Quotations about   meaning of life

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And, oh! whate’er Heaven destined to betide,
Let neither flattery soothe, nor pity hide.
Prepared I stand: he was but born to try
The lot of man; to suffer, and to die.

[πέρι γάρ μιν ὀιζυρὸν τέκε μήτηρ.
μηδέ τί μ᾽ αἰδόμενος μειλίσσεο μηδ᾽ ἐλεαίρων,
ἀλλ᾽ εὖ μοι κατάλεξον ὃπως ἤντησας ὀπωπῆς.]

Homer (fl. 7th-8th C. BC) Greek author
The Odyssey [Ὀδύσσεια], Book 3, l. 96ff (3.96) (c. 700 BC) [tr. Pope (1725), l. 114ff]
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Telemachus seeking to learn from Nestor of the fate of his father, Odysseus. Telemachus later repeats these words in seeking news of his father from Menelaus (4.326). (Source (Greek)). Alternate translations:

[T]he unhappy wanderer,
To too much sorrow whom his mother bore.
You then by all your bounties I implore,
[...] that in nought applied
To my respect or pity you will glose,
But uncloth’d truth to my desires disclose
[tr. Chapman (1616)]

[B]orn to calamity.
Let no respect, or pity mitigate
Your story, howsoever sad it be.
Nothing but naked truth to me relate.
[tr. Hobbes (1675), l. 85ff]

For my father at his birth
Was, sure, predestin’d to no common woes.
Neither through pity, or o’erstrain’d respect
Flatter me, but explicit all relate
Which thou hast witness’d.
[tr. Cowper (1792), l. 120ff]

How hath his mother to exceeding teen
borne him! Let no kind thought thy tidings screen;
Paint not the tale through pity.
[tr. Worsley (1861), st. 12]

For sure a woeful wight his mother bore him!
Extenuate naught for shame or pity's sake,
But tell me all, as thou hast chanced to see!
[tr. Bigge-Wither (1869), l. 95ff]

His mother bare him to exceeding sorrow. And speak me no soft words in ruth or pity, but tell me plainly what sight thou didst get of him.
[tr. Butcher/Lang (1879)]

This man, his mother bore him to most exceeding woe --
But have no respect of my sorrow nor be soft and soothing now,
But tell all out unto me, in what wise the man thou hast seen.
[tr. Morris (1887), l. 95ff]

To exceeding grief his mother bore him. Use no mild word, no yield to pity, from regard for me, but tell me fully all you chanced to see.
[tr. Palmer (1891)]

He was a man born to trouble. Do not soften things out of any pity for me, but tell me in all plainness exactly what you saw.
[tr. Butler (1898)]

For beyond all men did his mother bear him to sorrow. And do thou nowise out of ruth or pity for me speak soothing words, but tell me truly how thou didst come to behold him.
[tr. Murray (1919)]

Even from his mother's womb, calamity had marked him for her own. Do not in pity convey to me smooth things, things gentler than the truth: blurt out, rather, all that met your sight.
[tr. Lawrence (1932)]

For if ever a man was born for misery, it was he. Do not soften your account out of pity or concern for my feelings, but faithfully describe the scene that met your eyes.
[tr. Rieu (1946)]

The man was born for trouble. Spare me no part for kindness' sake; be harsh; but put the scene before me as you saw it.
[tr. Fitzgerald (1961)]

His mother bore this man to be wretched. Do not soften it because you pity me and are sorry for me, but fairly tell me all that your eyes have witnessed.
[tr. Lattimore (1965)]

She who gave birth to him gave birth to grief. You need not sweeten anything for me. Forget discretion, set aside your pity: tell me completely -- all you chanced to see.
[tr. Mandelbaum (1990)]

More than all other men, that man was born for pain.
Don't soften a thing, from pity, respect for me --
tell me, clearly, all your eyes have witnessed.
[tr. Fagles (1996)]

He was born to sorrow.
More than any man on earth. And do not,
Out of pity, spare me the truth, but tell me
Whatever you have seen, whatever you know.
[tr. Lombardo (2000), l. 104ff]

For his mother indeed bore him to be woeful. Spare me nothing, extenuate nothing, nor show any pity; tell me all to the end, however it came to your notice.
[tr. Merrill (2002)]

