a life-march, as thou wilt."

The earliest reference I can find to this is its quotation in (or perhaps adjacent to) Kate W. Hamilton, "Ariel Seaton's Rainy Day," The Ladies' Repository (Jan 1868).
Added on 27-Apr-16 | Last updated 27-Apr-16
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The dead don’t need justice. That’s for those of us who are left looking down at the remains.

Jim Butcher (b. 1971) American author
Skin Game (2014)
Added on 23-Nov-15 | Last updated 23-Nov-15
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Endow the Living — with the Tears —
You squander on the Dead.

Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) American poet
“Endow the Living — with the Tears –” (1862)
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PELAGEA VLASOVA: Don’t be afraid of death so much as an inadequate life.

Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956) German poet, playwright, director, dramaturgist
The Mother (1930)
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You must understand the whole of life, not just one little part of it. That is why you must read, that is why you must look at the skies, that is why you must sing and dance, and write poems and suffer and understand, for all that is life.

Jiddu Krishnamurti (1895-1986) Indian philosopher, mystic, orator
Think on These Things, Part 1, ch. 3 (1963)
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All of life is a foreign country.

Jack Kerouac (1922–1969) Canadian-American novelist and poet
Letter to John Clellon Holmes (24 Jun 1949)
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The art of life isn’t controlling what happens, which is impossible; it’s using what happens.

Gloria Steinem (b. 1934) American feminist, journalist, activist
Moving Beyond Words, “Doing Sixty” (1994)
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What a wee little part of a person’s life are his acts and his words! His real life is led in his head, and is known to none but himself. All day long, and every day, the mill of his brain is grinding, and his thoughts (which are but the mute articulation of his feelings,) not those other things, are his history. His acts and his words are merely the visible thin crust of his world, with its scarred snow summits and its vacant wastes of water — and they are so trifling a part of his bulk! a mere skin enveloping it. The mass of him is hidden — it and its volcanic fires that toss and boil, and never rest, night nor day. These are his life, and they are not written, and cannot be written. Every day would make a whole book of eighty thousand words — three hundred and sixty-five books a year. Biographies are but the clothes and buttons of the man — the biography of the man himself cannot be written.

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
The Autobiography of Mark Twain, Vol. 1 (2010)
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But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives.

The Bible (14th C BC - 2nd C AD) Christian sacred scripture
2 Peter 3 [NIV]

Alternate translation:

  • "But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up. Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness." [KJV]
Added on 18-Dec-14 | Last updated 18-Dec-14
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Pain is a byproduct of life. That’s the truth. Life sometimes sucks. That’s true for everyone. But if you don’t face the pain and the suck, you don’t ever get the other things either. Laughter. Joy. Love. Pain passes, but those things are worth fighting for. Worth dying for.

Jim Butcher (b. 1971) American author
(Attributed)

Often cited to the short story "Vignette" (also known as "Publicity and Advertising"), but not found there.
Added on 9-Dec-14 | Last updated 9-Dec-14
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For I know not why we should delay our tokens of respect to those who deserve them, until the heart that our sympathy could have gladdened has ceased to beat. As men cannot read the epitaphs inscribed upon the marble that covers them, so the tombs that we erect to virtue often only prove our repentance that we neglected it when with us.

Edward George Bulwer-Lytton (1803-1873) English novelist and politician
Letter to F. T. Mappin (25 Sep 1855)
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Quoted in The Illustrated London News, Vol. 27 (6 Oct 1855)
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Don’t believe the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing. It was here first.

Robert Jones Burdette (1844-1914) American humorist, lecturer, clergyman
“Advice to Young Men,” lecture (1833)

Quoted in the Duluth Evening Observer (1 Feb 1883). Frequently misattributed to Mark Twain. See here for more information.
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TURHAN: The past tempts us, the present confuses us, and the future frightens us. And our lives slip away, moment by moment, lost in that vast, terrible in-between.

J. Michael (Joe) Straczynski (b. 1954) American screenwriter, producer, author [a/k/a "JMS"]
Babylon 5, 2×09 “The Coming of Shadows” (1 Feb 1995)
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Books are good enough in their own way, but they are a mighty bloodless substitute for life.

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) Scottish essayist, novelist, poet
“An Apology for Idlers” (1881)
Added on 4-Dec-13 | Last updated 20-Jun-14
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A Good life fears not Life nor Death.

Thomas Fuller (1654-1734) English writer, physician
Gnomologia: Adages and Proverbs, # 157 (1732)
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How long is life to the wretched, how short for the happy!

Publilius Syrus (d. 42 BC) Assyrian slave, writer, philosopher [less correctly Publius Syrus]
Sententiae [Moral Sayings], # 621 [tr. Lyman (1862)]
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To live is like to love — all reason is against it, and all healthy instinct for it.

Samuel Butler (1835-1902) English novelist, satirist, scholar
The Note-Books of Samuel Butler, “Life and Love” (1912)
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Added on 27-Nov-08 | Last updated 5-Sep-19
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We recognize that there are no trivial occurrences in life if we get the right focus on them.

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
The Autobiography of Mark Twain, Vol. 1 (2010)
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Added on 16-Feb-04 | Last updated 26-Jan-19
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Don’t forget until too late that the business of life is not business, but living.

Bertie Charles (B. C.) Forbes (1880-1954) American publisher
Forbes Epigrams (1922)
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Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 23-Feb-22
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Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.

Nin - Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage - wist.info quote

Anaïs Nin (1903-1977) Catalan-Cuban-French author, diarist
Diary (Jun 1941)
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In her Diaries [ed. Stuhlmann (1969)].
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That life is worth living is the most necessary of assumptions, and were it not assumed, the most impossible of conclusions.

George Santayana (1863-1952) Spanish-American poet and philosopher [Jorge Agustín Nicolás Ruíz de Santayana y Borrás]
The Life of Reason or The Phases of Human Progress, Vol. 1 “Reason in Common Sense,” ch. 10 (1905-06)
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No one imagines that a symphony is supposed to improve in quality as it goes along, or that the whole object of playing it is to reach the finale. The point of music is discovered in every moment of playing and listening to it. It is the same, I feel, with the greater part of our lives, and if we are unduly absorbed in improving them we may forget altogether to live them.

Alan Watts (1915-1973) Anglo-American philosopher, writer
“This is It,” This Is It (1960)
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Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 27-Apr-21
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