For if ever a man was born to suffer it was he. Do not soften your account out of pity or concern for my feelings, but faithfully describe the scene that met your eyes.
[tr. D C H Rieu (2002)]

More than any other man his mother bore him for wretchedness. Do not let respect or pity for me soften your words, but tell me exactly how you chanced to see him.
[tr. Verity (2016)]

He was surely born to suffer in extraordinary ways. Please do not try to sweeten bitter news from pity; tell me truly if you saw him, and how he was.
[tr. Wilson (2017)]

To unmatched sorrow his mother bore him! And don't, from concern or pity, speak false comfort to me, but tell me exactly what you may have witnessed!
[tr. Green (2018)]

For his mother bore him
to go through trouble more than other men.
Do not pity me or, from compassion,
just offer me kind words of consolation,
but tell me truly how you chanced to see him.
[tr. Johnston (2019), l. 119ff]

Added on 24-Nov-21 | Last updated 1-Dec-21
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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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When I was writing a column for Family Circle, I had planned one in praise of shabbiness. A house that does not have one worn, comfy chair in it is soulless. It all comes back to the fact that we are not asked to be perfect, only human.

May Sarton
May Sarton (1912-1995) Belgian-American poet, novelist, memoirist [pen name of Eleanore Marie Sarton]
Journal of a Solitude (1973)
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Added on 21-Sep-21 | Last updated 21-Sep-21
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It is never until one realizes that one means something to others that one feels there is any point or purpose in one’s own existence.

Stefan Zweig (1881-1942) Austrian novelist, playwright, journalist, biographer
Beware of Pity (1939)
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It is good to have an end to journey towards; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.

Ursula K. Le Guin (b. 1929) American writer
The Left Hand of Darkness, ch. 15 (1969)
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More info: It Is Good To Have an End To Journey Towards; But It Is the Journey That Matters, in the End – Quote Investigator.
Added on 23-Aug-21 | Last updated 23-Aug-21
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Perhaps it is not true to speak of God as a judge at all, or of his judgements. There does not seem to be really any evidence that His worlds are places of trial but rather schools, place of training, or that He is a judge but rather a Teacher, a Trainer, not in the imperfect sense in which men are teachers, but in the sense of His contriving and adapting His whole universe for one purpose of training every intelligent being to be perfect.

Florence Nightingale
Florence Nightingale (1820-1910) English social reformer, statistician, founder of modern nursing
“Note on God and judgment”
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In Lynn McDonald, Ed., Florence Nightingale's Theology: Essays, Letters, and Journal Notes (2002), noted as "ADD MSS 45783 ff65-67".
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For the world, I count it not an Inne, but an Hospitall, and a place, not to live, but to die in.

Thomas Browne (1605-1682) English physician and author
Religio Medici, Part 2, sec. 11 (1643)
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Added on 3-Aug-21 | Last updated 3-Aug-21
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When first we fall in love, we feel that we know all there is to know about life, and perhaps we are right.

Mignon McLaughlin (1913-1983) American journalist and author
The Neurotic’s Notebook, ch. 1 (1963)
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To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition, to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, poet
(Misattributed)

This is regularly attributed to Emerson, but has not been found in his work. The original appears to be a contest essay written by Bessie A. Stanley of Lincoln, Nebraska in 1905:

He has achieved success who has lived well, laughed often and loved much; who has gained the respect of intelligent men and the love of little children; who has filled his niche and accomplished his task; who has left the world better than he found it, whether by an improved poppy, a perfect poem, or a rescued soul; who has never lacked appreciation of earth’s beauty or failed to express it; who has always looked for the best in others and given the best he had; whose life was an inspiration; whose memory a benediction.

In 1951, Albert E. Wiggam, a newspaper columnist, wrote this similar passage, claiming it was an abridged version of something Emerson wrote:

To laugh often and love much; to win the respect of intelligent persons and the affection of children; to earn the approbation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty. To find the best in others; to give one’s self; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to have played and laughed with enthusiasm and sung with exaltation; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived -- this is to have succeeded.

Variations of both quotations exist, but Wiggam seems to be the source of the Emerson reference. This was later cemented by Ann Landers producing the variation at the top of this post, citing Emerson but not Wiggam. She also at other times attributed it to Harry Emerson Fosdick and Bessie A. Stanley.

More information here:
Added on 3-May-21 | Last updated 3-May-21
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Don’t take life so serious, son … it ain’t no how permanent.

Walt Kelly (1913-1973) American animator and cartoonist [Walter Crawford Kelly, Jr.]
“Pogo” [Porky Pine] (24 Jun 1950)

More discussion about this quotation: Don’t Take Life So Serious, Son … It Ain’t Nohow Permanent – Quote Investigator.
Added on 21-Apr-21 | Last updated 5-May-21
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But indeed we need no further argument in favor of taking pleasure as a standard when we consider the only alternative that faces us. If we do not live for pleasure we shall soon find ourselves living for pain. If we do not regard as sacred our own joys and the joys of others, we open the door and let into life the ugliest attribute of the human race, which is cruelty.

Rebecca West (1892-1983) British author, journalist, literary critic, travel writer [pseud. for Cicily Isabel Fairfield]
“Pleasure Be Your Guide,” The Nation, “Living Philosophies” series #10 (25 Feb 1939)
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Adapted into Clifton Fadiman, I Believe: The Personal Philosophies of Certain Eminent Men and Women of Our Time (1952).
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But since, as Plato has admirably expressed it, we are not born for ourselves alone, but our country claims a share of our being, and our friends a share; and since, as the Stoics hold, everything that the earth produces is created for man’s use; and as men, too, are born for the sake of men, that they may be able mutually to help one another; in this direction we ought to follow Nature as our guide, to contribute to the general good by an interchange of acts of kindness, by giving and receiving, and thus by our skill, our industry, and our talents to cement human society more closely together, man to man.

[Sed quoniam, ut praeclare scriptum est a Platone, non nobis solum nati sumus ortusque nostri partem patria vindicat, partem amici, atque, ut placet Stoicis, quae in terris gignantur, ad usum hominum omnia creari, homines autem hominum causa esse generatos, ut ipsi inter se aliis alii prodesse possent, in hoc naturam debemus ducem sequi, communes utilitates in medium afferre mutatione officiorum, dando accipiendo, tum artibus, tum opera, tum facultatibus devincire hominum inter homines societatem.]

Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BC) Roman orator, statesman, philosopher
De Officiis [On Duties; On Moral Duty; The Offices], Book 1, ch. 7 / sec. 22 (44 BC) [tr. Miller (1913)]
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Original Latin. Referring to Plato, Epistle 9, to Archytas: "No one of us exists for himself alone, but one share of our existence belongs to our country, another to our parents, a third to the rest of our friends, while a great part is given over to those needs of the hour with which our life is beset." [tr. Bury (1966)]

Alternate translations:

"But seeing (as is excellently said by Plato) we are not born for ourselves alone; but that our native country, our friends and relations, have a just claim and title to some part of us;" and seeing whatsoever is created on earth was merely designed (as the Stoics will have it) for the service of men; and men themselves for the service, good, and assistance of one another; we certainly in this should be followers of Nature, and second her intentions; and by producing all that lies within the reach of our power for the general interest, by mutually giving and receiving good turns, by our knowledge, industry, riches, or other means, should endeavour to keep up that love and society, that should be amongst men.
[tr. Cockman (1699)]

But, according to the excellent observation of Plato, "since we were not born for ourselves alone, our country and our friends have separate claims upon us." The produce of the earth, according to the Stoics, is intended wholly for the use of man; but men were designed for the service of men, by being made able to communicate reciprocal benefits to each other. In this view we ought to follow nature as our guide; and, by the exchange of services, by giving and receiving, to bring forward general advantages for the common good. We ought, by knowledge, industry, and wealth, to bind closer the society of men with men.
[tr. McCartney (1798)]

But (as has been strikingly said by Plato) we are not born for ourselves alone, and our country claims her share, and our friends their share of us; and, as the Stoics hold, all the earth produces is created for the used of man, so men are created for the sake of men, that they may mutually do good to one another; in this we ought to take nature for our guide, to throw into the public stock the offices of general utility by a reciprocation of duties; sometimes by receiving, sometimes by giving, and sometimes to cement human society by arts, by industry, and byh our resources.
[tr. Edmonds (1865)]

But since, as it has been well said by Plato, we are not born for ourselves alone; since our country claims a part in us, our parents a part, our friends a part; and since, according to the Stoics, whatever the earth bears is created for the use of men, while men were brought into being for the sake of men, that they might do good to one another, -- in this matter we ought to follow nature as a guide, to contribute our part to the common good, and by the interchange of kind offices, both in giving and receiving, alike by skill, by labor, and by the resources at our command, to strengthen the social union of men among men.
[tr. Peabody (1883)]
Added on 22-Feb-21 | Last updated 22-Feb-21
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We have to do the best we are capable of. This is our sacred human responsibility.

Albert Einstein (1879-1955) German-American physicist
Interview with Algernon Black (Fall 1940) [Einstein Archives 54-834]
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Einstein forbade publication of the discussion.
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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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Do the best you can where you are; and, when that is accomplished, God will open a door for you, and a voice will call, “Come up hither into a higher sphere.”

Henry Ward Beecher (1813-1887) American clergyman and orator
Life Thoughts [ed. E. Proctor] (1858)
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Your calling is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.

Frederick Buechner (b. 1926) American minister, author
The Hungering Dark (1969)
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I’m filled with a desire for clarity and meaning within a world and condition that offers neither.

Albert Camus (1913-1960) Algerian-French novelist, essayist, playwright
The Myth of Sisyphus” (1942)
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“All right,” said Susan. “I’m not stupid. You’re saying humans need … fantasies to make life bearable.”

REALLY? AS IF IT WAS SOME KIND OF PINK PILL? NO. HUMANS NEED FANTASY TO BE HUMAN. TO BE THE PLACE WHERE THE FALLING ANGEL MEETS THE RISING APE.

“Tooth fairies? Hogfathers? Little –”

YES. AS PRACTICE. YOU HAVE TO START OUT LEARNING TO BELIEVE THE LITTLE LIES.

“So we can believe the big ones?”

YES. JUSTICE. MERCY. DUTY. THAT SORT OF THING.

“They’re not the same at all!”

YOU THINK SO? THEN TAKE THE UNIVERSE AND GRIND IT DOWN TO THE FINEST POWDER AND SIEVE IT THROUGH THE FINEST SIEVE AND THEN SHOW ME ONE ATOM OF JUSTICE, ONE MOLECULE OF MERCY. AND YET — Death waved a hand. AND YET YOU ACT AS IF THERE IS SOME IDEAL ORDER IN THE WORLD, AS IF THERE IS SOME … SOME RIGHTNESS IN THE UNIVERSE BY WHICH IT MAY BE JUDGED.

“Yes, but people have got to believe that, or what’s the point –”

MY POINT EXACTLY.

Terry Pratchett (1948-2015) English author
Hogfather (1996)
Added on 22-Dec-20 | Last updated 22-Dec-20
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It is of the nature of desire not to be satisfied, and most men live only for the gratification of it.

[ἄπειρος γὰρ ἡ τῆς ἐπιθυμίας φύσις, ἧς πρὸς τὴν ἀναπλήρωσιν οἱ πολλοὶ]

Aristotle (384-322 BC) Greek philosopher
Politics [Πολιτικά], Book 2, ch. 7, sec. 19 / 1267b.4 [tr. Jowett (1885)]
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Original Greek. Alt. trans.:

  • "For it is the nature of our desires to be boundless, and many live only to gratify them." [tr. Ellis (1912)]

  • "For appetite is in its nature unlimited, and the majority of mankind live for the satisfaction of appetite." [tr. Rackham (1924)]

  • "For the nature of desire is without limit, and it is with a view to satisfying this that the many live. [tr. Lord (1984)]
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To care passionately for another human creature brings always more sorrow than joy; but all the same … one would not be without that experience. Anyone who has never really loved has never really lived.

Dame Agatha Christie (1890-1976) English writer
Sad Cypress, ch. 2 (1940)
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Man must accept the responsibility for himself and the fact that only by using his own powers can he give meaning to his life. But meaning does not imply certainty; indeed, the quest for certainty blocks the search for meaning. Uncertainty is the very condition to impel a man to unfold his powers. If he faces the truth without panic, he will recognize that there is no meaning to life except the meaning man gives his life by the unfolding of his powers, by living productively.

Erich Fromm (1900-1980) American psychoanalyst and social philosopher
Man for Himself, ch. 3 (1947)
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Ah, woe is me, through all my days
Wisdom and wealth I both have got,
And fame and name and great men’s praise;
But Love, ah, Love! I have it not.

H. C. Bunner (1855-1896) American novelist and poet [Henry Cuyler Bunner]
“The Way to Arcady” (1892)
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It would be a pretty good bet that the gods of a world like this probably do not play chess and indeed this is the case. In fact no gods anywhere play chess. They haven’t got the imagination. Gods prefer simple, vicious games, where you Do Not Achieve Transcendence but Go Straight To Oblivion; a key to the understanding of all religion is that a god’s idea of amusement is Snakes and Ladders with greased rungs.

Terry Pratchett (1948-2015) English author
Wyrd Sisters (1988)
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A lot of the arguments about religion going on at the moment spring from a rather inept understanding of religious truth. Our notion changed during the early modern period when we became convinced that the only path to any kind of truth was reason. That works beautifully for science but doesn’t work so well for the humanities. Religion is really an art form and a struggle to find value and meaning amid the ghastly tragedy of human life.

Karen Armstrong (b. 1944) British author, comparative religion scholar
“The Reason of Faith,” Interview with Michael Brunton, Ode (Sep-Oct 2009)
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CHARLIE ANDERSON: I wanna say somethin’. I’ve known since the train that we weren’t liable to find him. It was just a hair of a chance that we got Sam back. I knew that. Maybe I knew even before we left home, but somehow I just had to try! And if we don’t try, we don’t do. And if we don’t do, why are we here on this earth?

James Lee Barrett (1929-1989) American author, producer, screenwriter
Shenandoah (1965)
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Added on 14-Oct-20 | Last updated 14-Oct-20
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I give it as my firmest conviction that service to a just cause rewards the worker with more real happiness and satisfaction than any other venture of life.

Carrie Chapman Catt (1859-1947) American women's suffrage activist
“The Making of A Pioneer Suffragette,” in The American Scrap Book (1928)
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So it is not a matter of whether it is possible to attain Buddhahood, or if it is possible to make a tile a jewel. But just to work, just to live in this world with this understanding is the most important point, and that is our practice. That is true zazen.

Shunryū Suzuki (1905-1971) Japanese Zen Buddhist master
Lecture in Los Altos, California (1 Sep 1967)
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My person was hideous and my stature gigantic. What did this mean? Who was I? What was I? Whence did I come? What was my destination? These questions continually recurred, but I was unable to solve them.

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (1797-1851) English novelist
Frankenstein, ch. 14 (1818)
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Narrated by the Monster.
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The concentration camps, by making death itself anonymous (making it impossible to find out whether a prisoner is dead or alive), robbed death of its meaning as the end of a fulfilled life. In a sense they took away the individual’s own death, proving that henceforth nothing belonged to him and he belonged to no one. His death merely set a seal on the fact that he had never existed.

Hannah Arendt (1906-1975) German-American philosopher, political theorist
The Origins of Totalitarianism, Part 3, ch. 12, sec. 3 (1951)
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JACK BURTON: I don’t get this at all. I thought Lo Pan —
LO PAN: Shut up, Mr. Burton! You are not brought upon this world to “get it”!

W. D. Richter (b. 1945) American screenwriter, producer, director [Walter Duch Richter]
Big Trouble in Little China (1986) [with Gary Goldman, David Z Weinstein]
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I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

Mary Oliver (1935-2019) American poet
“When Death Comes” New and Selected Poems, Vol. 2 (2005)
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The aim of life is appreciation; there is no sense in not appreciating things; and there is no sense in having more of them if you have less appreciation of them.

Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1874-1936) English journalist and writer
The Autobiography of G. K. Chesterton (1936)
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For those who believe in God, most of the big questions are answered. But for those of us who can’t readily accept the God formula, the big answers don’t remain stone-written. We adjust to new conditions and discoveries. We are pliable. Love need not be a command or faith a dictum. I am my own God. We are here to unlearn the teachings of the church, state and our educational system. We are here to drink beer. We are here to kill war. We are here to laugh at the odds and live our lives so well that Death will tremble to take us.

Charles Bukowski (1920-1994) German-American author, poet
“The Meaning of Life: The Big Picture,” Life Magazine (Dec 1988)
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Man is a reasoning animal. Therefore, man’s highest good is attained if he has fulfilled the good for which nature designed him at birth. And what is it which this reason demands of him? The easiest thing in the world — to live in accordance with his nature. But this has turned into a hard task by the general madness of mankind; we push one
another into vice.

Seneca the Younger (c. 4 BC-AD 65) Roman statesman, philosopher, playwright [Lucius Annaeus Seneca]
Letters to Lucilius, Letter 41 (c. 65 AD)
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what matters most is
how well you
walk through the
fire.

Charles Bukowski (1920-1994) German-American author, poet
“How Is Your Heart?” (1986)
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The good ended happily, and the bad unhappily. That is what Fiction means.

Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) Irish poet, wit, dramatist
The Importance of Being Earnest, act 2 (Miss Prism) [1895]
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I really love language; it allows us to explain the pain and the glory, the nuances and the delicacies, of our existence. Most of all, it allows us to laugh. We need language.

Maya Angelou (1928-2014) American poet, memoirist, activist [b. Marguerite Ann Johnson]
“The Art of Fiction,” Paris Review, #116, Interview with George Plimpton (1990)
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To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616) English dramatist and poet
Macbeth, Act 5, sc. 5 (1606)
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One of the things I like best about animals in the wild is that they’re always off on some errand. They have appointments to keep. It’s only we humans who wonder what we’re here for.

Diane Ackerman (b. 1948) American poet, author, naturalist
“In Praise of Bats,” The Moon by Whale Light (1991)
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Added on 28-Dec-18 | Last updated 28-Dec-18
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Man is the only animal who does not feel at home in nature, who can feel evicted from paradise, the only animal for whom his own existence is a problem that he has to solve and from which he cannot escape.

Erich Fromm (1900-1980) American psychoanalyst and social philosopher
The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness, ch. 10 (1973)
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Sometimes elided, "Man is the only animal for whom his own existence is a problem he has to solve."
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In short, Mort was one of those people who are more dangerous than a bag full of rattlesnakes. He was determined to discover the underlying logic behind the universe. Which was going to be hard, because there wasn’t one.

Terry Pratchett (1948-2015) English author
Mort (1987)
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There is a loftier ambition than merely to stand high in the world. It is to stoop down and lift mankind a little higher.

Henry Van Dyke (1852-1933) American clergyman and writer
“Salt,” Counsels by the Way (1921 ed.)
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HAL9000: I am putting myself to the fullest possible use, which is all I think that any conscious entity can ever hope to do.

Stanley Kubrick (1928-1999) American film director, screenwriter, producer
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) [with Arthur C. Clarke]
Added on 22-Nov-17 | Last updated 22-Nov-17
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Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?

Mary Oliver (1935-2019) American poet
“The Summer Day,” New and Selected Poems, Vol. 1 (1992)
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What Man seeks, to the point of anguish, in his gods, in his art, in his science, is meaning. He cannot bear the void. He pours meaning on events like salt on his food. He denies that life bounces along at random, at the mercy of events, in sound and in fury. He wants it always to be directed, aimed toward a goal, like an arrow.

François Jacob (1920-2013) French biologist, Nobel prize winner in Medicine
The Statue Within: An Autobiography (1987) [tr. Philip (1988)]
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There may be no good reason for things to be the way they are.

Alain de Botton (b. 1969) Swiss-British author
The Consolations of Philosophy, ch. 1 “Consolations for Unpopularity,” sec. 4 (2000)
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The trouble with life isn’t that there is no answer, it’s that there are so many answers.

Ruth Benedict (1887-1947) American anthropologist
An Anthropologist at Work, Journal Entry, 7 Jan 1913 (1959)
Added on 2-Sep-17 | Last updated 2-Sep-17
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Man is so built that he cannot imagine his own death. This leads to endless invention of religions. While this conviction by no means proves immortality to be a fact, questions generated by it are overwhelmingly important. The nature of life, how ego hooks into the body, the problem of ego itself and why each ego seems to be the center of the universe, the purpose of life, the purpose of the universe — these are paramount questions, Ben; they can never be trivial. Science hasn’t solved them — and who am I to sneer at religions for trying, no matter how unconvincingly to me? Old Mumbo Jumbo may eat me yet; I can’t rule him out because he owns no fancy cathedrals. Nor can I rule out one godstruck boy leading a sex cult in an upholstered attic; he might be the Messiah. The only religious opinion I feel sure of is this: self-awareness is not just a bunch of amino acids bumping together!

Robert A. Heinlein (1907-1988) American writer
Stranger in a Strange Land, Part 4, ch. 33 [Jubal] (1961)
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In the "uncut" original version (1960): "Self-aware man is so built that he cannot believe in his own extinction ... and this automatically leads to endless invention of religions. While this involuntary conviction of immortality by no means proves immortality to be a fact, the questions generated by this conviction are overwhelmingly important ... whether we can answer them or not, or prove what answers we suspect. The nature of life, how the ego hooks into the physical body, the problem of the ego itself and why each ego seems to be the center of the universe, the purpose of life, the purpose of the universe -- these are paramount questions Ben; they can never be trivial. Science can't, or hasn't, coped with any of them -- and who am I to sneer at religions for trying to answer them, no matter how unconvincingly to me? Old Mumbo Jumbo may eat me yet; I can't rule Him out because He owns no fancy cathedrals. Nor can I rule out one godstruck boy leading a sex cult in an upholstered attic; he might be the Messiah. The only religious opinion that I feel sure of is this: self-awareness is not just a bunch of amino acids bumping together!"
Added on 11-Aug-17 | Last updated 11-Aug-17
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An aim in life is the only fortune worth the finding; and it is not to be found in foreign lands, but in the heart itself.

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) Scottish essayist, novelist, poet
The Amateur Emigrant, ch. 4 “Steerage Types” (1895)
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All life is nucleic acid; the rest is commentary.

Isaac Asimov (1920-1992) Russian-American author, polymath, biochemist
“Science: Beginning with Bone,” Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (May 1987)
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The whole fun of living is trying to make something better.

Charles F. Kettering (1876-1958) American inventor, engineer, researcher, businessman
(Attributed)
Added on 9-Oct-15 | Last updated 9-Oct-15
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If you don’t turn your life into a story, you just become a part of someone else’s story.

Terry Pratchett (1948-2015) English author
The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents (2001)
Added on 16-Sep-15 | Last updated 16-Sep-15
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The great and glorious masterpiece of man is to know how to live to purpose; all other things, to reign, to lay up treasure, to build, are, at most, but little appendices and props.

Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592) French essayist
“Of Experience,” Essays, Vol 3, ch. 13 [ed. Hazlitt, tr. Cotton]
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He achieved success who has lived well, laughed often, and loved much;
Who has enjoyed the trust of pure women, the respect of intelligent men and the love of little children;
Who has filled his niche and accomplished his task;
Who has never lacked appreciation of Earth’s beauty or failed to express it;
Who has left the world better than he found it,
Whether an improved poppy, a perfect poem, or a rescued soul;
Who has always looked for the best in others and given them the best he had;
Whose life was an inspiration;
Whose memory a benediction.

Elisabeth-Anne "Bessie" Anderson Stanley (1879–1952) American poet
“Success” (1905)

The essay was written for a poetry contest to answer the question "What is success?" in 100 words or less. It (especially the first 13 words) is often misattributed to Robert Louis Stevenson, Ralph Waldo Emerson, or Elbert Hubbard (the latter probably because the essay appeared in an advertisment in his series of books Little Journeys to the Homes of Great Lovers (e.g.).

More information: Bessie Anderson Stanley - Wikipedia.
Added on 27-Feb-15 | Last updated 3-May-21
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Man seeks objectives that enable him to convert the attainment of every goal into a means for the attainment of a new and more desirable goal. The ultimate objective in such a sequence cannot be obtainable; otherwise its attainment would put an end to the process. An end that satisfies these conditions is an ideal …. Thus the formulation and pursuit of ideals is a means by which to put meaning and significance into his life and into the history of which he is part.

Russell L. Ackoff (1919-2009) American organizational theorist, consultant, management scientist
On Purposeful Systems, Vol. 6 (1972) [with R Lincoln and F Emery]
Added on 26-Feb-15 | Last updated 26-Feb-15
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